No plan? Invest in good leathers.
Riding a motorcycle on the limit is like handling explosives: if you don't have plan, i.e., where you're going to place the explosives, where you're going to take cover, how long do you have prior to detonation, where is the debris field, etc; you risk ruining your day.
Riding a motorcycle should be considered with the same amount of preparation and planning. The risk is similar.
I've known some riders along the way that don't want to plan, and instead, just want to "have fun and not worry about the details." Whether on the street or track, they prefer to wing it. As a consequence, they become reactive riders, at the mercy of their environment and their luck. These sort of riders fall into one of two categories: 1) still lucky and 2) not riding anymore. I was one of those riders until I ran out of luck. In order to not fall into category number two, I had to learn how to plan.
Planning and preparation does not take a full thesis and graphic-rich presentation, nor does it require prior riding experience. Rather, a good plan consists of three main components: Determine your focus and set a goal, create incremental steps, and execute. The "plan" mindset alone will help you become a proactive rider and avoid many common pitfalls.
1. Determine the one thing you will focus your attention on and set a goal.
On the street or track, the first step is to identify the number one thing that is holding you back. Is it fear? Is it not using your vision efficiently? Is it poor throttle or brake control? Do you feel like you're made of wood and stiff on the bike? Whatever it may be, be honest with yourself and focus on improving in that specific area.
If you're not sure what needs work, a very good place to start is with Ken Hill's Order of the Sport podcasts. His approach helps breakdown the fundamentals and identify areas that may be holding you back, or areas you didn't even know may be a problem.
Once you identify the focus, put your ego aside and be patient. Set an achievable goal for that day of riding, or that particular session. Realistic goals are: hit every apex; keep weight off your inside arm while the bike is leaned; look through turn; start with lighter initial braking; move brake marker 10 yards deeper; find most efficient gear selection for a given series of corners. Unrealistic goals are: try to get 60 degrees of lean angle at every corner; don't let any other bikes pass me; pin the throttle for as long as I can, always; make it to the grocery store in 4 mins or less; look like Marquez by the end of my first rack day.
2. Create incremental steps toward your goal.
Now that you have your realistic and achievable goal, break it down into no more than three steps. Breaking your goal into steps--or objectives--gives you a repeatable set of actions. If you fail the first time, you have a pathway you can reverse to see where it was exactly that you missed your mark. In addition, if you find yourself having a lot of trouble accomplishing your goal, maybe it would be best to focus on one of your objectives. Stay positive and collect your wins, no matter how small.
An example set of objectives for the goal to keep your weight off your inside arm is:
a) Set a trigger word that keeps you focused on your goal; e.g., "LOOSE ARM." Repeat this trigger word before entering every corner; b) after trigger word, wiggle inside arm to be sure it is loose; c) give yourself a quick "pass" or "fail" for every corner. If you passed, repeat in the next corner. If you failed, slow down and try again.
While you're working on your goal, and going through your objectives, you should not be pushing your pace. Ride 50-60% of your max while you build the habit. Throughout the day, your pace will likely increase while still working on your objectives.
3. Execute and refocus.
Focusing on your goal for the first session or two is not the hard part. The hard part is maintaining focus and refocusing, and refocusing, and refocusing.
As you continue to work on your goal, and the objectives are working, all is good... but then your buddy, who you know is slower than you, passes you on the outside of a long radius corner. Uh oh, here comes ego. STAY FOCUSED. Stick to your plan.
I highly recommend keeping a notebook with your riding goals. After every session, write down your notes while they're fresh in your mind. Keep track of your pluses and minuses.
Riding is all about the journey. You're not going to become Rossi after a track day, or even a hundred track days... or ever, for that matter. Enjoy the journey and take time to reflect on your individual progress. Don't get caught up in who's faster than you, because there will always be someone faster. Enjoy the ride and be proud of overcoming your individual challenges.
Go for Gold!