LAST time, we talked about how our riding enjoyment and success is hindered by the fact that we tend to spend a large amount of time focussing on what we don’t want to happen, rather than what we do and that it is important to take small, consistent steps to expand our comfort zone, which will in turn increase confidence.
Building technical skills and mindset go hand in hand and it takes time, but when you get your mind on your side, your skills will improve more rapidly and your enjoyment and self-belief will expand considerably.
This time, we are going to focus on two common learned behaviours that contribute to the cycle of trying hard, but getting disappointing results – Pretending and Learned Helplessness.
PRETENDING is keeping a stiff upper lip, brushing any feelings or concerns under the carpet and trying to kid yourself that you are confident. The snag is that you can’t keep pushing those fears away, because as you block the negative feelings, you are also blocking the positive ones – which defeats the aim of riding for enjoyment!
You cannot trick yourself into feeling confident, because confidence moves out when doubts move in. By doubts, I mean: “Oh, no, we are in the spooky arena today”, “My horse is fresh”, “He hates blue barrels… or ditches” or “He’ll go ballistic on grass”.
You can’t just block these thoughts out, but there are things you can do to address and reframe these thoughts.
Some people think that suppressing their fears is a form of mental toughness. It isn’t. When you press down fear, it starts to lurk and fester and grow and one day you wake up and all the joy has been squashed and you give up because you have lost the fun. You may kid yourself that everybody reaches a stage when they have to give up, but that isn’t true. We all know people who are still riding into and beyond their 70s, with many still competing and some still winning! So, don’t kid yourself.
You have to listen to your worries, sort out whether they are real or not and address them accordingly.
LEARNED HELPLESSNESS is a really sneaky one, because it is so easy to slip into and, once you succumb, it’s hard to pull yourself out. To give it an unattractive title, it’s self-pity. It is a special type of misery that we inflict on ourselves by believing that we should not have to deal with the everyday challenges of riding.
We blame our horse, other people, our trainer because things don’t go as planned or because progress isn’t happening in the timescale we would like. We expect immediate results with no mistakes or upsets and, if that doesn’t happen, we spit the dummy out. We’re beaten. Boo hoo!
We’ve ALL been there. It’s understandable because it is directly linked to disappointment – those feelings of ‘it’s not fair’, ‘I’ll have to sell my horse’, ‘it’s easier for everyone else’, ‘now everyone can see how rubbish I am’… It’s also anger, depression and frustration all at once and it doesn’t go away on its own. Nor is it actually true. Every successful rider has to put the work in and cope with the setbacks and, until you recognise and accept that, learned helplessness will put you into a position of weakness and immobility.
What you feel you want is for somebody else to fix it for you and make you feel better, but the key to permanently fixing it lies with you. Become aware very quickly when you are slipping towards learned helplessness and take responsibility to stop it before it becomes an established way of thinking. Do whatever it takes to get over the pity and back in the saddle.
Accomplished riders understand that mistakes and disappointments are all part of the process and they use setbacks to learn, improve and come back stronger. If we want to improve and enjoy our riding, we have to do the same.
If you want to find out more about Performance Inhibitors and what you can do to manage them, contact June on 07711 881577; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website www.equestrianformula.com, where you can download videos for free.