Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Attitude is Everything

I am a big believer that a positive outlook and positive thinking can transform your riding and your life. If your first reaction to that sentence was to roll your eyes and considering closing the browser, think about it this way:  Most of us have experienced a bad mood or a bad attitude causing us to have a bad ride or a bad day.  We have witnessed other people with bad attitudes miss out on fun and rewarding experiences because they were wrapped up in negativity and completely closed off to a positive experience.  If we accept that a bad attitude can ruin a ride, an experience, or even an entire day, we must also accept that a positive attitude can enhance our riding, experiences, and days.

Don't worry, I'm not going to try to convince you that if you just imagine yourself as a winning grand prix jumper or gold-medal winning Olympian that it will magically happen.  I will, however, say that the path to achieving any goal, whether you want to be a grand prix rider or just want to master sitting the canter, starts with a positive attitude and a belief that you can achieve whatever you put your mind and effort to.  If you keep the following in mind and practice keeping a positive mindset,  your riding and overall attitude can only improve.

You - and only you - are in control of your attitude.  Yes, really.  Your attitude is completely within your control and is not the product of external factors or stress beyond your control.  Once you accept that your attitude is your responsibility, you will understand that you have tremendous power.  You have the power to transform a bad day into a better day and a potentially bad ride into a great one. As I'll discuss later, you will never have everything in life go exactly as you plan.  No one can promise you that.  However, with a positive attitude, you will be able to learn and grow, even from disappointments, achieve your goals faster, and most importantly have fun doing it.

A negative outlook stalls progress.  As I already mentioned, a negative attitude can ruin what can be an otherwise great ride or great experience.  Negativity destroys confidence, stalls progress, and most importantly, makes you miserable!  

Confident people believe in themselves and believe they can achieve their goals.  They believe that they are capable of learning and growing.  None of those qualities is compatible with negativity.  If you have a constant negative inner dialogue, you will always be telling yourself things like, "I have terrible balance," "I'm not strong enough to keep my legs still at the canter," "I'm not brave enough to learn to jump," "I will never ride as well as people who have more money to buy nice horses and take tons of lessons."  How can you be confident in the wonderful, talented person you are when you are constantly telling yourself how awful and disadvantaged you are?   You can't.  

If you are constantly telling yourself how incapable and terrible you are, even if it is only in one aspect of your life, you will never be able to progress in that area.  So if you keep telling yourself that you can't do something - whether it is learning to post the trot or mastering a 5' oxer - you won't ever master it.  Success starts with confidence and confidence starts with believing in yourself.  Think about it, if you really believe you are incapable of doing something, why would you even try?  Start telling yourself that you are capable of achieving your goal and you will be even more motivated to put in the hard work necessary to achieve your goals.  

Perhaps most importantly, a negative outlook simply makes you miserable!  How can you be happy if you are always focused on your negative qualities and on what you think you can't do?  Start focusing on your good qualities and on the things you do really well.  Then, start focusing on your goals and how you will feel when you can add those goals to the list of things you do really well!  

Confidence and success start with you.  Start telling yourself that you are wonderful and capable.  Change your inner dialogue from negative statements to positive ones like, "I feel stronger than I did a week ago.  I'm going to keep improving my balance and my leg strength by doing 5 minutes of two-point every time I ride."  "I felt so confident at the canter today!  If I keep this up, I'll be jumping confidently soon!"

Set clear goals and believe that you can achieve them.  If you take one thing away from this blog, let it be this:  Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you're right.  

Not only is important to set clear, tangible, attainable goals that cause you to push yourself, it is also important to believe you can achieve them.  If you don't believe you can really achieve a certain goal, you probably won't!  You won't put the work in to achieve it because you will think it is an exercise in futility.  Instead of learning from every challenge and setback along the way, you will frustrate yourself by obsessing over the mistakes you made and over your lack of perfection.  You will make yourself miserable and simply won't work that hard to achieve those goals.  

On the other hand, if you believe you can and will achieve your goal, you will be more motivated to work toward that goal.  If you keep reminding yourself how amazing it will feel when you do achieve your goal, you will understand that every challenge along the way brings a lesson to learn and brings you one step closer to achieving your goal.  If you can visualize yourself actually doing your goal and feeling confident and happy doing it, your motivation and enthusiasm for working toward that goal can only increase.  

Welcome challenges.  Focus on the positive, even when things don't go your way.  Everything won't go your way all the time, but that doesn't mean you have to spiral down into negativity when things don't go exactly as you hope.  Learning to manage challenges and disappointment is one of the most important skills necessary for success.  So, instead of dreading a challenge, look at it as a great opportunity to learn and progress.  Every challenge, every mistake, every setback, every failure is a lesson in disguise.  

So, try to focus on the positive, even when things don't go your way.  You may often be presented with circumstances beyond your control.  While you cannot control those things, you can control your reaction to them and your attitude about them.  Here are a few examples:  

  • You show up to the barn for your weekly lesson and see you were assigned to your least favorite school horse.  You could be disappointed and focus on all the things you hate about that horse.  ("He's so lazy, my legs will be burning!" or "Ugh, her canter is SO uncomfortable!")  That sets you up to have a miserable lesson.  Even if the horse isn't your favorite, take some time to think about all the positive things you can get out of riding that horse that day -- "He will really give me a great leg workout and make my legs that much stronger!"  "I will get the opportunity to work on relaxing and sitting the canter well on a more challenging horse." 
  • Your horse requires time off for an injury.  Despite the absolute best of care, horses will sometimes injure themselves and require time off.  As disappointing as this is - and believe me, I understand how disappointing this can be - you can still focus on the positive.  You might feel like you are grasping at straws on this one, but try it.  Maybe you have to skip a few weekend shows you were looking forward to.  Instead of focusing on how terrible that is, take the opportunity to spend that weekend doing something else you really like.  "If I can't go to the show, I'm going to spend the day at the beach with my family!"  If your horse is off for a longer period of time, use the opportunity to ride your barn's school horses in lessons and get some experience on different horses.  Look at hand walking as an opportunity to get some additional exercise for yourself and bond with your horse.  Take the hour you'd spend riding and take a yoga class or go to the gym.  I'm sure some of you think this is a big stretch or leap in logic, but I look at it this way:  Your horse is injured whether you have a bad attitude or a good one.  You can either make the best of it or complain about it and be miserable.  The choice is yours.  
  • Bad weather prevents you from riding.  We can't control the weather, so why not look at bad weather as an opportunity?  If you can still make it to the barn, see it as an opportunity to thoroughly groom and enjoy your horse on the ground.  Clean your brushes and tack and catch up on little chores you frequently don't have time to do.  If you can't get to the barn, do something else that you really enjoy, but don't usually have time to do.  Read a book, watch your favorite movie, take a class at the gym, or cook a spectacular dinner.  
  • Your horse misbehaves and your ride doesn't go as planned.  Even the best rider on the best horse has a bad ride every once in a while.  Things just don't always go according to plan.  If your horse is particularly hot or unfocused, try not to get frustrated.  Look at it as a (hopefully infrequent) opportunity to learn to work through an issue successfully.  I tell my students all the time, "ride the horse you have today, not the horse you usually have."  No one enjoys it when their horse misbehaves, but you can still use it as a learning experience and let those experiences help you grow into a better, more confident rider.    

A Healthy Dose of Realism

I'm not writing this blog to convince you that you can defy the laws of physics, turn an unsuitable or dangerous horse into a suitable, safe one, or skip the hard work necessary to achieve your goals.  I'm just saying that you will be much more motivated and much more likely to succeed if you approach all of your goals, especially your riding goals, with a positive attitude and confidence in yourself.
The bottom line is that you have absolutely nothing to gain from a negative attitude and everything to gain from a positive one.  While you might start off having to remind yourself to look for the positive in everything, if you keep it up, it will soon be second nature.  Try it, you just might like it...  You have nothing to lose but a bad attitude!  

On October 1, 2012, this blog entry was also featured on My Virtual Eventing Coach's web site as a Guest Blog.  Read it again here and be sure to check out the rest of the web site for great tips and articles.  Thank you to Lesley Stevenson for featuring this blog entry on her site. 

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