Friday, October 12, 2012

Raise the Bar: Expectations and Goal Setting

My last couple of blog entries focused on having a positive attitude and overcoming fear.  In those blogs, I touched briefly on the power of positive thinking and goal setting.  In this blog entry, we will explore establishing high expectations for ourselves and setting goals in more detail.

Expect More of Yourself

Sam Walton said, "High expectations are the key to everything," and I wholeheartedly agree!  If you have low expectations of yourself, then you lower the bar for yourself.  When you lower the bar for yourself, you put a ceiling on your achievements.  You cap them, and you put a limit on your success.  We can only rise to the level of our expectations, so by having low expectations of yourself, you choose to limit your success.  If you expect little of yourself, you give yourself permission to be less than you capable of being.  You give yourself permission to be less than your ideal self.

I expect a lot of my students - I expect first and foremost that they try their hardest.  I expect that they wear proper attire.  I also expect that their horses are properly and thoroughly groomed before and after lessons.  I expect that their tack is clean and well-kept.  I expect students riding my lesson horses to clean their tack after their lessons, ice the school horses' legs after hard work, and do any other necessary after care after their rides.  I expect them to clean up after themselves and to double-check that their horse has hay and water when they put them back in their stalls.  I expect that they push themselves in their lessons and give their best efforts.  I expect that they have a positive attitude and are respectful of me, others, and the animals on my farm.  I'm confident that not every student would do these things if I didn't have clear, consistent expectations.  While all of these are basics in my book, I have been to some barns where the expectations aren't as high.  The vast majority students and boarders at those barns don't take it upon themselves to do more than is expected of them, and the care of the horses, tack, and barn suffer as a result.  At my barn, however, every, single one of my students quickly rises to my expectations and becomes a better rider and better horseperson because of that.  The only issue is that I can't be in their ears every day, setting all of their personal expectations for them.

So, raise your own bar!  Establish higher expectations for yourself.  Know that you are capable of being great, of being consistent, and of working hard, and then expect those things of yourself.  Setting higher expectations isn't about being a perfectionist or being flawless.  It isn't about never making mistakes, and it isn't about chasing some impossible, inhuman standard of perfection.  It isn't about being a miserable workaholic.  It is, however, about thinking highly enough of yourself to know that you are capable and deserving of great things and that you are willing to put in the work to live up to those expectations.

As you set up higher expectations of yourself and begin to hold yourself accountable to those expectations, remember to squash your negative inner dialogue and replace it with a more positive inner dialogue, as I discussed in the previous blog entries, "Attitude is Everything" and "Unleash your Courage and Conquer Fear."  Remind yourself frequently that you are great, consistent, and hard-working, and make that your reality.

Goal Setting

With your new, higher expectations of yourself, it is time to start setting some goals for yourself.  When it comes to riding, your goals should be realistic, but should also push you.  They should push you to expand your comfort zone and to work a little harder.  Make your goals ones that you will feel extremely proud to accomplish.  When you write your goals, write them in the present tense, as if you have already accomplished them.

Your goals should be specific, concrete, and measurable, and they must have a "due date."  Why?  So you can hold yourself accountable!  Your goals should be worded so that an objective observer would be able to determine whether or not you have reached them.  While having a goal like "I want to feel more comfortable cantering" is a worthwhile aspiration, it isn't something measurable and quantifiable.  An objective observer would not be able to tell if you achieved your goal.  You should aspire to be more comfortable cantering, but you need to decide upon a concrete, specific goal that will aid in getting you more comfortable at the canter.  For example, "Six months from now, I would like to be able to canter without stirrups both directions in balance and with a correct position."  Some additional examples:

  • Instead of "I want to be more confident jumping," think, "I am able to jump a 3'6" course with correct distances and a solid, correction position.  Due Date: October 11, 2013."  
  • Instead of "I want to get over my show nerves," think, "I have six shows under my belt and am showing in the 2'6" hunter classes.  Due Date: April 11. 2013."
  • Instead of "I want to improve my horse's flat work," think, "I have six dressage shows under my belt and achieved a high score of 65.00%.  Due Date:  April 11, 2013." 
  • Instead of "I want to get fitter," think, "I am 20 pounds lighter and able to run a 5k without a walk break.  Due Date: February 1, 2013."  
Obviously, these are just general examples, and you need to tailor your goals to your specific situation.  The goals above may be appropriate or inappropriate for you based on your current fitness level, riding level, and horse (or school horses available to you).  As I discussed in my last blog entry - "Unleash your Courage and Conquer Fear." - you need to take your current abilities, limitations, and fitness level all into account as you make your goals.  

Now that you are ready and pumped to set some goals, let's get started.  I think the average rider should have at least 4 riding-related goals:  A short-term riding goal, a long-term riding goal, a short-term fitness goal, and a long-term fitness goal.

Why short and long-term goals?  Simple!  First, your biggest, most challenging goals will take time.  These long-term goals are usually your most exciting and fulfilling goals, but they take a lot of time to achieve.  Your long-term riding and fitness goals are those that take six to twelve months to reach.

Your short-term goals fulfill a couple of purposes: First, they are "baby steps" to get you to your long-term goal.  They can function as "mini" goals or steps that keep you on track for your long-term goal.  Second, they help motivate you and build your confidence.  Every time you accomplish a goal, you feel a sense of achievement, which motivates you to set even bigger and better goals.  Accomplishing your short-term goals, which I recommend are ones that take two to six weeks to achieve, will keep you motivated and enthusiastic about your long-term goals, which may seem unreachable at first.

Why fitness goals in addition to riding goals?  Because, last time I checked, riding is a sport.  You and your horse both need to be fit.  Your horse's fitness is taken care of by your riding regimen and turnout time.  You, however, need to seek fitness outside of just riding.  Set a short-term goal to get you motivated and pumped about your fitness and then set a long-term goal to keep you going.  Remember to keep your fitness goals specific and measurable, whether it be losing a certain amount of weight, losing a certain number of inches from your measurements, or reaching a certain workout milestone (e.g., running for 30 minutes without a walk break, running a 5k under a certain time, swimming a mile without a break, walking for 45 minutes 6 days per week every week).  If you have been out of the workout loop for a while, your first short-term goal could just be establishing a new habit - e.g, doing 45 minutes of cardio 5 days a week for four weeks straight.  Whatever your level of fitness, set goals that are realistic, but will push you to work harder and get even more fit.  You can do it, and your riding can only improve as a result.

Ready? Set Goals!

Now you are ready to start writing your own goals.  I literally mean that you should write down your goals in your journal or on a piece of paper, somewhere you can see them frequently.  Remember to make them concrete and measurable, to write them in the present tense, and to give each goal a due date.  Your short-term goals should take two to six weeks to achieve, and your long-term goals should take 6 months to a year to achieve.  You should also re-write your goals every couple of weeks, not just to keep you on track and keep you motivated, but also because your goals may change as you continue on your journey.  Also, every time you achieve a short-term goal, you should immediately write out a new one to keep you on track to your long-term goal.

So, spend a few minutes thoughtfully crafting and writing out your goals, and then start on your path to achieving them.  Stay tuned for future blog entries on developing the habits and discipline necessary to follow-through and achieve all of your goals!

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