By Margie Sugarman
I fell off at a big show I qualified for last year. I thankfully qualified again this year, but I’m so nervous to attend. I’m afraid I’m going to remember the fall when I’m there. I’m afraid I’m going to fall off again and show people I don’t deserve to compete there. I have a great pony! I belong there and I want to do well. What can I do to work through it?
Thoughts have tremendous impact—they are powerful. Thoughts can either lead us in the right direction or they can derail us. It’s almost like we have a positive little angel on one shoulder and a negative little devil on the other, each gaining power and sustenance from our beliefs and motivations. Each time we’re faced with having to address the situation that put those little ‘creatures’ on our shoulders, we make a decision as to which one to nourish. You have a choice: You can add fear, negativity and self-doubt as fertilizer and watch your devil grow stronger and stronger. You can identify your strengths, highlight your successes since the incident and look at how you’re earning the right to return to this big show as an opportunity to be the rider that you really are.
Inner chatter plays a huge role in developing who we are and what we are: how we normally behave and how we deal with spontaneous situations—which is such a large part of riding. We all have some crazy stories about being out on the trail or riding in the ring and having something happen that would normally have been a disaster, but because of the way we reacted to it, we laughed. It’s the mental skills that build the confidence to return to the stage of an embarrassing situation and allow one to present as if nothing had ever happened. It’s learning how to put the dreaded “what ifs” in their place as you get closer to the show date and deal with the once-banished fears trying to re-emerge.
You must remember that how you think about setbacks affects how you react to them. You must also remember that your perception of the incident, the language you use in your thoughts, feeds the subconscious mind, which feeds our conscious reactions. These ‘thought’ words are your obstacles, and how you define your obstacles impacts your ability to resolve them.
Think about how you would describe the fall you had: You might say, “It was horrible and embarrassing! It sucked!” When you say it was horrible and embarrassing, not one part of your being wants to face that situation again. You’re fighting against future success because this statement creates physiological and psychological stress.
Perhaps those thoughts could be phrased differently. You might say, “It’s hard to think about being back in that ring.” Although this adverb (hard) is a bit better, it still leaves feelings of difficulty that need to be broken through. If something is ‘hard’ and you must deal with it, we would look at it as a challenge. Right? So, let’s see the incident of returning to that show ring as a challenge. You know the challenge will be difficult, but you want to go back—you want to meet that challenge. Isn’t that what you’re looking for—an opportunity? The opportunity is your chance to prove yourself, to show people who you really are.
You have turned your thinking around from a negative situation into it being an opportunity to prove yourself, by changing your thoughts and, in turn, your motivation. Moreover, you’ve given the devil a sore throat and turned up the volume of the angel.
You know what your plan is because you’ve been practicing with your pony. You know how to think because you’re perceiving the experience as an opportunity to prove yourself. This is a technique based on “continuum thinking,” going from one extreme to the other, from negative to positive.
Although not our normal response to a negative situation, it’s a technique that can change our way of thinking not only in riding but in many areas of our lives. It might take a couple of tries on your part or a few sessions with a professional to help you learn to think this way, but it will allow you to see things differently, address and resolve things differently—and quiet that devil.
Your thoughts are powerful tools! Use them to your advantage.