During my recent retreat to the US Olympic Training Center with Daniel Stewart, we spent a fair amount of time on the issues in sports psychology.
Sports psychology is all about the mental aspects of sport. It’s a way of dealing with pressure. And pressure can make you rush, forget things, and clouds your thinking. When placed under pressure, we fight, flee, or freeze. What we need our sports psychology to do is trigger a bias to action, so we fight in an intelligent and useful way.
Forget Perfect, Go For Resilient
“Perfect” is an impossible standard to meet. So don’t even try. But even if you’ve let perfection go, you can still strive to be excellent. Always put in your best effort.
Instead of trying to be perfect, go for being resilient. That’s where you bounce back after a mistake, or some other negative event. It’s the ability to hold it together when others would consider it normal for you to just let it all fall apart.
Talk to Yourself Positively
The brain can’t remember a negative. So always phrase things to yourself in the positive. For example: I will work out three days this week. Instead of: I won’t miss a workout this week. That winds up translating to your brain as “I will miss a workout this week.”
Survivors v. Victims
People tend to be one of two mindsets: survivor or victim. The victim makes excuses and gives themselves a pass for less than full effort because everything is someone else’s fault. They tend to be passive and pessimistic. And they think if you have to exert some effort, then you must not be very good.
Survivors, on the other hand, have a bias to action, and view things more optimistically. They own their mistakes, and learn from them, instead of blaming others. And they view the act of making an effort as a noble thing on its own. They step up and do things where others would just walk on by. It could be committing a random act of kindness, like holding a door open; or reading one more article about your chosen discipline; or cleaning your tack just a little bit better. Or going to the gym…
Choose to be the survivor. Be the optimist. Take the action.
Music can be a great motivator. Create playlists for yourself that help you keep your rhythm when trotting or cantering. I get a lot of great trot sets done to Nina Simone. Choose songs that are a certain length to help get you through conditioning sets for you or your horse. Put your favorite songs on the list, and don’t listen to it unless you’re at the gym, so you have to work out in order to hear your best music.
Talk to Yourself
As dorky as it sounds, use your own name when you do. It’s easier for your brain to hear you when you speak about yourself in third-person. “Come on, Sue. You can do this,” for example. Just don’t do it in public, or people with think you’re a narcissist, and they may call the men in the little white coats…
Learn Something New Every Week
Whether it’s relevant to your riding or not, choose to learn something new every week. It could be a language, or from reading a new book. Choose something that you find interesting and meaningful, and get to it!
Have a Plan
Actually, you’re going to need several plans. What is your routine in the week before an event? What about in the hours before the event? What about when your riding at the event and something goes wrong? What if the show gets behind and there’s a delay in your ride time? What if you’re behind and suddenly have to rush? How about when the ride is done?
These rituals need to be repeatable, predictable, and memorized. Remember that under stress, we forget things. So you have got to know these rituals cold.
The Bucket List & The Chuck It List
We all have a bucket list. That one is pretty easy. Just remember to keep yours written down somewhere. Mine’s on an app on my phone, so I keep it with me all the time. Mine is pretty long, but that’s because there are some pretty detailed goals in there.
Recently, I was introduced to the idea of a Chuck-It List. That’s things like perfectionism, being a control freak, having expectations that I have to perform at a certain level for others, and the like. I need to get my head around all the stuff I need to chuck, but it’s definitely a worthwhile effort.
Accountability & Being a Team Player
My class of ten from the clinic at the US Olympic Training Center is spread all across the country. We may very well never see each other in person again. But we have created a way for all of us to stay in touch, and to hold each other accountable about our fitness and conditioning. You don’t have to be geographically close to each other to do this. You just have to be committed. And be willing to both “dish it out” and “take it.”
Laugh and Have Fun!
We all started in this crazy sport because we fell in love with the horse. Remember that! This is fun. Enjoy yourself, laugh, love your horse, and relish the experiences you have together.