“Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn’t be exciting if they didn’t.” Roald Dahl
As equestrians, I am sure you can relate to that. How many times have you had the best experience just after almost giving up? It’s an interesting thought that I wanted to share with you.
There have been many times in the past when my reluctance to push myself if things got tough left me with regret. I often wondered what could have been if I had just said yes, or risked failure but did it anyway. I was a very stubborn child/young adult, and the phrase “cut your nose off to spite your face” was probably used more than once to describe me. I felt in control by saying no to new experiences or challenges because I was assured of the outcome instead of risking public failure or ridicule. The only problem with that strategy is you are guaranteed to make no progress or learn anything. You also miss out on making friendships and collaborating with others. It never occurred to me that failing with others could be a good thing or that other people might feel the same. I missed out on opportunities to be supported and to support others by feeling the encouragement of a group. It is still only a recent concept and I am 48!
As I have mentioned in my previous blog, I and other family members have suffered and are still suffering from mental illness of some kind. Living with and caring for others can be frustrating, frightening and heartbreaking at times but also an inciteful education into the human brain. I always loved science and technology subjects. It seems my life played out in a direction of learning more than I planned about human psychology which I am channeling now into my coaching and into my life. I used to feel like a victim of circumstance when my life didn’t go to plan but the truth is that at least some of those life events were more in my control than I realised. I just didn’t try for fear of “what if?”
Having embarked on my Level 3 coaching qualification in 2018/19 I felt like I had started to make a change in my mindset. It had taken me 7 years to push myself to do it after taking my Level 2 because I knew it would be difficult for me to coach in front of my peers and coach educators. I was right, it was terrifying at times, but it was made so much easier by the fantastic group of likeminded people I was working with. It was a total surprise to me that everyone had the same feelings at some point, even the ones who appeared to be super confident. I would have ranked myself somewhere in the bottom half of the group in my mind with no specific idea of where, it was just a general feeling. I wasn’t feeling confident at the start that I would pass the course first time. Alongside practical coaching, there was a written coursework element which I was more confident with and completed steadily. During our group sessions I enjoyed helping others who weren’t so confident in that area. I felt good about that because they had helped me with my meltdowns when I felt overwhelmed. We all had our strengths and weaknesses, but no judgment was made about it.
Sadly not everyone passed the two practical coaching assessments on exam day which was a shock to me at the time because they were all great coaches. I know 100% that my pass was down to my mental strategy. I had practiced over and over in my mind how the two coaching sessions would go and how I would make adjustments if needed. I imagined it in great detail. I thought about my outward appearance giving an air of confidence (even bought a new outfit to get in character!) I rehearsed my body language and tone of voice, thought about breathing to control my heart rate and remembered to listen as well as talk to my rider…. smile. I was determined to give the opportunity my full and best attention. I passed. It felt like mission accomplished.
During a debrief with my assessor I was asked “What next?” Blimey! I was so relieved to have got through it I wasn’t thinking any further than that day. Continual Professional Development is so important to keep up to date with your profession but it’s also good for you personally to keep learning. Centre 10 (Charlie Unwin) Advanced Applied Psychology for Equestrian Coaches (APEC) was a suggestion made for me to think about adding to enhance my coaching. Being a Level 3 coach, I was able to go in at the Advanced course. It was absolutely on my radar already so that became my new plan…so excited. I was having the best time immediately after being terrified. I saved up and finally started in October 2019. It’s been completely amazing.
For those of you who don’t know about Charlie Unwin or http://www.centre10.com please follow the link to read more. Briefly, Charlie is a Sports Psychologist working with equestrians along with other sports including rugby, football, Olympic athletes, businesspeople, and military special forces. Centre 10 trains coaches and riders to improve mental skills to enhance physical performance. As an Advanced Centre 10 Coach I will be able to guide my riders through the processes to achieve a mindset which will not only improve their riding but hopefully their life. This course finishes in March 2021 which I will be sad about because it has been an incredible journey. Again, I have met some truly brilliant and inspiring people along the way.
Reflecting to my handling of the Level 3 exam day, it turns out I was doing something right! Visualisation or mental rehearsal, controlled breathing to calm the heart rate, body language, emotional intelligence and more are all subjects we have covered in the Centre 10 modules. Learning more about the human brain and human behaviour has been fascinating. I had learned so much from life experiences which had taken many years to figure out, but this course has been bringing it all together in a reassuring and practical way. It has been great to learn the science behind why we do certain things and how to change or improve some behaviours which are not helpful to us.
So, what happens if we feel overwhelmed by something and simply avoid it? Will that not work out ok?
I can relate that to flying. I had panic attacks when getting on an aircraft which got worse to the point of deciding to give it up. I would simply not do it…no problem. I didn’t fly for 17 years! Did I mention being stubborn?! On the plus side, my carbon footprint is extremely low, but I had long and arduous journeys to get anywhere abroad. (I am sick on boats too!) I missed out on some family holidays with the children because alternative travel is very expensive and obviously takes a much longer time. My world literally became smaller and my comfort zone shrank.
I still haven’t flown much but I did get some help from the doctor which at least made it possible. We’ve had two lovely holidays in Portugal since where we made memories I won’t forget. I will keep that possibility open now and consider doing it again when we are allowed.
The trouble with staying within our comfort zone and never pushing the boundaries is that instead of fully living life we are just existing day to day. You might think that is ok now and it wouldn’t be right for me to judge people for that, but it would be a shame to regret later, what you didn’t do today. We also run the risk of our comfort zone getting smaller as a result. Little by little we avoid a few more things here and there which creep up on us and make our bubble smaller. You will no doubt have heard of the phrase – get comfortable being uncomfortable – and that is precisely where the growth happens. If you are uncomfortable, you are growing and increasing your comfort zone. There are rewards for that in the shape of feeling good about your achievements when it’s done. Having more experiences you can put inside your comfort zone or bubble will build resilience and strengthen it from the inside. It tends to have a cumulative effect – the more confidence and self-belief you build, the more likely you are to be confident in the future. Humans are designed to struggle. If we are struggling – we are learning. Neuroscientists have found that mistakes are essential for brain growth and making new connections.
See if you can challenge yourself to do something that scares you which you might usually avoid. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. You don’t need to tell anyone else initially if you don’t want to – just do it and see what happens. If you need support, it might take a little more planning but perhaps you could make a start and commit to a plan.
Here are a few more things you can do to combat negative thoughts and improve your mental resilience.
Practice seeing the positive in every day. It’s not so easy right now I know, but even more important to try now more than ever. It is proven to improve your mood if you actively practice searching for positivity. My positive in general this past year has been the time to learn. I have had more time but less money of course. On the other hand, I haven’t spent as much money as no shows. I have found loads of free online content as well as paying for some courses and webinars. This January I spent time getting out of my comfort zone on Zoom talking to people about mindset coaching and had some fantastic feedback which really boosted my confidence.
In the same way, expressing gratitude has a recognised effect on combating negative thoughts. Being grateful towards others or grateful for things and experiences we have has a positive effect. When we show gratitude, we are more likely to receive good feedback from others which makes us feel better.
You might want to keep a diary or make notes about how you’re doing so that you can remind yourself of these positive, grateful and challenging things you’ve done when you’re having a bad day. There is no negativity allowed in the diary though.
Finally – for now – if you have a positive experience in a day, whatever that might be, savor it. Savoring means holding on to good thoughts and emotions, taking time to dwell and appreciate. Rather than dismiss it and move on quickly to the next thing, take notice and enjoy. That way you will easily recall it later and can relive it again.
There is so much to say about mindset and the application of mental skills. It’s such an exciting area for me to explore further. I am in the process of developing a coaching programme which will deliver a structured framework for riders to improve their mental skills, maximise their physical performance and increase their enjoyment of riding – whether you compete or not. Exciting times which might not have happened without lockdown. Struggle has encouraged me to try harder and innovate new ways of working with others. I will still value working face to face in the normal way but incorporating online learning opportunities will improve the impact I can have. Looking forward to it even if it does scare me a bit.