I was amused last week when someone suggested that I write a blog on how to have a positive attitude when you're riding. Probably because I don't think I always have the best attitude and it takes me conscious effort to monitor it and keep it positive.
So here are my top five strategies to fix your attitude and emotions when you're not feeling so great. Obviously this can all be applied to your riding, but I think it's easier to sit down and use these strategies for life in general and then try to apply them to riding.
1. Fake it
2. Role play in your mind a different outcome
3. Make a list of everything negative you are feeling and change it to a positive list - I am, I can
4. Watch your reactions - if you're reacting and feeling negative even though you're thinking positive
5. Tell a story like it already happened
Strategy 1 - Fake it: When I have a not so great day and I catch myself (key point, because sometimes I am not aware I am in a foul mood) then I take whatever is the negative and change it to positive and repeat it in my head and out loud. If I feel like garbage, I tell myself "I feel great". If i'm nervous about riding a young horse I say "I love riding young horses", which I do!
Strategy 2 -Role play: This is the BEST exercise that has changed my emotions and reactions with riding. I role play out scenarios and outcomes in my head all the time. If I am having bad thoughts about a horse taking off and bucking or bolting, I tell a story to myself about having the BEST dressage ride of my life.
This strategy works beyond just horses as well. When I have BAD childhood memories come up I always take time to relieve them in a positive past. Here's an example I used recently for Halloween last fall.
I never had a happy Halloween until this last one. I had this really bad memory come up about a week before Halloween about my mom dressing me up as a clown as a child when I was about 3 years old. I was EMBARASSED and mortified, I HATE the color red and I couldn't understand while all these people were poking and prodding at me. So I threw a temper tantrum, and she dragged me to the car and started spanking me until I would shut up. Yeah...so I had to change that memory.
Beyond that, by age 8 she decided that I was too old for Halloween and would never take us to town, help us find costumes, etc. I just wanted to be cool and included like the other kids but all I had was an Snow-white costume that was too small to fit by the time I was in elementary school.
So these bad memories come up around holidays and this is how I change them.
Did I mention that I had the BEST Halloween ever this year?
I keep a white board that I write out my feelings on. Then it's easy to erase after I am done working. I labeled it Halloween and I ran TWO scenarios. The first scenario was the Halloween of my childhood. I made myself write down what a PERFECT Halloween night would have been at that age. How I wanted it to go. How I wanted my mom to be warm and understanding instead of cold and selfish and angry at me for acting out. I even wrote out what I wanted to wear as a costume (Pocahontas duh with super cute moccasin shoes with beads on top! Not a red effing clown with a bright red nose!!!) and sketched it out in detail.
Then I wrote out what my best Halloween would look like for Halloween 2020. But I didn't imagine it in the future. Instead, I told the story in past tense about going out with my friends, hanging out with the people that mean the most to me, driving my favorite uber clients around, etc. I always tell myself to push my imagination one step beyond, so on a statement like this I would ask myself, What were your wearing? Who were your friends? What were they wearing? What was the music and atmosphere at the barn? Etc.
The key point is not to just change the thought, but to change the feeling. I had to go from a feeling of cold and unloved to a feeling of warmth and love to be able to change my attitude about Halloween and say it was the BEST Halloween ever.
I know I made this sound serious, but you can have a LOT of fun when you role play with your imagination. Sometimes I force myself to really build that castle in the sky, the more bogus, the better, and then it all kind of normalizes in the life. It helps you really change that emotion and reaction behind the thinking.
Strategy 3 Making Lists: If i'm struggling with a particular emotion or feeling I usually make a list of all the bad feelings and then in the column next to it write out that feeling in a positive light. For example, If i'm feeling unwanted and alone, I write out WHY i feel so unwanted and alone and then I change it to positives. So I struggled with this today because I desperately wanted to go do something fun but it's like pulling teeth to get people to go out and do fun things.
So on my negative side I had things like "I text everyone so I feel like I belong"
"I like to go do things to avoid being at peace with myself"
"I feel overwhelmed and pressured to be cool and talkative"
Then I change it to positives like"
"I am fucking cool"
"I LOVE to talk"
"I am a ray of sunshine and people love to hang out with me"
"I am comfortable in myself and don't need others to validate me"
But the bigger question I always ask myself: "What am I avoiding in myself by searching for in others?" What is that feeling of being "wanted" that I chase. When I can answer that questions, I know that I am in the right direction to change my attitude.
Using positive words in this category like "I am" and "Today was the best" goes a long way in changing the attitude too!
Strategy 4 Reactions and Feelings: If you're trying to change your attitude in your head, you're all wrong. Life is about feeling and reactions. If you can master NOT REACTING and being a blank space, then you're already farther ahead of everyone else. Seriously. It's not "thinking" that "I feel great today" it's the actually energy and emotion of feeling great.
I think this category is most applicable to horses. Your greatest skill as a rider is to have a poker face and blank space and not react. It works magic in life too. Someone starting drama? Don't react. Someone trying to put enthusiasm and energy behind something that is no big deal? Don't react. Someone making mountains out of molehills? Just watch the water flow by and don't react (obviously easier said than done!).
Strategy 5 Tell a story like it already happened:
I do this all the time when I want something in life. If I'm headed to a clinic and I am NERVOUS, I tell myself we are driving home, it was fantastic, my horse was amazing, and I vividly describe all the details. It already happened and it was great! I always push my imagination too and try to build a castle in the sky, especially in today's world where my brain feels numbed by social media and I can't stretch my imagination like I used to.
So tonight I really want to go do something fun right? Well, what does that really mean? You see, if you want it, you have to be specific. So here's what I want tonight and of course I'm going to tell it in past tense like it really happened.
"First, around 3 pm I worked out and rowed for thirty minutes, lifted weights, and then biked for another 15. Then I went to the barn and did evening chores and got things set up for tomorrow. I came home and showered and my friends texted me and agreed to meet me at the PIT because I really wanted to go DO something. You see, I am a DOER not a talker. So first we played mini golf and I beat them at it and then we rode on the go Karts and that was pretty fun too. Around 8 pm someone texted me for an uber ride and that was fantastic because they paid me a lot of money to drive them and I needed that money for hay tomorrow. Then around 10 pm one of my friends called me and I got to hang out with him too. We laughed and giggled so much it made my belly hurt. I was in bed by 1 am and I couldn't wait to get up and train horses tomorrow!"
I'll take a statement like this and then add details and make it more vivid. What could I imagine to push this evening beyond limits and make it even better?
These are the strategies that work for me. Hope it helps for you too!
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Ashley is a dressage trainer and instructor that loves to train dressage and teach lessons.