By now, I hope I have convinced you that great performances require far more than just physical ability. Our mental skills enable us to bring it all together and deliver upon command, but our thinkers can just as easily let us down.
Distorted thoughts and thought patterns can have a significant impact on both the way you feel and the way you perform. It is important to check your thinker occasionally by tuning into your thoughts and thought patterns to make sure everything is working smoothly. Learn to identify common types of ANT’s (automatic negative thoughts) that run around your head particularly when things are not going according to plan.
Some to look out for are:
· Assuming – Do you often assume the worst without testing the evidence? Do you assume your trainer is disappointed in the way you rode because he is not smiling? Maybe he has a blister on his foot.
· Shoulds (Musts/Oughts) – Stop “should-ing” on yourself! These are demands that we make on ourselves such as, “I should be a flawless performer”, “I must not make mistakes,” “I ought to have known better.” This thought distortion can damage our self-esteem by making us feel like a failure and inadequate. I should be such and such, but I’m not. … therefore, I am a failure. Try replacing your shoulds with woulds or coulds. It would be nice if I was a flawless competitor. That is something to aim for rather than an expectation.
· The Fairy-Tale Fantasy – This is when we have certain expectations about how the world should work. We demand the ideal with statements such as, “That’s not fair” or “Why did that have to happen?.” Judges are not always fair; life is not always fun. Bad things happen to good people every day. Placing unrealistic expectations on life is setting yourself up for disappointment.
· All or Nothing Thinking – This is when we think in black or white. “If I don’t win then I am a loser,” “Either I do it perfectly or not at all.” I like the way Schiraldi phrases it in his book, The Self-Esteem Workbook: “Even if it were possible to perform perfectly (it isn’t), performing below some standard usually means we’ve performed at 80 percent or 35 percent – rarely at 0 percent”.
· Overgeneralizing – This is when we take one negative experience and apply to our entire lives. For example, “I always screw up every time,” “I never get my cows cut,” “I never sit my stops.” Really? In 10 years you have never sat one stop and you are still riding?
· Labeling – This is where we give ourselves a label or some kind of (not so cute) name. For example, “I am stupid,” “I am useless,” “I am a loser.” This is when you need to separate your who from your do. What you did was stupid but that is not who you are.
· Dwelling on the Negative – You may remember me explaining that as human beings we are wired to tune into the negative aspects of life. That’s how we survived as cave men and women. Darwin would tell us that those of us who were focused on the pretty flowers probably got eaten by the dinosaur standing behind them. These days, however, it’s OK to give yourself permission to see the brighter side of life. It makes you a lot more enjoyable to be around.
· Rejecting the Positive – Dwelling on the negative means we over look the positives. Rejecting the positives means that we actually choose not to accept things as they occur, even when they turn out the way we want them to. For example, “That was just winner’s luck,” “That was a fluke,” “the other guy let me win,” “The judges must have been asleep.”
· Unfavorable Comparisons – We tend to magnify our faults and weaknesses while exaggerating the strengths of others. When we make these comparisons, we generally fall short and seem inadequate.
· Catastrophizing – We do this when we blow things out of proportion believing that things are so terrible that we ‘can’t stand it’. Actually, although you may not like it generally you can stand it. You are tougher than you think you are. That performance may have been a disaster but it’s not the end of the world and you will survive. In five years, this will just be a bump in the road.
· Personalizing – Sometimes we take responsibility for more than what is within our control. Claiming that the team’s loss was, ‘all my fault’ is taking responsibility for other’s errors or the strengths of the other team. Here is a common one for lopers, “My trainer didn’t do well because I didn’t lope her enough.”
· Blaming – This is the opposite of personalizing. “I didn’t do well because my horse was too fresh.”
Our thinkers are the reason that we dominate the planet, but all that intelligence has it’s down falls. Don’t be a passenger to your brain. Pay attention to what is going on upstairs and take control. Your performance will thank you.