What is a Mental Practice?
Question: My trainer has me moving up a division on each of my horses. At home I have been able to manage the bigger jumps but I am super jittery about starting the season this way. How do I know if I am in over my head?
First of all, you have to trust your trainer! After all, if you are training at these new levels at home, your horses and you are being prepared to go there. However, I encourage trainers and riders to assess and reassess regularly as we are constantly changing organisms. Have an honest conversation with your trainer about your competition goals for the year. If you have had a long off-season it may be most supportive to your mental strength, focus, and confidence to start back where you were at the end of the last season, or even lower depending on the conditions, and move up incrementally over the course of a week or circuit. Keep communicating with your trainer and asking questions about where to focus your mind, rather than on what-if questions. Most trainers are so comfortable with riding that empathy for fear or overwhelm is difficult for them so avoid looking for it. Trainers, coaches, or teachers are in your life to help you go forward, not to question if it is possible. Remember that your athlete self has surmounted many obstacles thus far and pushed through fear. So the question is not if, but when you will compete at the new levels.
This is an opportunity for you to put your doubts and overwhelming thoughts into the affirmative. Restate your jitters as feeling the adrenaline needed to be present and perform in the ring. This is a time to start or up-level your mental practice. Choose how you hear your thoughts and emotions. Be clear with yourself about your goals and abilities. Make clear agreements with your horse that you will show up and do your best, no matter what level you are jumping. Take some time each day to focus on how you want your early season shows to go. Visualize yourself jumping around on each horse with a solid connection and comfort, regardless of the jump heights. Action follows thought so orienting your thoughts in the direction you want to go will help you get there. Focus on the journey, not the destination or level. Being an athlete means that you stretch yourself every day and you become familiar with feeling in over your head. Look back at the times you moved up in ability as well as what you went through mentally and physically in those periods. These are your growth patterns. Get to know these aspects of yourself well. Likely this challenge will repeat over the course of your life. The more you can engage with the experience, the less it will matter what height jumps you are jumping!
Question: What is a mental practice and why do I need one?
I believe that we only have the power to change that which is within ourselves. This means that we can’t control much in life but we can control our thoughts. When the pressure is on, either in that last chance to qualify for an intended medal or on medal final day, controlling your thoughts is essential. I work with athletes to develop a customized program that addresses personal challenges. Some of the techniques I use are learning to be present in each moment without adding judgmental commentary, connecting with the horse through methods of animal communication and intuition in order to directly engage with your team mate, pre-training and pre-competition rituals that encourage connecting to your power, and lessons in basic meditation to increase focus and calm in times of stress. Also, I am a confidential, nonjudgmental sounding board with whom you can download stress so that you don’t have to ride with distractions in your mind and body!
We can deal with those issues later!