Sport – and life – come with emotions, and sometimes they are strong and interfering. We must learn to distinguish between feelings and actions. So often we hear people say, “I got so angry I had to do it.” Do not buy into this. You always have a choice about how to respond to your emotional cues.
If you find yourself feeling angry or frustrated while riding one day, make a conscious effort to remind yourself of what you are trying to do in that moment. Do not let your emotions “take over” and dictate your actions. Just as you would not allow a fresh horse to misbehave, do not let yourself do the same when in the grip of a feeling. If your horse was acting fresh and goofy, you would lead him firmly back toward his work, and this is what you need to do with yourself, too.
In martial arts, this concept is sometimes referred to as “going back to form.” A martial artist may experience emotions, thoughts, or other distractions, but he knows his job is to get back to his form – back to his job. You can experiment with using the key phrase “back to form” as a cue to refocusing your energy. You want your focus to be on your task, not your emotional state.
The second strategy you may want to employ is simply to take a time out. This is called damage control. One of the toughest consequences of our emotions is the impact they can have on our normal training strategies. You may be very clear about what you need to do, such as how to deliver an aid correctly, but this goal can be thwarted by the experience of an intense emotion. People react in a number of ways to strong feelings, but the common denominator is that they change your ride.
Sometimes it’s okay to just take a break. Take a few deep breaths and clear your head. With practice, you can drop intensity levels within a few minutes. The goal is to restore your physiological system back to a place where productivity is possible, where your brain can re-engage and begin to assist you in solving whatever issue you find yourself faced with.
A routine for dealing with difficult emotions can be summarized like this:
Accept: I feel what I feel because I care about what I’m doing. That is okay; I am going to turn this emotion into a signal to change something up. Try blowing it out (a big exhale), just as your horse does.
Assess: Name the feeling, and begin to move in the direction of problem-solving. Come back to your original goal or identify a new focus. Don’t be afraid to change things up, even for a little while, such as attempting a different and easier exercise.
Commit: A new pathway of thinking is identified and executed.