Stop Cheerleading Yourself, Start Coaching

So, here’s the thing. We live in a culture that likes to skip over the hard stuff. We like easy answers. We like the idea of getting from point A to point B in a straight line. Success! We like the glossy stuff we see online and we covet the confidence we see in others. Quite often, this leads us to think we need to talk ourselves out of our fear and our self-doubt. We want to muscle our way through it with positive self-talk and affirmations. “I’m a good rider.” “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.” “Be brave!”

Recently I asked a Cadence Client, “What do you want to say to yourself during your lesson?” She said, “That I’m gonna have a great ride! That my horse is going to be good. That I can show my trainer how hard I’ve worked since my last lesson.”

From one perspective, you might think these represent a constructive mindset. They are optimistic and full of passion. But here’s the problem: They all set an expectation that can very easily and quickly become unmet. As soon as you start warming up and your horse is a little stiff or gets nervous, your mind will start going “Yikes! This is not a good ride. You are not a great rider. Your trainer is going to think you suck.” And the self-doubt and fear you were trying to combat with your positive self-talk comes rushing back. Sound familiar? This is what it’s like when you cheerlead yourself instead of coach yourself.

When you coach yourself, the things you say to yourself (or your horse) are rooted in things you can control. They keep you grounded in your real abilities and in your truth. They are not directive but are instead statements that reflect what is most important to you in the moment. They shift you from a disruptive emotional state like fear into a constructive one like joy or determination.

Coaching self-talk, while you’re riding, might be more like this: “We’ve got this.” “It’s just you and me out here.” “Let’s dance.” “I can handle whatever happens.” You might ask yourself questions like, “Who do I want to be for my horse?” or “What do I want to create RIGHT NOW?” These generate a sense of empowerment and help you focus on the present moment. They do not depict a particular outcome but instead, speak to WHO YOU ARE BEING. You are not confident when you believe something is easy. You are confident when you trust yourself to handle the things that are hard. Coaches stay with you through the messy stuff. Cheerleaders remain on the sidelines and shout the same things over and over, no matter what is happening on the field. (Sorry to all the cheerleaders out there who might beg to differ but you get the idea.)

The next time things are not going well, let’s say your horse is being spooky and the “what ifs” start pinging in your head, notice how you talk to yourself (or your students). Our tendency is to try and talk ourselves out of being afraid. “He’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about. Keep him busy. Try to relax!” All of these discount your fear and can actually add pressure, making it worse.” Instead, plan to say things to yourself that are generative. Things that inspire trust and resilience and keep you thinking about your ability to be who you need to be for your horse. “Stay with me. Connect. Breathe. Trust. We’ve got this.” Be directive and clear with what you ask of your horse while being supportive and calm with what you say to yourself. And stick around through the messy stuff.