10 mental habits you want to get rid of right now

By Annette Paterakis

You might not realize it but habits dictate almost everything we do, including our self-talk, how we deal with set backs, and our ability to focus in the ring. Certain behaviors, performed over and over again, become habits and routines that influence our thoughts, actions and riding. Or in Aristotle’s words, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Here are ten habits you want to stop using.

1. Stop comparing yourself to others

In an elite world like the Equestrian sport, it is easy to get carried away comparing yourself to other riders, their amazing horses and their picture perfect lives. However, remember that everyone has their own journey and comparing yourself to others is not helping you at all to become a better rider. So refocus on YOUR own journey and start working on setting and achieving YOUR goals.

2. Stop living in the past

In the same way, comparing your current results to your previous wins is not helping you to improve either. If anything, it will make you feel like you’re not in control of what is happening to you. Instead, focus on all the things you CAN do. Become aware of all the recourses you have at your disposal right now and start to take action in the present moment in order to see results in the future.

3. Stop checking your phone

Did you know that constantly distracting your mind with things to do, social media and technology, can actually harm your focus in the ring? Do you find it hard to completely focus on riding when training your horses or when in the show arena? Then you might want to leave your phone at the barn and train your focus by completely engaging in the moment.

4. Stop working hard instead of smart

This might seem like an odd one, but have you ever considered learning something new or sleeping a bit more to improve your riding? Yes, working hard is necessary if not crucial, but completely over working yourself in order to succeed, might be counter productive. Research has shown that when deliberate practice is combined with enough rest and sleep, it becomes the most powerful combination for success. So instead of grueling through the day, rest, do or learn something different and get new creative ideas to work on improvement. This counts for your horses too!

5. Stop doing the same thing every day

So what is deliberate practice exactly? It is the opposite of you training the same things every day. Doing the same exercises with your horse every day without giving it much thought will quickly stagnate your growth. Deliberate practice is rather, repeatedly training your specific skills, stretching yourself in doing so and getting constant feedback on how you are doing in order to improve. Set small, specific and process based goals for yourself and your horses. Great mental exercises to train your focus are, meditation and visualization.

6. Stop avoiding making mistakes

This might seem counter intuitive, but part of deliberate practice is training and stretching yourself and thus, making mistakes. This is actually a source of great feedback and provides a wealth in information. Use this opportunity to learn instead of trying to avoid it and embrace the lessons that will help you become a better rider.

7. Stop using negative language

What do you tell yourself when you exit the arena? What goes trough your mind when making a mistake? Would you talk like that to your best friend? Of course not! It would be heartbreaking and counter productive. So why do you keep talking to yourself like that? Recognize that negative and criticizing self-talk is not helping you to become a better rider and only negatively impacts your self-confidence. Instead, become aware of the language you use in your mind and commit to using more helpful and constructive words. Make sure to stick to it for about two months to form a new habit.

8. Stop complaining

In the same way, complaining is a type of language that will make you feel powerless and negative. Let go of all the things that already happened, let go of the things you can’t change right now and focus all your attention on what you DO have influence over. Stop complaining and start doing.

9. Stop being so hard on yourself

Beating yourself up, again and again, might give you the impression you are becoming tougher, but in my belief, that’s just an illusion. You’re not going to avoid making the same mistakes, just because you are telling yourself of. This technique doesn’t work when applied to other people either. Research shows, that learning and creating new habits occurs when emphasizing positive behavior. Therefore, end the day with reflecting on all the things you learned today and acknowledge everything you have done right too!

10. Stop blaming others

Blaming others or circumstances for your misfortune might feel good at first, but it is not helping you at all on your pursuit to becoming the best rider you can be. By playing the blame game you are automatically focused on all the things you can not change. Grand yourself the power you deserve, by taking responsibility, accepting your mistakes and learning from them!