I still remember becoming increasingly frustrated with my riding career as I became more focused, and perhaps obsessed, with my results. I wanted to prove to myself I was good enough and I needed good results as evidence. I was trapped in a vicious cycle and the more frustrated I got the more my results went downhill. I still remember how unhappy I felt at the time, regularly asking myself, “Why do I do this?” I know I am not the only one to have experienced this debilitating feeling. So if you recognise yourself in this story and are feeling increasingly unhappy, here are five steps to turn the tide and become a happy rider again!
1. Make a happy list
I recently read the book Solve for Happy, by Mo Gawdat, which I highly recommend and which is the inspiration for this blog. One way to become happy again is to remind yourself of what makes you happy in the first place. It may not seem very powerful but if you take 10 minutes to write down all the things that make you happy, you might notice a trend. You might be surprised to find that most of the things on your happy list are day-to-day, “small” things, such as a good cup of coffee, hacking out in the woods, the smell of good hay, or the sound of your horses eating contentedly. Make your own happy list to remind yourself that feeling happy doesn’t have to be complicated or depend on your results.
2. Remember your ‘why’
When things are going well it’s easy to be happy. But when things aren’t going as we hoped or planned, we become more focused on the results and why our riding is not how it used to be. This can get us in a vicious cycle of becoming more tense when the pressure is on causing the results to deteriorate even further. Instead, in order to be and stay happy no matter how things are going at present, remember the bigger picture and why you started riding in the first place. Why do you do what you do? When I asked this question to professional riders such as Daniel Deusser, McLain Ward, and Laura Kraut, they replied it was their love for horses, their love for improvement, or a combination of the two.
“Happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be,” Mo Gawdat.
3. Stay grateful
Again, this might seem a simple concept. But just thinking of gratitude is not enough, you might say. But in reality, it is not that new horse or winning that class that is going to make you happy, at least not in the long run. Achieving such goals might provide a short-term rush but it wears off quickly and, before you know it, you are already pursuing the next one. Long-lasting happiness is simple and, as corny as it might sound, it comes from within. So start your day by thinking of three things you feel deeply grateful for (with the emphasis on feeling). Let that feeling expand within your body and stay with it for a few seconds. Over time, you might notice feelings of gratitude taking over throughout your day.
4. Take time off
I know from experience how hardworking riders are. I used to fall squarely into this category. Working six to seven days a week from sunrise to sunset is typical and considered normal. Even though a strong work ethic is important and should be praised, it is as important to know when to rest. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to focus on something and how we make more mistakes when we are tired? If you want to stay happy and keep enjoying what you’re doing in the long run then make sure you treat yourself as your most important asset. If you find that hard to do then just ask yourself what you would do in this situation with your best horse. Would you push it even further? Would you kill it with work? Probably not. So treat yourself like you do your horses to stay just as happy and energized.
5. Let go of expectations
In his book, Mo explains how expectations can stand in the way of our happiness. In the form of a mathematical equation he states that, “Happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be.” In other words let go of any expectations! Especially for how you think an upcoming training or show will go. We can’t predict the future. We can only change things in this moment. So stay present, stay focused on the process and don’t forget to smile J