Client Story: Jennifer Goddard – Letting go of self criticism

By Annette Paterakis

As there is still some mysticism around mental coaching and sport psychology, I’d like to raise the curtain by sharing some of the challenges that clients of mine have faced and how, together, we turn things around. For my second case study, I’m sharing Jenn’s story. Jennifer Goddard is an American show jumper based in the Netherlands. With up to Grand Prix level experience, she is currently focused on acquiring young prospects, working them up and selling them on, with great success thus far. Last year Jenn sold one of her projects to Eric van der Vleuten and it is shaping up to be an excellent partnership.

The story

However, in summer 2018, when Jenn reached out to me, she was not pleased about her mindset and progress in the sport. Apart from the results in the ring, Jenn had noticed that her own mind had become her biggest downfall and it was holding her back from being the best rider she could be. She constantly set the bar too high for herself and when she could not meet those often unrealistic expectations of perfection, she would beat herself up for it. Needles to say, this had a negative impact on her self-confidence and motivation.

The challenge

Being perfectionistic is a habit. In society and through experiences or certain language we might hear around us, we learn at a young age that perfection is the goal. As a result we might create certain beliefs like, unless it’s perfect, it’s not good enough or unless I’m riding perfectly, I’m not good enough. We are not always consciously aware of these beliefs, but under the surface, they direct our every move. For Jenn, this meant that she was often so busy criticizing herself that she couldn’t grow or improve. Trainers could give her constructive feedback, but she was so hard on herself, distracted by even the tiniest mistake, she couldn’t take it in.

The process

To change a negative habit, we need to replace it with a better one. Instead of focusing too much on why she set the bar so high and why she was so hard on herself, we reset and went back to basics. We implemented daily habits to help train the mind to work for her and not against her. This starts with a morning routine, which I teach all my clients. It consists of 3 short exercises including a breathing exercise, a gratitude exercise and a visualization exercise. I consider these to be like yoga for the brain as they create a flexible, positive and confident mind.

Next we worked on training her mind to stay more focused on the process and less on the results or what other people might be thinking of her. In order to do that, we implemented the second daily routine, staying connected with your horse. Even though Jenn already spent a lot of time bonding with her horses, she let her own negative self talk interrupt that connection. Therefore, we created the habit to take at least a few minutes to really feel (so not think about) the horse underneath her, every time she gets on. It’s a great way to train your mind to stay in the moment and to be focused on feeling instead of thinking, which is crucial in the ring. For Jenn, imagining being in one big bubble with her horse when riding, worked really well.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we worked on changing her mindset.

In a fixed mindset, you believe that you either have what it takes to succeed, or you don’t. Your core abilities are fixed and perhaps you can improve with training to some extent, but in essence, you are either a natural, gifted, or you are not. As a result, you feel the need to prove yourself every time you go into the arena, so making mistakes is a big no no. On the other hand, in a growth mindset you are focused on improvement and becoming the best rider you can be. Sure, the results matter, but they don’t define you. The way you ride in the ring and your results are feedback of how well you have trained. They are a product of your effort and a compass to guide you and your horse towards improvement. Learn more about the different mindsets here.

Jenn explains, “I always thought I had a growth mindset because I was very open to learning and willing to work hard. The problem was that when I was so busy criticizing myself, I couldn’t grow.” I told Jenn that it’s not about proving yourself, it’s about improving yourself. This was the moment it clicked for her.

The outcome

Now Jenn is focused on improvement most, if not all of the time, and has successfully incorporated daily habits that help keep her mind positive and able to easily recover from mistakes. She is excited about riding at a show but just as excited about riding and developing her horses at home. As she is now using more helpful language and thoughts, she can absorb information she is given and take that to make herself and her horses better. In other words, Jenn has definitely grown into a growth mindset. Or, in Jenn’s own words, “I have been very fortunate to train with some of the leading professionals in the industry, but until I changed my mindset, I wasn’t able to make the most of their lessons. Through deliberate practice, under Annette’s guidance, I have learned to love the process of improvement, both of myself and of my horses. For me, perfection is no longer on my radar. Now my focus is on putting forth the most authentic version of myself, mistakes and all, so that I can cultivate my own happiness and success in this sport.”

What about you?

Do you recognise yourself in the above? If the answer is ‘yes’, then rest assured there are so many ways in which you too can implement new and better habits, focus on the process and improve through deliberate practice. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Check out my book, “Keep Calm and Enjoy The ride”. In it, I share many of the techniques I use when working with my clients to help make them more mentally strong. More Info.
  2. Join my Master Your Mind Online Mental Training Program. This is such a powerful tool, easy to use and practical. Take your mental game to the next level now! More Info.
  3. Think private coaching might be for you? Get in touch and we can schedule an intro call so we can have a chat, free of charge. Contact Me.