What’s the rush…don’t let the “shoulds” get you down….
A few people have been in touch with me recently about confidence issues around their new horses arriving at their yards. And this led me to thinking about this specific time in our horsey lives – AND more generally about how we handle “shoulds” in our lives.
Interestingly – after all the excitement of looking, finding, buying, transporting and finally having your new horse arrive in their new stable or field and be ready to begin the journey together – after all those lovely positive exciting feelings, or getting your horse back from a wonderful experience of having them started by someone you respect and trust – the most common thing is to feel utterly and totally unconfident!
Why is this?
There are several things that contribute to this surprising “post arrival depression”:
Well, first of all there are the physical reasons – simple biology is at work here.
When we look forward to an event, our adrenalin levels go up, and usually as we imagine the positive side of things our brain releases endorphins too. Along with this, our cortisol levels go up with any stress, negative OR positive – so with such a great event as finding and buying a new horse, we are FULL of these chemicals pumping round our bodies. IT can be a real high
Sometimes our body overdoes the adrenalin – -and we can feel a bit anxious too, at the same time as being excited – I am sure most of us have had that experience!
While we are looking, finding, buying and dealing with all of this, these chemicals keep us going, give us that high of excitement and flood our system.
So what happens once our horse has arrived and is settled in the field or yard? Our unconscious knows we don’t need these chemicals anymore – and shuts them down. And we go from a flood of chemicals – to NOTHING.
Ever heard of withdrawal? It’s a bit like that – suddenly we lost the adrenalin, the endorphins and the cortisol and we are left with nothing in our system – at the very least we feel a bit empty and deflated….at the worst, we feel pangs of withdrawal and can slip into a negative state.
Interestingly, post purchase depression is actually a recognised syndrome! When you have wanted a lovely dress or jacket for SO long and saved up for it and then you FINALLY buy it and bring it home filled with glee – the next day you look at it and think “it isn’t that great really…..” or “why did I spend all that money on that?” – this is a similar biological reaction.
You might also recognise these feelings just after you have achieved something great – for some people the day AFTER they achieve a major goal (eg they went on a fantastic hack on their horse) is when these feelings can strike as part of the “chemical withdrawal”…….
So first of all, you are going to have that post-arrival “slump” in your feelings. And for many of us, who have been working with our confidence, this slump can easily be read as a loss of confidence – we become less sure of what we are doing and that spills over.
However, this is not the only thing at work here. Yes, there is a biological explanation for feeling a bit low and down after such a major event. But there is one thing that happens once we have our horse that can make things worse. And this is the arrival of the SHOULDS.
Once we have our horse, suddenly the world seems full of
“you should do……” or, worse “I should do…..”
As soon as I hear anyone use the word “should” in a sentence, I know we are into a challenging area – because when we say “should” we are talking not about what we WANT to do, or what WE think it is a good idea to do – -we are talking about what we think we are EXPECTED to do – and now we are in that area of having EXPECTATIONS that are putting pressure on us – and that is not usually a good thing for our confidence.
Being confident is about being REALISTIC in our thinking – in our goals, our timelines, our knowledge, our skills — and our recognition of what we are and are not able to do.
When we start using the word “should” – we are usually talking about expectations that are NOT realistic, and that erodes confidence.
These things come from OUTSIDE ourselves, and INSIDE ourselves.
Let’s look at the OUTSIDE ourselves first:
When your new horse arrives, almost the first thing everybody says to you (once they have admired and adored him, hopefully!) is – “when are you going to ride him?”
Everyone invites you on hacks, rides – and isn’t it AMAZING how many other people suddenly seem to know EXACTLY what you need to be doing with your horse?
Of course, when you see them with THEIR horses they don’t seem at all perfect – and yet they all seem to know exactly what YOUR horse needs and what you “should” be doing…..
So that’s the first challenge – to be able to separate ourselves from everyone ELSE’s idea of what we “should” be doing and get away to our OWN space and work out what WE want to do for OUR horse given OUR situation and experience.
One friend has recently acquired a lovely young horse – he is skinny, very ribby and looks a bit under-developed right now. He has a lovely nature and is very eager and willing to work with his human and learn things.
My friend, let’s call her Ann, is letting him get used to the routine, feeding him well and lunging him to give him some exercise – she is also taking him out and about for walks in hand/online to see how he reacts to things and to build their relationship.
She is thinking about doing some ground games with him like horse agility, playing with obstacles and so on so she can work even more on learning to read him and having him build trust in her.
But what does she hear EVERY time she goes up to the yard?
“You should be riding him by now!” “You need to be working him more” “If you weren’t scared you’d be riding him” “if you don’t ride him soon it won’t work”
Now, she is smart and knows that what she is doing is best for him – for a start, he’s too underdeveloped physically and health wise to be riding straight away, its going to take time to develop topline and then find a good saddle for him – but it is amazing what a RUSH everyone else seems to be in for her to ride.
And this constant drip…drip… drip of “you SHOULD….” is slowly eroding her confidence in her decisions and choices.
So this friend has recently invested some time in coming up with how to handle these comments – if she doesn’t do something she will start feeling unconfident, then start avoiding going to the yard and all of a sudden, these “should” and “shouldsayers” will be controlling her time with her horse – and taking all the fun away. And that is not a good thing.
Currently she has a couple of strategies for this: when someone says to her “you should be doing…..” she has decided to say “thank you for that, when it’s time, I will certainly consider it”….and then carrying on doing what she was planning. This way she is not being aggressive, defensive or wasting time justifying what she is doing – and she stays polite to the others.
Her other key strategy is to make sure she has SUPPORT for her choices – so she has found a few friends who share her approach to horsemanship and emails/chats to them on fb to get validation for her decisions – she also has occasional conversations with me where we make sure that however long the timeline is, she and her horse are progressing safely and steadily towards a great partnership.
With these strategies, she has found her confidence returning and is now back to enjoying going to see her horse, regardless of the “shouldsayers”.
Now, what about those INSIDE “shoulds”:
I know we all have them – and sometimes they are true! I “should” spend more time with my horses, I “should” learn more….these are true BUT to simply say that and not have a realistic plan risks me focusing on the fact that I can ALWAYS do more, and I risk going into a negative spiral.
I will use one of these as an example of how we can work with the INTERNAL “shoulds” to manage our feelings and confidence:
This is what can happen:
I think “I should spend more time with my own horses”. Then I think “I am a bad person for not spending more time with my horses”…..then this globalises into “I really shouldn’t have horses if I can’t spend the right amount of time with them…” and so the negative spiral begins – and goes until I feel a total waste of space and want to give up horses.
I work with many people who have this challenge – after all, we are not the leisured classes that used to exist where we have all day every day to do what we wish – most of us have to earn a living, run a house, and do many other things every day just to manage our lives.
One of the most challenging parts when I coach people is the part where we come up with a REALISTIC homework plan. When we do this the FIRST thing I ask is “how many hours each week have you spent with your horse over the past year?” – because often people will tell me they WILL spend 10 hours a week, especially when they are positive and excited after a good session together – BUT what they forget is how the house, the work, the family – all need time too! And yes, on a good week they COULD have ten hours – but they are FAR more likely to have 4 or 5.
And sometimes being realistic means being creative – for me, with my time away from home coaching, it is better for me to say “I won’t do anything with my horses for that week – but the NEXT week I am home so can be with them every day”….
Being realistic and having a plan is a great tool for managing the “shoulds” : when we say to ourselves “I should be doing more” – we can look at our plan, and see for ourselves that actually, we ARE making progress, we ARE doing what we originally decided was a good idea – and we ARE being as progressive and positive as we can be given the realities of our lives.
Coming up with a plan is one key aspect of being confident – and when you come up with a plan with a lot of options, then you can be very confident indeed. Part of my DIY Confidence Course in Horsemanship Magazine was an exercise on how exactly to do this… here’s a link to their site: http://horsemanshipmagazine.co.uk/
A great horseman once said “you decide the plan, the horse decides the timeline” I would add to that – the horse decides HIS timeline, and YOU decide YOUR timeline
At the end of the day, you know what you want and need to do. For your OWN confidence, and for your HORSE’S confidence, you need to take the time it takes for you BOTH to build a solid foundation of trust and confidence in yourselves and each other.
After all, what’s the rush? I am planning to spend the rest of my life with my riding horse – so I can take a few months to get it right for both of us from the start. I am going to enjoy the WHOLE journey.
And I’m not going to let any external or internal “shoulds” get in my way
Yours, in confidence