Does your inner dialogue create growth and expansion or constriction?

The expression of an inner dialogue through words, emotion, images, sound, feeling and/or text is one of the ways that our human brains process the world around us. Not everyone experiences a voice giving an ongoing narration of their day. For some people it may be a sound, a picture or a visceral response that you associate with those words or thoughts. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of inner dialogue you can find a way to take control and create opportunities for expansion. I experience the world mainly through words but I can also have visceral and visual experiences. This piece is from my perspective and how I process the world, you may read this and experience the situations in a different way than me. Ideally you are able to put yourself in the situations I describe and use your world view to gain a deeper understanding of how the concept of changing your perspective can work in your life to use your inner dialogue to create growth and expansion.

In my 20s I read a book called What You Say When You Talk to Yourself, it was the first time I really became aware of my inner voice and all the random thoughts swirling around in my head. The book opened my eyes to the fact that I could morph my thoughts into something constructive. I had the power to take control of my thoughts and change my situation. I controlled my thoughts, my thoughts didn’t control me. When it came to horses the process felt pretty natural to me, I was able to laser focus on my goals and not let that little voice creep in, too often. When I am competing I am able to silence the near constant chatter in my head, horse shows are actually a respite from all the noise my active brain likes to produce. That is probably a major reason why horses became such a big part of my life. When I am on a horse I feel so free, I feel like I have room to breathe and just be.

As a young rider, I was fearless, confident, up for anything that involved horses. I never gave up riding as a young adult and rode throughout my pregnancy until I literally could not get on my horse anymore because of my huge belly. I started right up again as soon as I got the go ahead from my Doctor after having my daughter. Horses were and continue to be like air to me.

It didn’t occur to me until I started teaching people to ride that many others do not share my world view. The comments I see in horse groups online frequently fall into one of two camps; I pushed through my negative self talk, went to the barn and had a great ride or I gave into my negative self talk and didn’t get on my horse. As an instructor I see people who come to me full of love for horses, they really want to learn to ride but stop because they ultimately get defeated by their self talk.

Negative inner dialogue can take so many forms but quite frequently involves fear. Fear of the horse, fear that they are the one person who will not be able to learn to ride, fear of getting hurt, fear of looking foolish, fear of putting in the hard work, fear of making a mistake, the list goes on and on and is unique to each person and their circumstances. Some will overcome their limiting beliefs, while others will quit horses entirely or barn hop thinking things will be better if they go someplace new, ride a different horse or switch disciplines. I find it endlessly fascinating when I develop a bond with my students and they confide in me how tough the first year of learning to ride was, how they came close to giving up but somehow pulled through and got past the tough stuff. That’s when their riding really takes off and we get to start having fun. It is also incredibly rewarding for me, as their instructor, to help people through that process and be able to see them reach heights they never imagined were possible.

I am not a tough instructor by any stretch of the imagination, I give lots of breaks, try to end every lesson on a positive note, I try to be creative with my lesson plans and give easy A’s but I draw the line at negative self talk. No self deprecating humor, flippant comments or nervous laughs when something doesn’t go as expected. People are shocked when I first come down on them about it but to me those are indicators that a person is falling into a downward spiral. Riding horses is tough business and pulling yourself out of a downward spiral takes precious brain power away from the task at hand. Training your brain is just as important as training your body or your craft.

Mastery of your inner voice can lead to a calm and focused state in what you perceive to be a big moment. Many professional athletes refer to being in this flow state as a primary reason why they are able to rise up and perform at their highest level again and again, even when the chips are down. The first time I showed a horse I trained as a professional was nerve wracking to say the least. Up until that point I could comfortably play the critic and lay the blame for a poor performance on the trainer. Now I was putting myself out there to be judged by all the armchair quarterbacks that I was oh, so, familiar with. I can vividly recall the sick feeling in my stomach as I rode by a particularly critical amateur that I knew. This person was the master of low blows and cutting remarks. It felt like a massive moment but I also realized that it was critical that I look at it differently. As soon as I recognized the physical symptoms (sick feeling in my stomach, shaking hands, weak legs) I knew that I needed to get some perspective and gain control of my emotions because the next stop on the downward spiral express was negative self talk station. I had a choice to make, do I go down that road and let my thoughts control me or do I get out ahead of the problem and take control of my thoughts? All those old familiar thoughts of not being good enough were waiting there to jump on the train and once they were onboard I would not have the space in my brain I needed to focus on my job. 

A change in perception can help you get out of your head and turn around any situation to give you the confidence you need to make it work for you. In this instance, I was able to look at the situation and see that nothing this person said was going to make me or break me, first task was to kick that person out of my head. Then I had to think about my horse, she was the important one in this scenario. I had put the hard work in with this horse, she was working great at home and I knew she would work great at the show too. She was a good quality horse with a good mind but she needed something big from me and I would not let this critic take that away from her. She needed me to help her though this experience, to make sure it was a good one for her and going to horse shows was something she would like and want to do again. Shifting my perspective to making it about my mare and her success took me and my petty worries out of the game. I was able to focus on the job at hand and help her. Funny thing is I don’t remember what ribbon we got, what mattered most that day was that I had achieved my goal of creating a pleasant first experience for my horse. That mare has gone on to become one of my favorite show horses, she loves her job and is a total professional the second she hits the show ring. I never worry about her, I know she will guide her less skilled riders safely around the ring and take the more skilled riders right to the winners circle.

The choice is yours, you can remain passive and just hope for the best or you can start making changes to your thought process that can help you get out of your head and be the rider your horse deserves.

If you are ready to take the first step here is an exercise to shift your perspective and turn your inner dialogue into a productive member of society. Wisdom comes from exploring your problem through multiple perspectives. First you will want to identify the problem scenario. Once you have done that, see it through your eyes and assess how you are behaving or feeling, how you feel about the situation, what is important to you and what is there for you to learn. Has doing this changed your perception? 

Next look at the situation from another person’s point of view and ask yourself the same questions. Has this changed your perception? Then look at it from the perspective of a fly on the wall, as someone who is not emotionally attached to the outcome and ask yourself the same questions. Has this changed your perception?

Once you have looked at the situation from multiple perspectives come back to yourself bringing your new perceptions and what you have learned with you. When you can reframe your situation it helps bring clarity to your intention. For me in my earlier story, seeing the situation from my horse’s perspective helped me to understand what was truly important in that moment. I had bigger fish to fry than getting caught up in someone else’s games.

Now you know the reason why I don’t allow any negative self talk at the barn.

If you are interested in how a growth mindset can help your riding, we would love to hear from you in our private Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/mindsetequitation

Does the idea of taking the first step towards massive growth scare you? Try taking one small step with our free online goal setting course, Making Strides. It will give you the tools to learn how to set your intention and stick with it. Every great ride starts with a good plan. Click here to enroll today!

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

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Published by TheMindfulEquestrian

Horse lover helping horse lovers.

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