Opening and closing doors

There is a great saying (and I am fond of a saying!) which says remember when you say “yes” to something, that means you are inherently saying “no” to something else. It doesn’t mean saying “yes” is a bad thing, just that you can only use that period of time to do one thing, and you choose what to do with it. You can never have that period of time again.

This resonated with me recently, after I didn’t get an opportunity that I was pursuing. Though I was initially disappointed, because we are all human after all, I had a think. I thought of all the others things I wanted to do in my long term plan, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I had got the other opportunity.

You cannot do everything, and you certainly can’t do it all at the same time. Every choice that you make have a repercussion. It can be impossible to know what is for the best, and what have happened if you had made a different choice. You can see it sometimes when you look back how a series of choices led you to a certain place. But while you are living it it can be hard to see the best path.

Some people have very clear ideas of what they want their lives to look like, and some people have none. You may be living your ideal life and wondering why it doesn’t feel right. Or you may be living a life that is not remotely how you imagined it would be, but you love it! Every life is different. But the one thing we do know is that you can’t live that time again, so every yes, have an opposing no. Just like simple physics were every force has an opposing force. So the next time you don’t get a seemingly brilliant opportunity, just consider what you would have said “no” to to achieve that “yes”, and remember every door that closes, another one opens…

Language and how we use it

I have been thinking a lot about language and our use of it. It’s remarkable how some people can ask us to do something or give us advice, and only succeed it making us dig our heels in! Other people seem brilliant at dolling out advice and never incurring anyone’s wrath.

Being able to give tactful advice, or feedback to others is a brilliant skill. It is learnable, so don’t despair if it is not one of your natural talents. Pay attention to who you take advice from. How do they convey their advice? Often it is not so much the words as the delivery of those words. The old “it’s not what you say but how you say it” springs to mind. Some people empowers us with their advice and others cut us down.

Language has the ability to build bridges or burn them. Be careful with your words. But consider the language with which we talk to our horses. Language doesn’t just encapsulate words, but body language, voice tone and many other subtle nuances. My dog trainer does a wonderful demonstration of training the recall. A flat, boring tone of voice, with dejected posture will never encourage the dog to return to you, whereas an enthusiastic, friendly tone, combined with an open and approachable posture will encourage the dog to recall.

All our interactions with our horses form our language. Are we cheerful and open? Or are we stressed and closed off? Our horses are reading this all the time. Every interaction not just our ridden work will have an effect on our bond with them. Our language will impact our relationship, so make sure your language conveys that right message. Animals are in general very forgiving, so they will forgive bad days and tense times, as long as the majority of your language is positive. Remember language matters, make sure you communicate from your heart…

Confirmation bias

I have been reading about confirmation bias recently, and what I have learnt is fascinating. Confirmation bias is described as: “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” For example, if you believe that barefoot shoeing is best, you will always seek out information which backs up your belief. Whereas if you believe traditional shoeing is best you will seek out information that backs up your belief. In some instances, this can even be the same article, viewed from a different angle!

Confirmation bias makes it more difficult for us to have an open and receptive view towards new ideas and ways of doing things. Warren Buffett sums it up best by saying: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”

So how do we prevent ourselves from doing this? How do we remain open-minded and flexible so that we treat new ideas with a genuinely balanced view, without distorting them with our own perceptions?

Firstly, be aware of this tendency. The moment we become of things, we are less likely to fall down that particular hole. If you know you do this, try and overcome it. For example, read an article from a different publication to your usual ones. This will give you a whole different viewpoint.

Secondly, remember your ego wants to be right. This can be dangerous. It is a far wiser person who can admit that they were wrong. It is a sign of maturity and wisdom to say, I used to believe in this, but now I have looked at the facts I now believe in this. Changing your mind based on new information is not being inconsistent, it is being open-minded.

Thirdly, ask questions. Both of yourself and others. Look for answers in different places, engage in debate with different people, ope your mind to new possibility.

By enabling our critical thinking powers we open ourselves up to overwhelming possibilities. Who knows what you might discover?

Snakes and Ladders

I always think fitness is a little like snakes and ladders. Intermittently I run quite a lot and between times I eat biscuits. Life is all about balance. Running is quite straightforward in terms of building fitness. Run for 20 mins, then gradually increase your time. The snakes come out with illness, injury or life getting in the way.

Horses can feel the same. We can feel like we are getting somewhere, and then we have a setback, maybe we have to work late all week, and suddenly the next week it feels like you have slithered all the way back to the tail of the snake. In the same way, if I don’t run for a few weeks, too much work, had a cold, suddenly I feel terribly unfit and feel like I too have slithered down the snake.

However, the light in all of this is the ladder of repetition. Because I have previously been able to run, it doesn’t take that long to return to fitness. Because you have worked hard with your horse, the week off will be quickly overcome, as you climb up the ladder.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still disheartening. But the initial work never goes to waste. When I first started running I couldn’t run for a bus. (Could ride horses, muck out, etc all day) The first time I got myself to running 3 miles it was a tremendous effort. Now it never takes that long to get back there. In the same way, the initial work teaching a good trot canter transition may have been an effort, but even after a break re-teaching it is never as hard.

Setbacks may feel disheartening, the snakes may frustrate us, but never forget about the ladders of repetition. Those few weeks off will be quickly overcome. So don’t fret if life gets in the way, you will soon be moving up the board again.

It’s okay to change your mind

This sounds quite obvious, but it can be surprisingly tricky. You can end up feeling pigeon holed into a box. People perceive you as something, as if you can your position on that, it can phase them. But it is okay to change your mind. It is okay to change your opinion on something based on new information. This is not being inconsistent. It is being open and accepting.

Some of you may have followed the brilliant Dr David Marlin on social media. If you haven’t take a look – click here! He is one of the leading authorities on the safe cooling of horses in the world. He is a scientist, everything that he says is backed up by genuine research. Yet, there are always people arguing with him about it! They are so entrenched in their own beliefs, their own ways of doing things that they can’t back down.

20 years we did things differently. They may have been best practice based on the information we had then, but we know more now, the world has moved on. Clinging to our old ways of doing things because we don’t want to admit that they were wrong, is foolish. We only learn by making mistakes. We can hold our hands up and say, “I used to believe that, but now I know differently.” This is not being inconsistent, or changeable. This is growth.

Some of the practices that were around 20 years ago are debatable to say the least. But they were considered the norm. Being able to change your mind, to grow as person, to have new views about things based on new information, is to be wise, to be open, to be flexible. To admit that we were wrong, that we didn’t know everything, is to be wise, to be expansive.

Don’t let other people limit your growth. If they say, “but you always did it like that.” Just smile, and say “so I did.” You don’t need to justify your changing perceptions to anybody else. You can grow and change constantly throughout your life, and the person who you ultimately have to live with, is yourself.

You can’t jump in the same river twice

The actual quote is: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” by Heraclitus. It is quite a fitting quote for the times, as our “old life” slowly begins to resume. But the thing is, it isn’t our old life, it’s a new normal. While the same activities may resume, they are strangely not the same.

Take returning to school. You would think that this would be the same. The same school run, the same lessons, the same timetable, the same children. Even the same teachers, the same chat by the school gates. But it isn’t, it is more complicated than that, we have all been changed, for better or worse, it has happened. The school run is physically the same, it is my perception that is different. The same children are sat in the classrooms, but they are different They have been changed by the past year. We all have.

So that something that should feel familiar feels strangely alien and we have to feel our way forwards towards a new way of being. Time will breed familiarity, the school run will start to feel routine, the chat will return to the everyday murmurings. But at the moment everything feels brand new. Like we had the chance to start over, to do things differently this time, to do them better.

Maybe we will just fall back into our old tracks, our old routines. Perhaps we will gossip in the same way. Possibly we will stand in the same place by the railings. Just speak to the same people, but I’m not so sure. We have changed, the river has changed, the old ways have been washed away, and maybe, just maybe, we have the chance to build something entirely new.

Looking back (in a good way!)

We are always told to look forward, look ahead, think about where you want to get to. Don’t look back, move on. And while this is good advice, it can be slightly limiting. Sometimes there is massive value in looking back so that we can see how far we have come. It is easy to become disheartened when we forget how much work we have already achieved and focus only on where we want to get to. Looking back reminds us of have much we have accomplished, and looking forward gives us new goals to aim towards.

A few months ago I got a rescue dog. Now after a few weeks she began to whine when you walked her, all the time, incessantly. Gradually over months of careful training, she only whines very occasionally. But I find myself being frustrated when she does whine. It was only when I took her around a walk that I had not done for a few months that I remembered how previously she had whined the whole way. It reminded me of how far we had come, and made me realise how much the training that I had done had improved her.

It can be hard to see improvement when it is incremental, and it is often only when someone else sees you after a period of time that they can see the improvement that you had been struggling to see. If you see your trainer once a month they will see a massive improvement that you might not have noticed. This validation if the work that you are doing will help you to strive to do more, to do better.

Even if you can’t see a trainer regularly just getting someone else to come and watch you ride your horse, or work your dog can be really beneficial. They will see what you can’t. Looking back doesn’t have to be bad, if you gain value from it. Looking back to appreciate the work you have done, can be a real boost to your confidence. So look back and then look forwards…

Appreciation

I hope after this time has passed, after the restrictions are lifted and we can venture out into the world again, I hope that we have learnt the art of appreciation.

I hope that we feel lucky when we sit down in a cafe across the table from our friends and enjoy a chat, a coffee and a cake. I hope we delight in our pubs, our theatres, our shops. I hope we realise that people fought to be able to re-open those businesses.

I hope we never again take for granted a hug from a loved one, or a random chat with a stranger. I hope we remember the lessons that we learned while the world stopped.

I don’t know whether we will or not, but I do hope. For this period of time has bought suffering to many. Suffering from loss, from grief, from mental health, anxiety, stress, depression. And it would seem so sad, if all the suffering did not accomplish anything. If there were no lessons that we learnt. If all that grief was simply in vain.

I hope we have learnt the art of gratitude, the value of appreciation. I hope we will enjoy our lives again and feel blessed to be allowed such liberties as walking into crowded cafes. I hope we remember the lessons we learned on those long lonely days.

It’s easy at the time to swear that we will remember to be grateful, but it is so easy to slip back into our old disgruntled ways. So remember to be grateful. Be grateful for the time you are having, some people would give anything to be to have that time. And when we are allowed out and about again, remember to be grateful for the luxuries of our world, the laughter of friends, the hugs from our loves. Remember appreciation.

The days are getting longer

In a sea of difficulty small things make all the difference. The sun breaking through the clouds, a glimmer of warmth during the cold, light at the end of the day. For anyone who works, or ever has worked, in an office, you know how wonderful it is when you come out of your office in the evening, and discover that it is still light. This moment is the first sign of the end of winter, the first hope of spring.

Even at the moment when many of us aren’t in the office, we are often still bound by our working hours, and office jobs encompass many sectors, so that there are many key worker office jobs, with people who have trudged through the dark to work and back. And suddenly there it is. The end of day office conversation around how light it is and but look at the time, remember last week it was dark now…In fairness the scope for conversation at the moment is fairly low, so pretty much anything counts as entertainment.

But it never ceases to amaze me how much the lightening evenings lifts our souls, how very much it surprises us every year. Do we believe that this winter the spring will fail to come and that we will be trapped in some Narnia-esque eternal winter? This winter I suspect anything felt possible, so the redemption of daylight and sunshine seems like a greater blessing than normal.

And indeed in a world where the only form of entertainment is going for a walk, daylight has become more valuable than ever. Picnics when the days are short and the weather drives straight into your bones are not a thing of joy, but a picnic as the days lengthen and the flowers start to push through are a pleasure to look forward to.

Finding magic in the small moments

Our days are no longer filled with big gestures, with amazing adventures, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t filled with magic moments, we just need to look a little harder…

It is so easy to think of all the things we have lost. The people, the fun, the community, all the things that we looked forward to, the treats that we gave ourselves through the year, the markers that we lived towards. It is easy to think we have lost everything, the our worlds have been stripped away, made grey and empty. But even in this time, there is magic in the smallest of moments. That whinny as you walk across the yard, that moment when dawn breaks across the sky and light shatters the darkness, that card from a friend that falls through your letterbox. It is the small moments that we are cherishing now, the ones that would have passed us by in a frenetic old world.

Savouring the little things is what keeps us going. Small gestures, a quick text, a card, a shouted conversation with your neighbour, a phone call with a friend, a cup of tea on a cold wet day, eating chocolate whilst wearing fluffy socks, whatever the small thing is that touches you, make sure it keeps happening.

This time will pass. We will once again be able to enjoy the bigger things, but for now enjoy the dandelion growing through the concrete, enjoy watching a swan swim on a flooded field, enjoy watching a flock of geese fly in their haunting v-shape across a winter sky, look round and seek out the smallest things to take pleasure in. And failing that put on your fluffy socks, make yourself a hot drink, get some chocolate and curl yourself and tell yourself you are doing an amazing job in difficult times…