The little voices in your head

I recently offered to write something for someone that I had never done before. It feels like stepping off a cliff. I find myself plunging into swirling self-doubt, foggy clouds of negative comments stream through my mind. “I can’t do it.” “I’m not good enough.” “He’ll work out I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Self-doubt is fascinating if you can manage to be objective about it, and this applies to self-doubt in any situation. Think how you feel when you want to hack your horse alone for the first time, or try a leg yield. How much are you held back by your self-doubt? What does the little voice in your head say?

When I can be sufficiently objective, I can challenge the little voice. “I can’t do it.” This one I always tackle by starting the task, immediately I can quash the little voice – see I AM doing it. The moment you first ask for the step of leg yield, the first step on the hack you are doing it. It doesn’t matter whether it goes well or badly, the point is you are doing it.

“I’m not good enough.” This old chestnut… Yes you are. You are always good enough, always more than enough. If you spend all day wearing old pyjamas, lying on your sofa eating biscuits you are still more than enough. You are awesome and incredible.

My personal favorite little voice: “He’ll work out I don’t know what I’m doing.” This one is just insulting to everyone. If someone employs you to do a job, you have to give them some credit that they will try and pick the best person for the job. Why wouldn’t they? It makes no sense. If you choose an electrician, or a farrier, you don’t think, “he seems a bit rubbish – I’ll choose him” do you? Yet, if someone chooses us to do something, we insist on thinking that they have chosen badly. Why do we grant others such bad decision making, why do we listen to our little voices? Self-doubt, lack of self-belief, lack of self-confidence.

Let’s shout out the negative little voices – let’s replace them with voices that say “you are awesome.” “You have worked hard at this therefore you will be able to do it.” “Trust in yourself.” “It’s okay to be nervous, just breathe.” Imagine it would be like having your own personal support band in your head…


Decision making

Someone told me once that teaching your children how to make decisions was one of the best life skills you could teach them. I think this is probably true. Life is full of endless decisions from the small, “what shall I have for breakfast?”, to the large, “shall I buy another horse?” Every decision that we make changes our lives. Some people struggle with decision making, whilst other seem to sail easily through.

I think decision making is difficult. Some people find themselves with “paralysis by analysis” whereby you simply render yourself incapable of making a decision. Some people always pick the easiest option, some always seem to pick the hardest. Some people fail to weigh up their options. The list of way that we can struggle with decision making is seemingly endless.

However there are some good pieces of advice. One is, ask other people’s opinions. Have a group of people who seem to make good choices. Don’t ask for financial advice from someone who is living in a caravan after going bankrupt for the second time. Don’t ask for relationship advice from someone who is on first name terms with their divorce lawyer. Don’t ask for advice on your horse from someone whose horses are always lame and who changes trainers every five minutes.

Weigh up the evidence. Read about critical thinking. Wikipedia defines critical thinking as: “the analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and several different definitions exist, which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis, or evaluation of factual evidence.” Don’t base decisions on the opinion of one person. Do your own research.

Believe in yourself. If you have carefully evaluated the evidence, drawn your own conclusion, don’t let yourself be knocked off course by other people. Respect yourself enough to trust that you have made a considered decision.

Decision making can be difficult, but as with everything start small. Evaluate your small decisions and apply a logical process to them. You might be amazed by what you learn…

Never lose that joy…

One of the great things about children is their joy in the present. As we get older, we become more pre-occupied and distracted by the stresses and pressure of our life. But children have that opened-eyed awe of the world. Children will be delighted by muddy ponies grazing in a field. Children don’t think of the work, or the cost, or the scheduling of horses around work. They don’t worry about getting that extra dressage percent, or whether the lorry will pass its MOT. They just enjoy the ponies in the field.

It is so easy to forget why we fell in love. We become caught up in the crazy circus of life. We forget that as children we just loved our ponies. We loved the ones we walked past on the footpath, the ones we biked past on our way to park, the ones we were occasionally allowed to ride at the riding school. We loved them.

If you are competitive or driven, it can be easy to forget the simplicity of that first love, the love of the pony in the field. It is easy to become ensnared by ambition and competition. That is not to say that competing isn’t wonderful, that ambition isn’t brilliant, because they are. But for some people they can lose that little child who just wanted to stand on the gate and watch the ponies graze. The little child who just wanted to hug them and pat them and didn’t think about scores, and judges.

Don’t lose the little child inside you. Don’t ever lose your wonder of the world. Don’t ever lose your pleasure in those simple moments, those wonderful moments that string together to make a wonderful life. That little child standing on the gate, is still there inside of you, don’t forget that.

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?

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…

Love in all its shapes and sizes

Over the years I have had many different animals, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, geese. I have loved them all in different ways and for different reasons. I have had horses that I have loved because they were beautifully well schooled and a delight to train. I have had horses that I adored because they were cute and they let me sit down beside them in their fields. I have had horses that were rescued from mud drenched Welsh hillsides and ones bought from manicured yards in green belt land.

I have had dogs which I have loved for their crazy exuberance, and others for their cuddles. Big dogs and small dogs, dogs that were well-trained and others that were less so. Some from puppies and some as rescue. All the animals that I have had, all with their different quirks and foibles.

One thing that has always struck me is this. That while I have loved them all, and in different ways, it is how we fall in love with them that is curious. Many we fall in love with gradually, as we get to know them, as we start to appreciate their characters, whereas other simply fall like a jigsaw place into a part of our heart that we didn’t know was missing.

These loves are not better or worse, after all they are all simply love. And our love for our animals fills our days with joy. So if you are worrying about whether you will love your new horse or dog the same as your current, you probably won’t love them in the same way, nor will you fall in love in the same time span, but rest assured you will love them and each animal will give you something that you didn’t know you were missing…