Monday, March 26, 2012

More Mental Performance Coaching: There Really IS Something to This Stuff!

A present from me to you. Your very own Self Talk Grid.
Don't say I never gave you anything. ;)
If you're new to AWIP or haven't been following religiously (and there's no judgement here, we all have busy schedules) you should know that I've been using a mental performance coach to help me deal with the fear issues I face when jumping.

I've been working with Sommer Christie while my trainer has been away at WEF, and have seen some pretty impressive progress even after just a few sessions. (Who knew?)  This weekend I had my first two jump schools with my recently returned trainer, and quite frankly, I was a bit nervous about them.  In the past, nerves could easily translate into Amy in the fetal position.

Last week's session with Sommer was on Self Talk and how that impacted Focus (the previous session's lesson.)  It started with Sommer stating, "Now we know that every day is not going to work out the way we want it to." My immediate (and thankfully suppressed) reaction was "Really?? No sh@#! Knew that!"  I pulled my smart aleck brain back to the moment and listened as Sommer continued by saying although things don't always go to plan, we choose what we focus on and how we react.  OK, now you've peaked my interest.

In the past, I would go around a course with a litany of "Holy Crap!" in my head.  With Sommer's help, I can now go around with my mind focused on my task, which at the moment is my rhythm.  It's a bit Sesame Street and I look a tad "special" cantering around counting out 1-2-1-2-1-2, but it's been working.

So now that we're getting a bit better at Focus, we need to learn how to manage anxiety when things don't go according to plan.  How can I manage the "Oh Crap! I totally flubbed that distance!" moment and get my focus back? 

Turns out part of managing anxiety and nerves is Focus.  Since I choose what I focus on, i choose to focus on my task.  This weekend, instead of focusing on the nerves I had as I jumped with my trainer for the first time in 6 weeks, I focused on my rhythm: 1-2-1-2-1-2.  Where all my distances perfect?  Not by a long shot.  However, when I chipped into a line, I was so focused on my task that my knowledge base/muscle memory kicked in and instead of panicking I simply kicked on to lengthen my mare's stride and we got down the line beautifully.  WHOOHOO!

Another part of managing anxiety is managing your reaction to it. One way to handle that is by eliminating Negative Self Talk.  For example, normally I would see a triple bar and start saying to myself, "Oh no, there's a triple bar on that course.  I always suck at triple bars," and work myself up into a tizzy. 

A giggle graphic from a blog I like,
The Wanderlust Project
Sommer gave me a Self Talk Grid to work with to help change my self talk.  So I know that when I see a triple bar I know that I normally allow myself to think "I always suck at triple bars," which usually results (inevitably) in a crap distance at the triple and ensuing chaos around the rest of the course. NOW I change my Self Talk to remind myself of past success or counter arguments as to why a crap distance is inevitable and tell myself "Oh, a triple bar.  I've done this successfully at home a bazillion times. No biggie." I also now use key words, or Anchors, to remind myself of these past successes. (These days my Anchor is Bad A$$, to remind me I'm like the Honey Badger.)

You can also manage your anxiety by managing your body's reaction to stress. When Sommer asked me how I might do that, I blurted out "Xanax! Girl Scout Cookies! Wine!"  The silence at the other end of the line alerted me to the fact that this was not the answer Sommer was looking for.  Turns out deep, rhythmical breathing (there's that rhythm thing again!) at the rate of 6 breaths per minute syncs your breathing up with your heart rate and shuts off your stress response.  Think slllooooooowwwwww breath in through your nose and then sllllloooooooowwwww breath out through your mouth.  I remember something like this in Labor Class.  While it didn't do squat in terms of reducing the pain of childbirth (thank God for epidurals!) it's been darn helpful with triple bar stress management!

So I breathed and counted my way through two very successful jumping lessons this weekend, and quite frankly, I'm happy as a pig in poop.  Did I already know most of this stuff Sommer is sharing with me?  Yes.  It's not like we've discovered a new solar system or anything.  However, was I using that knowledge in a logical, consistent manner? Nope.  And that was the problem.  Now I am, and while things are not and will never be perfect, I am getting better at living with that, and adjusting to it accordingly.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I try to breathe in positive and breathe out negative. When that doesn't work, I drink. Lol