We all know that stress and anxiety are bad for our health. Have you ever considered how these emotions affect our animals in a competition environment? I am someone who has been on both ends of the spectrum. I used to suffer from extreme pre-run anxiety - but now I actually have to work to pump myself up. How did I achieve that? Well, I hope you do not have to experience what I did to make the same realizations that I did…
I came to the conclusion that my nerves were so negatively affecting my animals’ performances that, I decided, unless I learned to control my emotions, I would not allow myself to show. Period. True to Heidi fashion, it was this harsh ultimatum of fix it - or stop showing - that helped me. But it wasn’t until later, after I was in a serious accident, that I began to acquire much more insight into my own emotions. I remember lying in my hospital bed (and also in the many months of inactivity that followed), reflecting and remembering all the things that I loved to do and was determined to do again. I had always appreciated the opportunity to run my dogs and show my horses - but when that was abruptly taken away from me, you can bet that I began to look at things a bit differently.
There are all kinds of self-help programs on mental management to better help competitors achieve their goals. In fact, I used to use some of them. Lots of them! However, the problem I see with a lot of these programs is that they are failing to help us identify the cause of our problems. Without knowing the cause, how can we fix the problem? Typically, the cause is going to be different for each person.
So let’s get right to the meat and potatoes of anxiety and break it down.
First, it’s important, when learning to control our emotions, to keep in mind that emotions such as anger, anxiety, jealousy, greed, shame, fear, insecurity, frustration, worry are…. you got it, negative emotions! Therefore, when we are aiming for a positive outcome, how are we going to achieve that outcome when we use negativity to try to get it? Yep ding, ding…it won’t!!
We all know how common these emotions are in any competition environment. It’s not a secret, competing brings out the best and worst in people. It causes people to doubt themselves, to be mean to others – or even worse, to their animals, to place blame on everyone but themselves, and so on. Most all of us have been guilty of this, to varying degrees, at some point in our careers.
I can sit here and tell you how detrimental it will be to your overall success if you do not learn to manage these unproductive feelings - the many problems it will cause for you - and also how it can take ALL of the fun right out of the game - but what is that really going to accomplish? Probably not much since I would be shocked if you didn’t actually already know all of this! How about we, instead, think about WHY we are having these feelings in the first place and what emotions – positive emotions - you can replace them with.
Let’s start with one of the most common emotions:
Fear: This will often impact certain personality types. They are afraid or even terrified of making mistakes. They are afraid of letting their trainers, coaches, friends, etc down. They are inclined to try actually try TOO hard! They are so afraid of doing it wrong that it prevents them from doing it right.
If this is you, ask yourself these questions; What is it exactly I’m afraid of? Am I afraid of making mistakes? Am I afraid of things going wrong? Am I afraid I will look like a fool? Keep asking yourself these questions until you find out what exactly is your own personal trigger for this emotion.
Once you determine the why, you can better start to recognize WHEN this is starting to occur and can then subsequently replace those fear thoughts, with positive thoughts. Thoughts such as, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here with my animal, that it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect - because regardless, we will have fun!
Anxiety: This also may affect certain personality types more than others. They will be talking a mile a minute, picking constantly on their animals, over handling, getting an upset stomach and even possibly causing erratic behavior in their animals. The animals don’t understand why you are having these emotions, as you likely don’t train with these emotions. So what do you expect them to do when you have them at a show and you are anxious?
Question time again. Why are you anxious? Does people watching you and making judgements about you, make you anxious? – I think that might actually be one of the most common reasons. If so, instead think…I am so relaxed and happy to be here and I have worked hard to be here. I will rely on my training and be confident and just enjoy whatever happens. I do not care what others think because it’s not about them.
Anger: Some personality types will question placings and doubt judges. They harshly criticize others as an attempt to ease their own insecurities. They can cause a lot of upset to “fear” based personality types and may often target these types.
It can be hard to step back and critique yourself, but without that ability, there is not room for your improvement. By being more aware of what you are doing, how you are acting, and what you are saying, you are opening yourself up for greater growth. So as painful as the process may be, it needs to be done.
Back to the questions. Is what I am saying affecting anyone negatively? It should not be difficult to know if this is the case – as it is not rocket science. Am I being critical of others to “self medicate” my own emotions? Am I trying to “psych out” the competition by making verbal jabs because I am afraid they will beat me? If this is the case, instead think of how you would not want to accept being treated this way and how it would make you feel. Think of how embracing more compassion will actually make you better, more aware, and stronger - and that you do not need these negative emotions to be successful.
There are many more emotions but you get the idea. Recognize the emotion, honor the emotion, and replace the emotion with a higher, more positive emotion.
And always remember that no one knows what you are going through and that no one can hurt your feelings without your consent. Recognize that not everyone needs to have the same goals as you and that offering support to EVERYONE will make you a better competitor! Doing this will also better allow you to be able to recognize which emotions you want to have - and those that you do not wish to experience.
Take LOTS of photos, savor every single moment – good, bad, or even the plain ole ugly - because you never know when your last run will be and you will then be just looking back on the memories. If you are honest with yourself you will, I can assure you, enjoy looking back on every SINGLE memory.