I am often asked, “If you could pick one thing that would most improve my mental game, what would it be?” It’s a difficult question, but perhaps the single thing I find myself discussing the most is: “focus on the things over which you have control.”
As humans, and particularly as driven, competitive athletes, we like to think we can control everything. Let me give you a cursory list of what you cannot control. You can’t control the weather, the footing, your ride time or ride order. You can’t control if other people think you are good or nice or important or what they say to you. You can’t control if the judging is fair or if your horse is having an off day. You can’t control that Betsy Bootstraps has five upper level horses to compete and you only have one. And perhaps the most important: you cannot control whether or not you win.
When I first learned this concept, I felt relieved as it encouraged me to let go of thoughts that were causing me to feel anxious. But it turns out that refocusing our mind requires some effort. In meditation, a practice that more and more top athletes are using to control their minds, teachers talk about treating your mind like a new puppy or in our case, like a young horse. We all know the experience of riding the horse that one minute is focused and round and the next minute has stuck his head up and whipped around to get a better look at a monster jump standard beside the arena. With the young horse, we have to keep quietly and insistently channeling him forward and straight, essentially saying over and over, “go this way, go this way, focus here.” Your brain is that young horse and your job is not to be anxious or angry when it goes off in another direction, but instead to bring it back to the focus of what you have control over. To read more from Abigail Lufkin, click here.