Read our Guest Blog on Rider Confidence by Sports Psychologist Annika McGivern.
As an Equestrian Mental Performance Coach, the question I get asked most often is: how can I be more confident? We all crave confidence; that quiet calm and ‘sureness’ that you have prepared as best you can and have a real shot at success. Most riders are aware that greater confidence would benefit themselves and their horses. They have a strong desire to show up as their best selves for their horse and recognise that a lack of confidence and self belief is getting in their way. This blog will look closely at the mental skills that create confidence and how to bring a practice of building confidence into our daily lives.
First, we have to check in with what we believe about confidence.
IS CONFIDENCE AS SKILL OR A TRAIT?
The belief that confidence is a trait, something that you are either born with or without, is a common misconception. This (incorrect) belief system tells us that if we have always struggled with confidence, then we will continue to struggle with confidence because low confidence is essentially part of who we are. This often leads to us trying our hardest to “appear” more confident to others as a solution. Additionally, any experience where we feel unsure or scared or anxious about our performance serves to reinforce this story in our head: “I’m not a confident rider.” Or, “I am an anxious or nervous rider.”
Confidence is not a trait. It is a skill. When we believe confidence is a skill, just like all of the technical skills we learn as a part of our sport, like sitting the trot or finding a distance to a jump, then we can intentionally work on developing our confidence in the same way we would develop other skills: focused and intentional practice. This skill-focused belief system helps us understand that even if we have historically struggled with confidence, it’s simply because we don’t have strong confidence skills yet. This perspective leads us to really working to understand and improve our confidence at every opportunity.
Confidence comes from the process of combining several mental skills. Each of these skills need to be practiced in order to develop the mental “muscles” to keep our confidence strong.
Build self awareness by getting curious about your own thoughts, beliefs, emotions and reactions. The ability to observe the self is essential for confidence because often the source of low confidence is our own thinking and belief systems. To change our patterns of thought and belief to support confidence we must first be aware of them.
Self compassion does not come naturally to most of us, yet it is essential for practicing confidence. Self compassion helps us break old habits of self criticism and recognise that we are already good enough and capable of growing and learning through anything life throws our way.
Once we become aware of our thinking patterns and core beliefs, we use our focus to direct our attention to helpful thinking instead of unhelpful thinking. The key here is to focus on what we DO want instead of what we don’t want. If we try to focus on not being negative it’s like telling yourself to not think about a pink elephant. I bet you’re thinking about a pink elephant now aren’t you?! Our brain doesn’t hear the negative. So telling ourselves to not be negative or not be scared simply doubles down our focus on the negativity or the fear.
Instead, tell your brain what you do want. Think about a yellow flamingo. Now you’re not thinking about the pink elephant because you’re thinking about a yellow flamingo! We can change our focus at any time by asking ourselves two questions:
What do I want to achieve right now?
What do I need to do to make it happen?
COMMIT TO PRACTICING CONFIDENCE REGULARLY
When we frame our understanding of confidence as a skill, we can see that our confidence ''muscles” will require a lot of reps to both build and sustain strength. We do confidence reps every time we engage our self-awareness to think about our thinking and beliefs, practice self compassion instead of self-criticism, and change our focus to what we want to have happen.
Another way to practice confidence is through ‘daily bravery’. This means recognising the things in our everyday life that make us a little uncomfortable and challenging ourselves to lean into those things instead of away from them. Away from the yard, this might look like facing a difficult conversation with a friend and really seeking to understand their perspective, instead of reacting and avoiding them. Or, it could look like speaking up more and sharing your opinion more often at work. Or, you could push yourself to do something you have always been a bit nervous to do, such as saying yes to a solo in your choir, learning a new skill, or taking on more leadership roles at work. At the stable yard this might look like riding different horses, going for more trail rides, riding outside, jumping slightly bigger jumps, or entering a competition. The options are endless! Notice when you are talking yourself out of something and see if you can talk yourself into it instead. Ultimately we want to build a belief and practice of being someone who is able to do difficult things. Every time we say yes to a challenge we demonstrate our own strength and competence to ourselves and stack more evidence under our new beliefs.
So, start by checking in with your beliefs and making adjustments as needed. We must view confidence as a skill before we can get anywhere. Then, practice self-compassion and intentionally directing your focus. Lastly, commit yourself to a regular and intentional practice of confidence by leaning into discomfort more often. Confidence is something we can enhance and develop within ourselves with strategic effort and practice. It is up to you to put in the work so that you can reap the rewards in your performance, for you and your horse.
Wishing you all a fun and growth-filled experience practicing your confidence!
Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.