Performance Coaching Tips

Charlotte DuJardin on the morning of her gold medal winning performance 2012

Dealing with Anxiety  

Anxiety is a normal emotion that helps us to recognise real problems and solve them. It aids in performing at top form when adjusting to new situations as it makes us access our past experiences to find the best solution. That is why, when someone is in serious danger, they say their life ”flashes before their eyes” as they access all their experiences to work out what might be the best solution “in the blink of an eye”.

However, in some people anxiety grows out of proportion and becomes disabling. Medically speaking anxiety becomes an condition when it last several days beyond a stressful event or seriously interferes with the person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks. Anxiety can also manifest itself as an extreme fear of being judged, excessive panic attacks or a permanent sense of worry. Unlike depression which is characterised by a feeling of sadness, anxiety is shown by living in a state of fear. Many medical professionals are seeing much higher rates of anxiety , generally thought to be exacerbated by the stress of modern living, causing as many of 5% of people in Western Society to be subject to the condition.

The stress of juggling a modern life with greater job pressures (promotion/redundancy), family life (children‘s schools/demands), horses ( ever more competitions and less fun), fitness (ever present diet and guilt regarding the failed exercise routines), electronic advances (emails/texts/mobile phones) and the general emphasis on extrinsic elements (money/status) are the main drivers behind these issues. Successive generation, particularly women, have been told they can have it all but this increases the mental and physical pressures on the individual. Whilst social networking has increased our circle of friends it does not give us the physical contact that can act as a calming influence on us and few of us take time to relax away from those electronic devices that so rule our lives.

Curing anxiety isn’t a case of popping a pill and it generally requires a full review of your life and an increase in the intrinsic values (close relationships) and a reduction on the extrinsic values (status/money) over the longer term. But in the shorter term you can improve your food intake (less junk/convenience foods/coffee and more whole foods, coloured vegetables, and foods containing omega 3 fats or tryphtophan). Also ask yourself if worrying is helping the situation or whether there is something more practical you can do (e.g. if you are worrying about money, do something actively such declutter your house & horse and sell some items through eBay ) Fortunately for the riders, 30 minutes of cardo vascular exercise at least 3 times a week has been shown to reduce stress and therefore the potential for anxiety (although overdoing the exercise and becoming an adrenaline junkie can have the opposite effect!)

Making decisions about what is the most important aspect of your current and future life, specifically ignoring the pressure to compete with others, is the first step to dealing with anxiety. In serious cases then help from a Health Professional should be sought- a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist could help in addressing what part of your current behaviour would benefit from an thorough overhaul to help you enjoy yourself again.

(Claire Knowles on Pendragon of Independence)

The Bubble 

The bubble is a technique you can try to help your focus and concentration particularly in a competition scenario. The idea is create a bubble around you and your horse, in many ways similar to the situation that you have driving a car. You are aware of the other riders and their horses, the same as you would be of other road users, but your interaction is very limited. When you are driving, you are making sure that you are not going to collide with other vehicles but you do not worry because your car is less attractive than one that has just passed you and you are not endlessly comparing your driving to that of others on the road.

You need to create an imaginary bubble like being in a car around you and your horse and that can be best achieved by imagining a blue transparent shell around you. Blue is the best colour as it is calming and cool and is used in some hypnosis techniques. Only have the same communication from inside your bubble as you would in a car, you can acknowledge people but do not become involved in conversations or watch what they are doing. Keep focused on what the horse is doing and how he is reacting, assess what exercises he needs to improve his way of going and practise those elements of the test that you find the most difficult but also those that you find relatively simple.

By remaining in your bubble until after you have finished you will be able to put all of the techniques you have developed for good mental preparation into action. Start by practising this at home learn to be aware of what is around you but not to engage people or anything that usually distracts you. If you are audial in your work ie if it is noise that distracts you most then you might need to introduce a piece of music in your head that covers most of the other noises and that you can have playing while you are riding both at home, in the warm up and in the test to help you stay within your bubble

Former RoR winner Cheryl Jackson

Taking a Clean 3rd 

Taking a clean 3rd is a term used in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) when looking at an action or experience you have had that you wish to change. There are essentially 3 perceptual positions, your position (1st), the opponent/antagonist (2nd) and an impartial observer(3rd). When you see things from your own viewpoint then it is very easy to become intransigent and stuck in your position as the emotions are making you subjective. If you put yourself into the second position then you are “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” and trying to imagine what it looks and feels like from their viewpoint. In the 3rd perceptual position you are an impartial observer who is only able to see and hear what is happening but does not experience the same emotions.

It is particularly useful when dealing with conflicts, if both parties can view the situation from the second position (and thus understand that position ) and then disassociate themselves from the emotions of the situation. In addition it is a way of helping you to anchor your position which we will look at in the future.

It can also be very useful if you want to make changes to the way you react to a situation or if you want to change your position but your emotions are getting in the way. Start by watching a video of yourself riding, in a test situation or just at home and see if you can make observations about what happens without getting caught up in the emotions that you felt. What happened? What did you need to do differently? By taking this clean position (cleaned from emotions) you will understand more clearly what the judge is seeing. It will take practise- trying writing down exactly what you see and hear on the video- and limit yourself to factual information but it can be the most helpful way to improve your self-coaching techniques.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a technique that encourages the individual to think differently and can use a technique called STOPP. This month you are going to use this technique when you experience a situation that is challenging or daunting, thoughts that are intrusive, or distressing or negative triggers or memories.

Christine Kershaw with Uri

Goal of the Month -

Internal Dialogue 

Internal dialogue is the term for the voice with which people speak to themselves. Internal dialogue is often outside of consciousness, but as you start to become more aware of it, it becomes much easier to hear it consciously. In some eastern traditions, internal dialogue is referred to as ‘the chattering monkey’, and years of practice are spent in meditation with the aim of getting the monkey to stop chattering (among other things.) The reason for this is that they believe that internal dialogue can be a barrier to clear perception and enlightenment. Internal dialogue is often the channel people use to ‘beat themselves up’, reinforce limiting beliefs and generally stop themselves having more fun or achieving their potential. Would you say, out loud, to your closest friend, all of the negative things you say to yourself internally? There are many techniques to deal with this, particularly using NLP. This month the goal is to practice your positive self-talk by talking to yourself with kindness and positivity. For this month, in your journal note down all of the negative thoughts you have and then change them as if you were a coach to yourself. For example if you catch yourself thinking "I messed that up, how stupid am I ?" ask yourself "What did I do, why did I do it and what have I learned from it?" Remember that the most successful people are those who have made many mistakes but have learnt from them. Practice complimenting yourself and give yourself permission to try out new ideas without being judgemental about the results. Tell the “chattering monkey” to be shut up if he/she feeds you with self-doubt or questions what you might achieve. Counter each negative thought with a positive statement- for example if you arrive at a competition, look at the scoreboard and see a particular judge is judging you today and your instant reaction is “oh no she doesn’t like me I’ll never do well today” then immediately say to yourself “this is my opportunity to show her how well I can do when I ride with focus and positive thoughts”. Focus on what you have achieved. There are many obstacles we face in life that are out of our control. Our self-talk is the one thing that we, alone, can regulate. Why make things more difficult for yourself than you need to? When you can master your thoughts, then we can master your life.