Defining Core Values and Limiting Beliefs
"Who are you?" This is a question I have struggled with over the years. Oftentimes, when one is faced with this seemingly simple question we answer with our job title, or perhaps a relationship title - wife, mother, friend. But who are we on a spiritual level? I have had times in my life where I felt like a stranger to myself. I would unconsciously go through the motions of life with a sort of disconnection to my very being. We all have incredible potential and are only limited by our own limiting beliefs and fears.
When starting down the path of self discovery and really getting to know ourselves, it's important to first identify our core values. Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person. They can serve as a guide, especially when we are forced to face difficult situations, and they can also help to guide us past our limiting beliefs. Some examples of core values are dependability, open-mindedness, creativity, respectfulness, inspiring, loving and courageous. What values propel you forward and influence your decision making? These personal values can help you determine your priorities and keep your life in line with your values. I would encourage you to find your top 5 most important core values. It's easy to identify with many, many more than that but by narrowing it down, you can really focus on what rings true in your heart!
Once you identify your core values, start figuring out what your limiting beliefs are and realize how they are holding you back from reaching your potential or keeping you stuck in circumstances that you are not happy with or that do not align with your core values. By believing in limiting beliefs, we hold our selves back and potentially sabotage our future by never taking action due to fear. Examples of these are fear of failure, fear of not being accepted, and fear of upsetting other people. These are just a few examples. So many people lack faith in themselves and stay in jobs and relationships they hate because they believe that they will not be successful if they leave that situation. An example of a limiting belief is that you don't want to show horses because you will be too nervous. I'm sure many of you can relate to that one! So, if you let that limiting belief take power, you will stay in your comfort zone, safely riding at home and never facing criticism or failure. Unfortunately, you lose an opportunity for wonderful growth and learning (and I'm not even referring to your education as a rider). You miss the feeling of achievement and success that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone. It's in this place of discomfort that we can face our fears and begin to grow! Another example of a limiting belief is that "I'm never going to buy another horse, because I had a bad experience with the last one". You could be missing out on a great opportunity to create a meaningful relationship with a new equine partner. You could miss out on educational opportunities that can be gained by riding a new horse.
Of course, we can have limiting beliefs about anything...horse related, work related, relationship related, etc... Try to identify them as they occur. What situations make you uncomfortable? Step back and try to track the source of the discomfort. Why does it make you so nervous to get out and show? Why are you fearful about people watching your ride? Are you afraid that they will think poorly of you if you don't do well? Usually limiting beliefs are formed early on in our lives and often stem from relationships and experiences we had as children. They can also be formed from traumatic experiences and by traumatic it can be something as seemingly small as some public humiliation in elementary school that puts the idea in your mind that you are not good in public situations and you may carry this idea with you for years.
One of my favorite movies is Inception and one of my favorite lines in the movie is when Leonardo DiCaprio's character says, "An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it's almost impossible to eradicate. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. It can grow to define or destroy you." Limiting beliefs do have the power to destroy you and hold you back. However, they can be changed! You can start to reprogram your mind by not allowing those limiting beliefs to define your actions. Get outside of your comfort zone. This is the only place to find growth and fulfillment! Surround yourself with like minded people, people that lift you up and support you on your path of personal growth. On the flip side of the limiting belief coin is an idea that inspires you, gives you direction and fulfillment. This is the idea to put your energy behind!
There are a few more questions you can ask yourself when working on self discovery. If failure were not an option, what would you do? What would you become? The fear of failure restricts so many people from following their dreams. Really think about it...what would your life look like if failure were not an option? What do your dreams look like? Also, ask yourself what makes you truly and genuinely happy? What values, dreams and ideas fire you up? What brings fulfillment to your life OR what do you need to do in order to be fulfilled?
You are LIMITLESS!
One of my absolute favorite books on dressage is "The Ethics and Passions of Dressage" by Charles de Kunffy. I make an effort to read this small but powerful book at least once a year to help re-center myself and focus on what is really important in riding. In this book, de Kunffy speaks about dressage as a living art and our responsibility as riders to carry on the tradition of classical riding. He speaks about the character development of the rider on the path of riding, and that is something I am really passionate about.
When on the path of learning to ride and of horsemanship, we focus on getting our bodies in shape by doing yoga or pilates. We take clinics and learn about how to apply the perfect aid for a flying change or how to ride a great shoulder-in. We read books on dressage theory to learn the hows, the whats and whys of what we do. In our barn, we offer lectures on dressage theory as the "mind" part of riding is very important! However, this is an endeavor that requires the mind, body and spirit. It is the "spirit" element that is most often overlooked. I believe that through working with horses, we can develop characteristics that will improve our lives such as focus, patience, empathy, persistence, integrity and confidence. I also believe that personal growth and rider development is a two way street. One helps the other. If you want to become the best rider that you can be, it will require more than learning theory, more than doing yoga, more than studying books on riding. By cultivating the character development of the rider out of the saddle, changes will be made to the riders spirit that will transform not only their riding, but their lives.
That brings about the question, "How do we begin to transform our character?" It starts by creating an open space to allow us to be more in touch with Spirit (our "higher being", the Universe, Source, God...feel free to use which ever term you are comfortable with here). Our lives these days are hectic...we are so busy with our jobs, our families, our responsibilities and in the few moments of quiet that we may have, we get on our smartphones and mindlessly scroll through Facebook or binge watch Netflix. Rarely do we just sit in silence, quiet our minds and allow the space for inspiration to come. By quieting our minds, we create the time and space to begin to analyze our reactions to situations and find out what triggers our fear, anger or insecurity. This is how we can begin to shift the patterns that have controlled our lives. It takes awareness, and it takes practice. By beginning to analyze our reactions to different scenarios, we can begin to learn more about ourselves and find out who we are as individuals. We can begin to stop the cycle of negativity, of anger, of fear, etc... before it even begins. It's vital to be able to really feel what you are experiencing in the moment. If you know you are in a bad mood and you have a short fuse, maybe change the plan for your ride that day to something very simple so you do not set yourself up for frustration and anger to take over. Once the cycle begins it can be very difficult to stop it, so it's easier to control it before it even begins. The more you practice calming your mind and controlling your reactivity in quiet situations, the easier it will be to do once something really triggers that emotion.
Here is an example from my personal experience. I have trained up all my horses from foals. My first young horse I purchased as a yearling in 2003, and he was the first horse I ever started under saddle and trained through the levels. Because he was the first, I was faced with so much insecurity with him. Unfortunately, I did not have a trainer at the time and was really on my own. I felt so isolated at times, and it was really challenging when I would face a difficult situation like trying to teach my horse something new. As soon as I started to struggle with it, I would spiral down into a heap of self loathing, frustration and anger. Frustrated that I felt so helpless and out of control. Then the anger would come in...always at myself but it would come through my body and would always create tension in my horse which would complicate the situation even further. He would become really spooky with the tension, and I would leave the barn every day feeling like a total failure. It took many years for me to learn to be able to step back and analyze the situation from a place of compassion and kindness (not only to my horse but even more to myself!) Self acceptance is vital to creating harmonious relationships, not only with horses but with other people and even ourselves. Experience definitely breeds confidence, so stick with it and persevere. My perspective has definitely changed but even now as I train another one of my horses to the Grand Prix (a level that I am learning about with my horse), I am able to see the situation with clarity, and when I start to struggle with something, I know that it is temporary and that minor failures along the way are inevitable and sometimes end up being a great learning opportunity. I can now stop the anger and frustration in it's tracks before it spirals into negative self talk and the self loathing that always used to ensue. The first horse that I had talked about I ended up training through Prix St. Georges and earning my USDF Bronze & Silver medals on and my husband trained him to Intermediare I and is currently working towards the Grand Prix. Determination and perseverance are critical but first, there must be self compassion!!
Thanks so much for reading!
Several weeks ago, Martin (my husband and fellow horse trainer) and I held a Goal Setting Workshop for our clients. I, personally, am incredibly goal oriented and as soon as the final competition of the year concludes, I am already excited about planning my goals for the following year. As I started pursuing this journey of mindfulness, I kept asking myself...how do goals factor in? Mindfulness is about being fully in the present moment and goals are focused on the future, right? Well, yes and no. I like to think of goals like a rudder on a boat simply directing us along our path. We still must be able to navigate the storms and seas along that journey. In our workshop, I kept reiterating that "we must focus on [and hopefully enjoy] the process". Especially in the art of horse riding, the journey really is the destination. The word dressage means "training"... not showing, not winning and although competition can be enjoyable, at the end of the day it is not those competitions that define you as a rider. It's what you do with your horses day in and day out. Dressage, in its simplest form should be physical therapy for the horse. We must be very careful that we keep the spirit of correct riding alive within in us at all times. It is so easy as a competition approaches to start to drill movements and lose sight of what our horses really need in our pursuit for perfection. Believe me, I have been guilty of this! Keep stepping back and ask, what does my horse need? Maybe instead of drilling flying changes over and over and over again, you take a moment and really analyze what is going on. Why is there a problem in the flying change? Is the horse straight enough? If not, where are they escaping and how are you going to go about fixing it? Perhaps you need to go back and work on making sure the simple changes are straighter. Start to tune into your body more...this will help you tune in to your horses body as well. If your body is holding tension, it will be very difficult to feel your horse's subtle [or not so subtle] evasions. Start to feel your horses shoulders, his hips, his barrel and ribcage. Pretty soon, you will be so tuned into his every movement that you will be able to make subtle corrections and be in true harmony with your horse. You must also stay mentally present as well to allow your body to relax enough to harmonize with your horse. If your mind is focused on problems at home or filled with negative self judgement, you will need to let it go in order to fulfill your potential as a rider. This is where a meditation practice can come in handy. You can train your mind to stay focused simply on what you feel, hear and see in the present moment. When your mind begins to go down the path of negativity, you can take a deep breath and stop it in it's tracks but it does take practice. Be as kind and patient with yourself as you would be to a young horse just learning something new.
This type of thinking is how you can stay present while in pursuit of your goals. I am currently in the process of pursuing my gold medal and my horse, Gran Casso, struggles some with his passage right now. I believe that one day he will be really excellent in this movement but at this time he is a little weak and sometimes will struggle with keeping elevation and suspension. It's important that when training a horse we empathize with him...understand the difficulty he may be feeling and work to build not only his strength, suppleness, and balance, but also his confidence.
In the pursuit of your goals, I encourage you to be specific and write them down. Look at them everyday and say them out loud. Choose goals that you can control...remember in competition you are adding a judge into the equation which takes the control away from you. My goals at competition now is to be proud of the way I rode my horse and focus on the feeling I have the moment I come out of the ring rather than basing my feelings off the judges score. This took me a few years to figure out and I now encourage all of my students to focus on that as well.
I also would encourage you to do something each day that propels you closer to your goal. Perhaps you can't make it out to ride one day...maybe that day you could watch a video of a rider you admire or do yoga or Pilates to keep your body in shape. Or simply meditate so that in moments of struggle, you have the ability to recenter yourself in the present moment.
Be Mindful in the pursuit of your goals
Much love and many blessings,
Hi everybody! I'm sorry it's been almost two weeks since my last blog post! We had a horse show a week and a half ago and I tell you, those weekend horse shows wipe me out more than they used to! I used to be so sad leaving at the end of the weekend but now I'm usually ready to get back home and in routine again. Part of getting older, I suppose? (Or maybe having a very active toddler at the shows is the game changer??) On top of that, I have been fighting a nasty cold that has been circulating my family since Christmas. I thought I had escaped it but unfortunately not. It can be very difficult to allow motivation and inspiration to flow through you when you are not feeling well. I'm starting to feel better now and I am ready to share with you all again!
I want to talk a little bit this week on the subject of discontentment. This was a subject that came up in the mom's group I am a part of and boy does it tie in to horses and riding. Have you ever thought to yourself, "If only I could do XYZ then I would feel validated as a rider and everything would be great!". And then, say you achieve that goal. Then what? Most likely you end up right in that same position again...."Well, ok I achieved that but I really need to achieve THIS to be validated!" and so the pattern continues. (This does not only apply to riding) Believe me, I have been there! In pursuit of my USDF medals especially. I felt that, if only I could achieve my bronze medal...well then I could show people that I can train a horse to third level and then I would feel validated as a rider and trainer. So the Bronze medal came and while it satisfied me for a little while, soon I was in pursuit for my silver medal. "It's really the silver medal that will have people take me seriously!". This is the way of it, isn't it? The old saying "the grass is greener on the other side" isn't far off. It's human nature to be discontent with what we have. We always strive for more, to be better, to be thinner, to be more ambitious. Have you ever said to yourself, "If only I would lose that 5 extra pounds...then I would be happy." I have a secret for you...happiness is not something that we should constantly be chasing for chasing happiness if like chasing the wind, always out of reach...happiness is within us. We own it all along! Try changing your perspective and see what happens. I challenge everybody reading this right now to make a list of all the things that you are grateful for. Our lives are full of blessings and although we may experience hardships, uncertainty and struggle, by focusing on those things that we are grateful for, we can handle those difficult times with a clear head and open heart. Also, I encourage you to enjoy the process. The journey of riding can be incredibly challenging but also beautifully rewarding. The struggles you have today will not be the struggles for tomorrow. Keep that in mind and accept and even enjoy the process. The struggles you face and eventually overcome will lead you to transformation and an understanding and acceptance of others that may be experiencing those same struggles. Horse's are such incredible, beautiful creatures. They can teach us so much about acceptance...not only of our peers but of ourselves first and foremost. If we do not accept and love ourselves, we cannot expect to accept or love others. When you feel like you come up short or are discontent with some aspect of your life, take a moment, close your eyes, breathe in the scent of your horse as you stroke his neck. Center yourself and show gratitude for all you have. By showing gratitude, I am not saying that you should ignore any pain, discontent or unhappiness you feel. The purpose of mindfulness is to be present and FEEL these things. But gratitude can begin the healing process.
Thank you all for reading. Much love and many blessings,