I have a new mantra...PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION! As with many dressage riders, I tend to be a perfectionist especially as it pertains to my riding and training. In Brene Brown's book, Daring Greatly (awesome book, check it out!), she describes perfectionism in a way I think we can all relate too...
"Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: "I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect." Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is the other-focused: What will they think?"
Right now, I am preparing two horses for their first (and my first!) CDI competition. For those of you that are unfamiliar with that term, it is an international dressage competition run with its own set of rules set by the FEI (the international dressage committee). It differs from a regular nationally run show because there is a veterinary exam of all horses, there is separate and secure stabling for CDI horses and a separate warm up and three international judges to judge the test. On the first day of the show, we will compete in the Prix St. Georges class, Saturday in the Intermediare I class and Sunday, the Intermediare Freestyle (unfortunately due to FEI rules, I can only start one horse in the freestyle). It's amazing how a few weeks ago I was so happy with Freedance's progress. I watched him on video and thought he was really looking great! As we inch closer and closer to the show I am so much critical on the balance, the transitions, the half passes, pirouettes etc... and while it is important to keep the standards high and to continue to improve the weak areas, I seem to be missing the forest for the trees. I have to keep reminding myself...PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION. He is still relatively new to this level and can't be expected to have the same balance and suppleness as the two year older, Gran Casso. I have a clear idea in my head about what I want to feel and frustration keeps creeping in when I don't get him as uphill as I feel he needs to be, or as supple in lateral work.
In my ride today, once I was able to get out of my head and really focus on riding the horse I had in front of me, we were able to achieve some real harmony and some really super moments. But it took me a good 10 minutes or so of my inner critic being pretty rude for me to be able to step back and approach my ride with mindfulness. That idea of, "what will they think?" was the overriding feeling in those first ten minutes of the ride. Once I was more present, it became "how can I improve?". I just focused on achieving progress by incremental shifts in the balance through my half halts or being really logical in how I handled some tightness in my right half pass.
This idea of progress not perfection works perfectly for training horses. Keep chipping away everyday at the little issues. Don't expect everything to be perfect because it never will be. Even the best riders in the world still have to work every day to get their horses straight and supple. Strength, suppleness, balance...these things are built over time. Rome wasn't built in a day as they say!!
One more thing...the idea of progress not perfection goes for you too. When I struggled with the first ten minutes of my ride today being less than ideal...filled with self judgement, frustration and the worry of "what will they think of me?", I was able to refocus and go on to have a really great ride. In the past, that negativity would have stayed with me the whole ride. And yes, I would have preferred to have had a ride filled with rainbows and sunshine but I'm going to give myself a break and show some self compassion. Progress not perfection!
Sending light and love,