How to Change a Negative + Self-Critical Mindset
Mental health in the equestrian world is not as regularly spoken about as I believe it should be. So I'd like to start the ball rolling by sharing my struggles with a negative and self-critical mindset.
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charlotte Rasmussen. I am 16 years old and live in Alberta, Canada. Currently, I have one top horse who is helping me move up the ranks in showjumping. I have big goals in mind to ride and compete among the best in the world; and hopefully, become one. Similar to many riders, I struggle with confidence and self-criticism. This is my story so far:
Being a perfectionist and struggling with anxiety has always been a reality for me. I knew that my mindset was impacting my growth in riding, but I just assumed that was how it was, and I couldn't change my mental balance. It wasn't until a few months ago fighting back tears of frustration in the show ring that I realized I had to make a change.
I went down a rabbit hole picking through information on the internet about how my mindset was holding me back and how I could improve. Surprisingly I found hundreds of stories from equestrians just like myself struggling. One passage I read stuck with me. "It is not about proving yourself; it is about improving your self." I accepted the fact that I felt that I needed to feel special, unique, or important. I needed something that set me apart from the pack because if I wasn't unique or special, I wasn't good enough. I started setting unrealistic expectations on my self. When I could not reach those expectations or goals, it only confirmed my thought process that I wasn't good enough. I was stuck in a very toxic loop of self-doubt and frantically trying to prove myself. It was exhausting. Recognizing my underline fear of not being perfect and continuously comparing myself to others was the first step in improving my mindset.
The primary technique I have used to stop the criticizing voice is meditation. I know, I was very skeptical in the beginning as well, and let's say I was not naturally talented when I first started. However, with practice, I have learned how to recognize and stop the little voice inside my head. Being able to end your thought process so you can be in the moment with your horse is an invaluable tool.
I also have learned about the difference between a fixed and growth mindset.
When you have a fixed mindset, you believe your natural core abilities are fixed and can't be improved to some degree. You are either naturally talented or not. As an outcome, I always felt I had to prove myself, and I saw my mistakes as a failure.
However, in a growth mindset, you feel that you can grow and learn through hard work and persistence. I wanted to believe that I had a growth mindset because I am very open to hard work and learning. However, continually criticizing myself, I was not able to grow.
I have learned to change my backward mistakes into forward ones.
One of the most valuable ways I have been able to switch my mindset is recognition and repetition. When making a mistake instead of feeling like a failure over a small error (Backward Mistake) recognize how thinking negatively is not effective. Preferably acknowledge what you did wrong and think about what you can learn from your mistake, and how to apply it for next time (Forward Mistake). Repetition is the only way to switch your thought process. You have to be committed to start seeing results.
I have learned and developed so much in the last few months since I started my journey. I have been very fortunate to train with fantastic professionals in this industry, but until I improved my mindset, I wasn't able to make the most of their lessons. Through my journey of meditation and mental self-awareness, I have learned to focus on making forward mistakes rather than backward mistakes, so that I can further my progress and love for this sport. I am still a far way from where I would like to be, but I am happy to say the good days far out way the bad.
TFE Ambassador Charlotte Rasmussen