It’s been a great year for me. Wing and I qualified for all the medal finals we set out to qualify for. Now, finals are upon us.
That’s great, but suddenly I can’t seem to nail a trot jump. What’s with that?!? A trot jump is part of almost every test, not to mention a key element in handy hunter rounds. And, at the moment, I can’t seem to do it, or at least I can’t seem to do it well. Wing looks back at me as if to say, “What the heck is your problem? You’re making me nervous, Sister.”
Last lesson, the one right before my first final, my trainer presented me with a reasonable, do-able test. Canter 1, roll back and trot 2, hand gallop 3, halt, counter canter 4 (a large oxer), come back to the line at a sitting trot. No big deal, right? This is everyday stuff for us equitation riders. Ok, I cantered one fine. Rolled back, jumped ahead at the trot fence, then got mad at myself. I flubbed fence 3, and halted in a heap. Got the counter canter fine, but then picked to the base of the oxer. Oooh yuck.
Does this sound like perfectionism to you?
Well, I have news for you. It is.
My perfectionism dragged me right down into a hole. I was mad at myself for messing up yet another trot fence, and I carried that mistake the whole way through the rest of the test so that the entire thing was big mess.
Hum. I guess the performance psychologist didn’t follow her own advice.
Ok, so now I’m going to give it to myself—and you—once again. Maybe you’ll take it in and lead by example!
Dr. Darby’s rules to soothe perfectionism
1. Be grateful for your perfectionism, and then let it go. Remember—perfectionism isn’t all bad-it’s a key driver for high achievers. We always want to do it better. Allow yourself to fully embrace that, but don’t let it spoil the enjoyment of working toward the goal. Otherwise you (and I) will be perpetually dissatisfied.
2. When you make a mistake—and you will—move on IMMEDIATELY. I work with many riders, like me, who turn a minor mistake into a huge mistake. They, like myself in the example above, let a small error that would result in a score of 75, transform into a stream of mistakes that ends up as a 60.
3. Faking it is an essential skill. In order to truly fake it, you need to accept that you’re going to be less than perfect and prepare for those moments. So, when that distance is little short, you sit up pretty and look like, this is just what I wanted. Or, when you’re a little long out, you hold yourself so tight that no one but you will know. Reacting fast, and hanging in there until the very end, will earn you a much better score than giving up in the middle because something wasn’t quite right.
Many finals have been lost because of silly errors that are the result of perfectionism. Remember—in work offs, often the rider who gets every element accomplished (maybe not in the prettiest way, but gets it done), is the winner. I can’t tell you how many work offs I’ve watched where people forget something. Make sure you bear down and execute every piece of the test.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.*
Now, go out and ride like you know you can. And remember to enjoy it! Let me know if I can give you a hand.
And wish me a little luck on those trot fences, ok?
*saying is often attributed to Voltaire, the French writer, but others have said similar things.