How many times each day do you doubt something? Is this number even possible to calculate? Do you always answer a question with a question? For years, I have heard, read, and attempted to find an accurate citation for the claim that the human brain thinks 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day. The USC neuroimaging laboratory claims similar numbers based on brain scan, and even Deepak Chopra agrees. IF this range is true, we think approximately a thought each second, whether we know it or not. For every tick of the clock, a thought. Wow, that’s a lot. No wonder Harvard Researchers found adults admit to spending 47% of the time thinking about things other than what they were doing (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932.abstract ). Remember that conversation you had with so-and-so yesterday? Well, for half of it, they weren’t paying attention to you and you weren’t paying attention to them. No wonder so much gets lost in translation…
Our brains are so good at thinking we rarely notice when it happens. Actually, if you had to notice every thought, every second, you would die of exhaustion before lunch. So, we go about our day and think and think and think. How many thoughts have you had outside of this article so far? “When will she get to the point?” “I had no idea we thought so much.” “What does all this have to do with doubt and desire?” “What should I have for dinner?”
If you have ever attempted to meditate, the thought per second data point would certainly seem true. Our thoughts keep going and keep us going. The interesting thing to think about is how much impact a thought, or sequence of thoughts, has on us, especially a negative thought…or doubt. Doubt sucks. It eats away at us. It takes a lovely thought or idea or even a dream, and slowly, like a parasite, weakens it. Sometimes, it weakens it enough to force us to abandon the idea altogether. You are going along in your day and read something that triggers a memory of something that was missing and you found the answer for. Yes, that’s it! What a great idea. And off you go thinking of how to take that idea and make it happen. Then you pause, and out of habit wonder, would that really work? And that is all it takes for doubt to seep in and kill that moment, that idea, that energy, that desire. I hate that feeling, the feeling of doubt. It wrecks me and the mood or feeling I had ten short seconds before the doubt crept in. There I was, minding my own business, having a great idea, and just like that, doubt came and crashed the party.
Doubt is usually discussed versus belief, not desire, and typically in a religious context. I was thinking about doubt and how frequently I have been experiencing it lately. “How do you keep going when you absolutely do not want to or think you just can’t any longer?” A friend in struggle asked me this the other day. Perhaps because she’s knows I am in struggle as well. I paused, longer than I really wanted to because no answer appeared. “I’m not sure, I guess because we want it to be true or come to pass, whatever that thing we are doubting happens to be.” The remarkable thing is how we persist, daily, no matter the day and how much struggle we have or not. The question is not only how, but why, oh yeah, and then for how long? It seems impossible, the things, events, people, traumas, illnesses, losses, and loves we continue to press through. “Maybe it is the good days?” I pondered out loud, “or the hope, it could definitely be the hope. Whatever it is, I’m glad I have it.” And as this fell out of my mouth, I felt the wave of good, of hope, of desire, ready for the next day, whatever it might bring.
The corporate training company I was with for nearly a decade asked participants to report on the things they struggled with. The first time I read that a CEO or SVP said they constantly doubted themselves and their abilities, I was floored. I thought it must have been a mistake, an outlier. And then it happened again. And again. And again. For each program, no matter what country or industry or level of success, people expressed self-doubt. Doubt is pervasive and does not disappear once you reach a certain level. Maybe it gets worse. If that is true then, like my friend asked, what keeps us going. Well, I say it is desire.
Several years ago, I worked with a young equestrian vying for the Young Rider national championships. She had most of the ingredients: she rode wonderfully, she had a great horse, she had a great trainer, and a completely supportive family. The one killer ingredient was her doubt. It plagued her moment to moment and from the outside, it made absolutely no sense. When we started working together, she had no idea she had so much doubt. Her personality was lovely and happy, and so having so much doubt was a contradiction to who she seemed to be. It was also a mental habit, so ingrained, that it was woven into her mind, initially impossible to see. It snuck out in tiny snippets when she would talk about an upcoming horse show. I would ask how ready she felt, and answers would be so vague, they didn’t match how hard her trainer said she worked to prepare. “I’m good, I feel ready, I hope it goes well,” she would say, trying to convince us both. Show after show for the first half of the season, she would be having a great ride and then right before she finished, she would make a terrible (and ridiculous) error, crushing her score and taking her out of the lead.
We would all walk back to the barn despondent and confused, heads shaking in frustration and disbelief. For a while, all I knew to do was to attempt to chip away at the doubt. It helped, but not enough. Then one day, she taught me about the power of desire. With the last three shows coming up, we were sitting in the sun, watching her horse graze in the field, enjoying the non-competitive parts of the sport. Like most athletes, she loved competing, and like most equestrians, she loved her horse. Equestrians have a bit of an advantage over say a tennis player because your racket is never going to nicker and trot to the gate, happy to see you when you first arrive at the court. She had months of disappointment and frustration and I had months of pulling every trick I had out of my bag. But sitting there, watching him just be a horse, chatting about unimportant things, tears welled up in her eyes, “I want this so badly. Not just for me, but for him, for us, for us all.” Desire. Burning desire to perform at her highest level and be the best rider, competitor, partner possible. “Then keep at it. There is no option other than to keep at it until you get it,” I said. And as we talked about her mental toughness techniques, we added a new element, her desire, to the mix. You don’t have to guess how it turned out because it worked, of course. Her very next show, she broke through the doubt and rode out of her mind, winning for the first time. As she and her trusty steed marched out of the arena, it was hard to tell who was happier.
Struggle is part of life, as we all know. And I would say with a few decades of experience, so is doubt. So then, it is the balancing act of having enough desire to bring you back from the doubt that keeps us going. There are enough metaphors and sayings to fill a few more pages but I will spare us all here. Look for the doubt, turn up the volume on the number of times each day you say or think, “I doubt it.” It will be rather uncomfortable and perhaps even overwhelming at first but so what. Then, for each moment of doubt, see if you can muster up a desire. It does something, desire. It moves the energy to the other side of the spectrum, creating a whole new view…and a refreshed feeling that hanging in there is still possible. Take a deep breath and let yourself desire that thing, that day, that person, that dream. What else is there after all.
By Jenny R. Susser, Ph.D.
Just the word can change how the body feels: Pressure. Now check your pulse. David Bowie and Freddie Mercury ring in my ears and visions of 1980’s punk rock hair with Andy Warhol highlights flash across my memory, eliciting a chuckle because now that song is stuck in my head: “Pressure, pushing down on me…”
It is a word originating in physics as a unit of measurement of force, now such common vernacular, we have to adjust our thinking to use it scientifically (properly). Rarely used in the positive, pressure, like the word stress, has been stolen from science in an attempt to save us from emotion. I should love this word because it is the reason I have a job. As a sport psychologist, I help people handle pressure, you know, “the exertion of a force upon a surface,” (Wikipedia). Sometimes I get lost in the idea of pressure, athlete after athlete, manager after manager, executive after executive, parent after parent, all saying the same thing in slightly different terms. Where does it come from? Why does it have such power over me? How do I get better at it?
Pressure in sport is made up, a fabrication of force on the surface of the self. If only it felt that way. It feels overwhelming and there is no way around that…or to make sense of it. Thought: Make this shot or your world will fall apart. Feeling: Nausea, heart palpitations, sweaty everywhere, shaking hands and knees, wanting to die. Solution: quit, suffer, or figure out how to handle pressure. So how and where does all this pressure stuff begin? I have spent countless hours wondering how sport became the ultimate pressure cooker. “Did you win?” My nieces and nephew all played sports and I found these three words falling out of my mouth before I could stop them more times than I care to admit when my niece would call after a game. Dammit. Asking if she had fun sounds so lame, though. Fun is a by-product, not just from winning, but from playing hard and rising to the challenge of sport. “Did you rise to the challenge? Play with character? Dig deep when the game was tough? Rely on your training? Correct mistakes? Learn from failure?” What ten-year-old wants to be asked those questions? “Hey Aunt Jenny, we won!” and that is when her face lights up and her excitement gives me goosebumps. Dammit. We are designed to be competitive as part of a survival instinct: think Darwin. But shouldn’t we be able to control the primal instincts and not drive ourselves crazy with it: think Descartes.
We all have pressure and if we are honest, we have it more than daily; some days, we have it hourly. How do you deal with it? The answer to this question is layered and dynamic, mimicking the experience of pressure. A boat doesn’t have one way to deal with water, waves, wind, and currents, and it can’t have one answer for all conditions. The design accounts for as much variability as possible but can’t cover it all so we have to make choices about what weather and water is good for each boat. As technology and innovation allows, design improves, creating boats with better adjustability to withstand the pressures of being on the water. Still, I wouldn’t take a Sunfish across the Atlantic and a cruise ship certainly would not do well on the lake where I vacation.
Fall in love with pressure. Such crap. Yet, I have said this, presented this, and tried to talk people into this because wouldn’t that make it easy. Looking back and then forward, it is not falling in love with pressure that we want, it’s falling in love with how we respond to pressure. As a competitive swimmer, I was crazy nervous before each and every race. It was uncomfortable, physically disruptive, and energetically costly, but I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way. I hear this from the athletes and executives I work with every day, no matter how successful they are. We tolerate and survive the front-end impact of pressure for the way we feel after the event. Did we rise to the challenge? Or play with character? Or dig deep when it was tough? It is the answers to how we performed that allows us to continue to expose ourselves to another round of pressure. When the answers are good, we feel amazing. When the answers are bad, we want another round to try again for a better result. Resilience.
Developing your response to pressure comes in the form of a training program. Boats weren’t just born sea-worthy (ha, ha) and I bet the first-round design sank like a rock. It takes time, of course, and commitment, and a great design idea because becoming “sea-worthy” involves more than just some wood and a desire. Over the last twenty years, my relationship to pressure has evolved, thankfully, through trial and error, the research of the brilliant, and the hard, hard work of those I have been lucky enough to be with in the trenches of performing under pressure. The paradox is we need pressure not only to grow, but to perform at our highest levels. We have to train our mind to control our physiology so that we can manage our mind so that we can control our performance. I never swam as fast in practice as I did in competition because of the physiological bump pressure gives a body. If it was just enough, success, but if it was too much, failure. The game then becomes the balance, and not just any balance, but balance under constantly changing conditions and pressures. We love to rise to the occasion, no matter what it might be, because the afterglow is indescribable and what we all seek in return for all the work to get there. “Can’t we give ourselves one more chance…De day da.”
Happy New Year and welcome to the day, the week, the month of “new.” New year, new gym memberships, new resolutions, new promises, and inevitably, new disappointments. New reasons to be hopeful overshadowed by the ever present yet highly ignored backdrop of conveniently forgotten failures of the past. I wake up every January 1st with a duality that makes me want to go back under the covers: hope vs. history. This is the time of year, for whatever reason, we become reflective, maybe even pensive, sometimes regretful, and amazingly hopeful. Thankfully, all of these emotions and disruptions are gone by February and we can get back to our routines and resume trudging through the rest of the year. By October, we say, “how can this year have gone so fast?” and as the next round of holidays approach, we prepare ourselves for the food, the shopping, the gifts, the family, and the new round of new promises. We forget how we did this last year, you know, set out to become the “you you’ve always wanted to be,” and we mount the charge again, and again, and again. “Rinse and repeat,” as my friend, Linda says.
But what about how powerful this time of year feels? It is a perfect storm for reflection and connecting with emotions you can’t seem to escape yet somehow don’t want to. The holiday celebrations, movies, and music stir us and make us nostalgic. Sitting by the tree at night with only the colored, flashing lights on has a magic to it that is indescribable. The feeling of good will that rushes over us for no reason, that upon noticing, we wish would last longer than a few weeks. The change in weather (even for those not in the north) encourages the body to slow down as the days are shorter and the nights opulent and long. We complain the sun sets before leaving the office but only because we have forgotten to heed nature and slow down a bit, encouraging and even allowing our bodies to recover during winter. As we continue on our daily way, there still is that part of us seeking reflection, seeking connection to family and friends, seeking relief from the perils of the year, and needing the hope January 1st always brings. It is a powerful time of year and none of us escapes unmoved.
But today is the day to scroll through page after page of what promises are available to buy. I devour it relentlessly, page after page, picture after picture, promise after promise, and the dopamine drips with ecstasy in my brain. Yep, this is the year, my year, I will finally have it all, just like they tell me I deserve. Somehow, I am able to convince my brain that all the previous years have been some sort of fluke, that my failure to have 360° abundance has been a mistake, that if I could just unlock that one little thing, it will all turn around for me and I will have the life of my dreams. And as I find myself unable to satiate this desire, the other side of the duality hits a brick wall. Having written too many “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution” articles to count, my body tenses with frustration and perhaps shame. Have I been one of those promisers? What sort of life has my work led someone to believe they could miraculously create? Who and how many have I left disappointed and unsuccessful? My stomach answers with instant nausea: Snake oil buyer and seller in one swift kick to the gut.
There will be a lot of articles today about change: accepting change, embracing change, preparing for change, falling in love with change. And they are all correct. However, the funny thing is, we are always changing. It is a fallacy to say you hate change because it’s sort of impossible. Our bodies change constantly, and we should love that fact because it keeps us alive. You walk from one room to another and the temperature changes imperceptibly, and without noticing, your body adapts. You instinctively roll up or down your sleeves because it was warmer or cooler in the next room and the human body is a master adapter to environmental cues and conditions without bothering you to ask if your sleeves can be adjusted now. You don’t tell your body to sweat or shiver when the sleeves are not enough to adapt, it just does. And so goes the mind with change. The human brain is a miraculous computer that deals with millions of bits of information per second. If we didn’t “change our minds” moment to moment, we would miss important opportunities to connect or disconnect—whatever will keep us the safest. Someone enters the room and we must instantly change or adapt to this new entity. Are they a threat or an ally? Will they make us feel better or worse? Should I stay or should I go now (cue The Clash, circa 1981, feeling older now)? And the interesting thing is that it doesn’t even have to be a person entering the room, it can easily be an unwitting memory, the kind that you don’t even realize you are having, as enough to produce the same need for a survival response: stay or go? And so, the changes keep happening both behind and in front of the door of our mind, hundreds of times each day, staying or going, changing without warning. How to get ahead of that is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question (not feeling as old because this is a reference, not an experience).
The point to all of this is to acknowledge both the reality and fantasy of the new year, resolutions, hope, and human nature. It is not balanced to only have hope, but how do we “balance” hope? It is almost against the definition of it! And if we prepare for our hope to fail, then is that really having hope? No way. So, we hope and then we recover if it fails to come true. Humans are a resilient bunch as evidenced in our annual trek towards that “new you.” We are naturally drawn to things and ideas that inspire hope, for it is a powerful emotion. When I was in graduate school learning how to be a psychologist, one of my professors gave a homework assignment that was to answer a question using only one word: What do you want a client to have as they leave your office from a first therapy session? What? Blank, my mind was blank, completely blank. I drove home waiting to search my text books and thesaurus (no internet yet, definitely older). Happiness? No. Relief? Maybe. Contentment? No. Joy? For sure no because how do I match that each week. Sadness? Not if I want them to come back. The answer was hope, we want them to leave session number one with hope. Hope that they will one day be able to feel all of those things and still be okay.
The amazing thing about hope is that it seems to contain a memory venom, erasing all the memories that would keep a rational mind from having any in this annual hope event. See, when I woke up this morning, I was full of hope and dreams and the promise the new year brings. Diligent and regular with my ritual of writing resolutions or goals but now with a renewed gritty determination that certainly must be stronger than last year. And then life happened, so-and-so didn’t show up for work, an argument here, a disappointment there, and I found myself sitting on the couch, staring out the window, feeling crappy because today seems just like any other day now, and wondering where all that damn hope went.
How do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the energy of the season without it simultaneously triggering the opening of old wounds and disappointments from what never came to be? We pretend those misses didn’t happen or don’t bother us…but deep, down they do, and those little pockets of doubt become blankets of “no way” and we spend yet another year pretending this is what we should have when we categorically believe otherwise. My sisters and I have a joke about how “This is our year!” It started innocently as a declaration but year after year, we kept saying this until it has become a New Year’s ritual, claiming in irony that the Taj Mahal is somehow within this year’s reach. As if that is what would make us all happy. How could we have tried so hard and then missed so badly arriving at the place of “it all”?
As we are all bathing in the hope of our New Year’s Resolutions, perhaps a balancing tonic will be of use. Don’t stretch the rubber band so tight as to scar yourself with the recoil. This is not to say don’t be resolute. But be powerful in your “stretch.” We all know how to set goals: write them down, make them specific and measurable, make them challenging but do-able, give them a time line, and get support for them (reprint from article number one hundred and one previously mentioned). What do they say, “Reach for the moon and perhaps you will get a star”? My favorite story about this topic was told to me by my sister, Julie, years ago. There is a legend in Ireland from a time when times were tough about the young men who would cross the country side on foot, looking for work. As they traveled, they would often encounter walls, the old stone walls built by hand and meant to contain as much as to protect. When they would confront a wall that was perhaps too massive to get over, they would take their caps off and throw them over the wall. These were not just any caps but the wool caps we can imagine that their mother or grandmother had made them and were as much a part of their life as wardrobe. This simple yet powerful act created commitment—commitment to finding a way over the wall.
I love this metaphor for hope, courage, commitment, and possibility. I love the way telling this story makes me feel and the reactions of the many who have been patient enough to listen. Take the energy of the day, the week, and this wonderful month of renewal, and throw your cap over some wall. Make sure it is your cap and a wall you have traveled to and are standing in front of. Know that it is just a cap but that getting over that wall to retrieve it will make it feel like a pot of gold. This year, just like every year, is your year. While you will always want more and better, you will also always have lots already. That is the magic of this turn of the calendar, the astonishing ability to simultaneously reflect on the past while dreaming of the future.
DREAMS vs. GOALS
Jenny R. Susser, Ph.D.
“Welcome to Hollywood, what’s your dream?” Who can name that movie? Pretty Woman, in case your brain was still rattling around. The movie starts with a dream of a prince and a white horse and ends with it coming true…which happens all the time in real life, right? Think about the power that line had in the movie; a whole movie based on a dream…that was more like a fairytale. Powerful. Dreams and goals: big words, big thoughts, scary thoughts, success, failure, fun, devastation, elation, short-term, long-term, powerful, meaningful, shared, secret, motivating…I could go on for hours with the stream of consciousness on dreams and goals. I love dreams and I love goals, but have you ever stopped to think about if there is a difference between the two? I also love language and find that we don’t put enough thought into the way we say things these days—and the result is a loss of power. We use words like “awesome” when we find a good parking spot…what word will we use then for things that truly inspire “awe”? I travel all over the country and find the same thing, no matter where, people afraid to use the word goal so instead use the word dream. Dreams have this magical element, like, if it’s a dream, then it has to come true. Goals seem to be reserved for the “successful,” a distant idea reserved for someone else, something you have to accomplish or else. My goal is to change that. So how do you become part of the successful then? Maybe set some goals…
Let’s start using our language more powerfully by distinguishing dreams from goals. What is a dream? Funny you should ask because when I look it up two things come up: a dive into Freudian theory about dreams that occur when sleeping, or quotes to help you follow your dream. Humph. It seems that when we say, “following our dreams,” it is really daydreams we are talking about. Daydreaming is a very good thing. It is said to foster creativity by brain scientists. For the non-scientist, we like it because it makes us feel good. It is a great escape from things, a good way to elicit some of those good chemicals in our bodies, and reminds us of younger days when daydreaming was a much larger part of our days. The time we spend dreaming decreases over the lifespan. Perhaps because when we are young, we use dreams to anticipate the future and as the future becomes more predictable and less of it, we don’t need dreams as much. Still, I suggest finding time to daydream regularly! Since dreams (daydreams) are a bit of an escape as adults, I like to distinguish them from goals. We all daydream and most of us never spill the beans of all the dreams we had as kids or teens (or yesterday). I used to play the guitar and write silly songs, so of course I dreamed of being a rock star. Something soooooo not in the cards for me in any way, but I had that dream. Was it realistic? Not in the least. But was it fun? Heck yeah, the dreamer in me loved it! Now, what if I had related to that dream as if it was a goal? I have little talent for music, just a love for it like most of us. I knew a handful of chords so I could play a few songs but does that make me a rock star? Sadly, no. But when I look back on it, it makes me wonder if I had a goal with guitar, not just a lofty dream, would I still be playing today (I haven’t played in decades)? When I gave up that dream, I gave up guitar completely. I am not wrecked from it, but I think there was a middle ground somewhere I missed.
When I was five and a half years old, I started swimming. Now, that I had talent for. I had a national record by the time I was seven and my coach gave me a t-shirt that read, “Look for me in the Olympics in 1984.” One heck of a dream, eh? And yes, at that point, with at least a decade ahead of me, it was still a dream. But I stopped swimming for those ten years and missed the opportunity. So when 1984 rolled around, that dream became a nagging irritation and I went back to the pool. The 1988 Olympics were a leftover of the earlier dream from childhood, but I was willing to give it a test drive. So, with lots of support and work, I turned that dream into a goal. I swam at the trials and failed to make the team…still the best four years ever.
So what is the difference between a dream and a goal? I saw a t-shirt once that said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” I like that. You have to be in action with a goal, not just thinking about it. When making the Olympic team transitioned from a dream to a goal, the work, the commitment, the energy, the money, the time, the everything changed. It was no longer private or something I could pretend I wasn’t up to and the people close to me had to be onboard. It was now something that I spent time on, lots of time, everyday. A goal has to have meat to it, or dairy if you are vegetarian, but it needs substance. I talk about SMARTS goals, which I did not create, but love to use to gain power with your goals (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic but challenging, Time sensitive, and Support). Not every goal has to be all consuming with regards to your time and energy, but the bigger the goal, the bigger the commitment, so be ready for that.
I love goals and I think they are incredibly important. They help direct our energy, they enhance and express our passions, they give us great things to focus on, and they help us feel successful. If you accomplish all of your goals, you are not setting the bar high enough, by the way! And if you are not even in the ballpark for a goal, then it’s probably more like a dream. When you define them correctly, they are much more empowering.
One of the reasons I wanted to write this is everywhere I go, people tell me they want to make the Olympic Team or a Professional team or the like. I have worked with thousands of athletes, amateur and international, high school and college, and almost everyone has an Olympic or Professional “goal.” The problem I see is that most of them are really “dreams” and not goals. It’s pretty easy to say you want to make an Olympic or NFL team someday but getting there is no easy task. I lived that goal for years and I’m telling you, it is not something to toss out there over coffee. In professional sports such as football, baseball, basketball and hockey, less than .01% of all college athletes become professional athletes (yes, this is an actual statistic). LESS than .01%! I wonder what the percentage would be for the equestrian Olympic teams? Even less, unfortunately. Equestrian teams for the WEG or Olympics have 4 spots plus an alternate. A football team has close to 100, just for reference, and there are 32 teams in the league. One US Dressage team, of which Steffen Peters will be occupying a spot for a while, so four. Crushing, I know.
I’m not trying to be a buzz-kill here but sometimes relating to a dream as if it’s a goal can be incredibly bad for you and your horse or your shoulder pads. When the goal is unrealistic, it does some negative things to the process. First, it kills motivation. If you wonder deep down inside if you will ever accomplish that goal because you might not have the skills, the support, or the commitment (Jenny-the-rock-star), then you don’t really have to put that much effort into it because it wasn’t going to happen anyway. You wouldn’t find me practicing guitar if there was something better to do or if I was having trouble learning something new. But every morning at 4:45 am when my alarm clock went off, I peeled myself out of bed and into the pool because I knew, no matter how remote the Olympic chance, that there was one and I had to find out.
The second thing it does is separate you from the game you are playing. I eventually stopped playing the guitar because I knew I wasn’t “world class” and so I gave it up. I think the problem was the lack of a realistic goal, outcome, or vision of myself as an average player that just enjoyed sitting around with my guitar. Interestingly, I have refused to sell my guitar and have lugged it all over the country in countless moves and one day, will play again (never in public after this, though). I see this in horses a lot, but because people love horses differently than guitars, they give up in secret ways. They stop riding and start making excuses, they get over-pressurized and become hard on their horses, they have their trainer ride, they lease the horse out or even sell it. This slow burn to disconnect, because it happens over time, is hard to see as a goal vs. dream problem, but I suspect it is more than we know. It is terribly sad to see so many horse lovers lose that lovin’ feeling because they had something they said was a goal that should have been called a dream. If their goal had been realistic, the fun and fulfillment would have followed, because it would have been possible, even if they failed.
The third thing is the work. The work it takes to move a dream to a goal is substantial. Now, it is great work and incredibly fulfilling, but it is work and not everyone is up to that kind of work so let’s just be honest about that. I remember sitting down with a two-time Olympian who was a trainer for a young rider I was working with. The three of us talked about her goal of making a US Team. It was an incredible conversation filled with planning, hope, disappointment, and a big dose of reality. The components were there: the horse is fantastic, the rider is highly skilled, the mental toughness is great, and the support team is there. One thing that truly impressed me, as in made a strong impression, occurred when the Olympian asked what it would be like if she did not make the team? Would her dressage career be invalid because you see young rider, making the Olympic Team is hard and statistically against the odds. The pause that occurred in that moment and the thinking that was necessary to answer, invented a new relationship for the rider to her competitive career. Watching that transformation was a gift. The rider flinched at first because her Olympic dream was so much a part of her riding that separating it seemed impossible, but as she settled into the goal part, much more became available. Her new connection to a goal created power that wasn’t accessible when it was a dream. It created a visible path to follow as opposed to a foggy idea…and when you have that, you have actions to take, which is the only way to get there! She is on her path, taking her actions, and who knows if she will accomplish that goal. Not making a Team is disappointing but it’s not the only result of that goal. The path to that goal is so wide and fun, that it has a life and result of it’s own. I failed to make the Olympic Team, but on the way I went to one of the best colleges in the country and had an amazing experience there, I made 2 other national teams so got to travel the world to compete, and the friends and experiences were amazing. It made me the person I am today and includes a range of successes and failures, not just one dream.
So, can someone really dash your dreams? Yes, no, well, sort of. Here’s the point of this, you need BOTH dreams and goals. If you have a goal, a plan for that goal, the support, the commitment, the understanding that it may or may not happen, and the tenacity to do it anyway, then no one should be able to touch that. I had plenty of people tell me I was crazy to try to make the team after swimming for only four years. It didn’t matter to me though and it never stopped me once because I had all the components of that goal and was willing to go for it anyway. And I failed and oh my gosh, I’m still alive! If succeeding at a goal was guaranteed, only two people would try out for the Olympic Team in each event in swimming…
If you have a dream that you are calling a goal then you become very susceptible to criticism and defeat and quick to abandon ship. I love goals but I hate the pressure we put on ourselves to have big, lofty ones. Why can’t we just be happy and fulfilled doing some normal stuff? Why does everyone have to be a pro, make a team, or ride Grand Prix? I’m sitting in a coffee shop as I write this and a man just walked by wearing a t-shirt that says, “Dream Big” (what is it about t-shirts and dreams?). I never hear anyone ask what if we let some of those dreams stay dreams? Just so you know, it is completely fine to NOT take a dream to a goal and to just have it as something that makes you happy to think about. What if daydreams were just fun to escape to and lovely to think about but not a source of pressure because the truth might be we are really not committed to it…and what if all of that was OK! Protect your dreams because they are important and powerful. And if and when you become ready to move them to a goal, go for it and enjoy the ride!
Happy Holiday Energy!
Happy Holidays! Whatever type of holiday you celebrate, I wish your celebration to be wonderful. Tired of hearing and saying this and not knowing what the heck it means? I have to admit I’m a bit of a bah-humbugger (not sure of the spelling here). I’m not in love with the holiday part of this time of year. I do enjoy this time of year, especially living in the Northeast. I like the weather changes, the cold, crisp air and how it makes me feel alive. I like the time to reflect and how the end of one year and the start of another seems to inspire us all in some magical way. The part I don’t like is the mindlessness that we have fallen prey to in our overly commercialized culture, but let’s not focus on that.
Let’s focus on what’s important here: relationship. I had a great conversation with a friend who was asking me why I was a bah-humbugger. I said I don’t need a holiday to be kind to others, to be grateful for the blessings in my life, to be reflective or thoughtful, to buy someone I care about a gift, to give back, or to eat great food! She pointed out the one thing I was missing…the time with family and loved ones. Yes, the holidays create this great excuse for us to congregate, and for some, it is the one time each year we get to see each other. She was right, that was the important part that I was overlooking.
Some of those relationships are tough, though. Some are not as wonderful as they used to be or as they ought to be. Some people don’t do or say what you wanted them to. Some said bad things about you to others, and so on, and so on. This is where the holidays have the potential to take a bad turn.
In the corporate work that I do, we ask people where they put most of their energy. Work, duh. And that makes sense, especially in terms of contact hours. We spend more time at work than we do at home and that is just the nature of the beast these days. While changing that is an entirely different story, the one thing we can change is the kind of energy we spend at home. When asked honestly, most of us have to admit that we craft our words and direction of energy at work much more carefully than at home. We are nicer to our boss than our spouse. We are more patient with an annoying co-worker than our children. We think before we speak in a boardroom and blurt out all our pains irresponsibly in our living room. We prepare for meetings at work and consider family meetings a last resort when things are falling apart.
Why is this? Habit and culture. My best guess is that if you lose your job, it would be bad and have dire consequences, so behaving properly becomes a priority. If you lose your spouse to divorce, you are just part of the 50% of marriages that fail, so what’s the big deal. If your kid stops talking to you, they are a brat and ungrateful and have no idea what you sacrifice to pay for their damn smart phone and after school activities (that you never have time to make it to anyway). Okay, so this is a dramatization of sorts, but we all have been here in one form or another and can relate to this, even if it’s just a little.
Maybe try this, try putting the kind of energy you put into your thoughts and words at work…at home. Just for a day, see if you can rally the mindfulness and energy to be the person you know you can be, take advantage of the mushy generosity the holidays provide, and see what happens. In case you are in denial, what happens is you get the most amazing return on your energy that you can possibly imagine.
And then try that everyday.
Relationships are what it’s about. There’s a great song that goes, “I never saw a hearse with a trailer hitch.” It’s a Country song, of course, but it’s spot-on. What do you want to take with you?
Happy Holidays! Make some magic where there was none.
Best, Dr. Jenny
I think that the quality of our lives comes from the decisions we make. Bold statement, I know. Perhaps some luck is involved, but I’m not entirely sure how much. What is luck anyway? I hear so many definitions, it’s hard to really say what is true about luck. Then there is fate. Again, what is fate? Well, we could go on for hours here but what I want to write about are decisions and the interesting experience I had today.
I like to pay it forward when I can. Sometimes in the grocery store, I help out some folks who like they could use a hand and buy them “dinner” (pay for their groceries). I got that from a friend who is a geriatric physician and she taught me what to look for. You know, an elderly person, usually alone, the food on the belt is mostly staples…some meat or canned beans, a family pack of generic chips, no milk because it’s too expensive, and rarely fruits or vegetables. It makes them cry with gratitude and perhaps a bit of shame. It makes me happy and sad at the same time, but the happy outweighs the sad, so it’s well worth it.
I don’t look for these moments, what happens is someone catches my eye and I have that thought race past my mind saying I should help them. See, I really believe we are all in this together and that if I ignore someone else, I’m really ignoring everyone…including myself. I know I can’t help everyone, but there are times when it’s really awesome to help one person…or even another living being. I saved three frogs the other day when I was dragging my riding ring on the tractor. Little frogs, the size of the face on my watch and they hop around like crazy. I have to pick them up (yuck) because they can’t get to the edges and out of the ring in time and I can’t bare the thought of running them over—it’s far worse than picking them up! It’s funny how powerful it is for me to press through my discomfort of picking them up to save them. I felt proud and good and connected to it “all” when I did that. It still makes me smile.
Today I was behind a man at a gas station (no pay at the pump so I had to go in to pay). He had a ratty, old, beat up car, was a bit of a mess, and paid for $5 of gasoline in three, one-dollar bills and a handful of coins. He looked at me when I walked in behind him and was embarrassed to put the money on the counter that way. He paid and left and I stepped up to the counter somewhat affected. I handed the clerk my credit card and as I closed my wallet, I noticed the cash. I flipped through it quickly, $67 in various bills. I thought, is that a lot of money—to me? To him? I walked to my car and started pumping the gas. I could hear my inner voice telling me to help him. Should I go inside and tell her to put more money on my card for him? No, that might embarrass him further. I stood there, conflicted but wanting to help. So I grabbed two twenty’s and walked up to him. I asked, “Can I buy you a tank of gas?” He looked at me in shock and said, “A whole tank?” My chest hurt that a full tank of gas was such a surprise. “Yes,” I replied. “Why not?” he said without smiling. So I handed him the cash, let the wave of satisfaction wash over me and walked back to my car.
Not a minute later, he drove off in a hurry from the station, making sure not to look back as I watched. My heart sank. He took the money and ran, and not just so to speak. I could hear my mind going berserk: “I guess he needed it more for something else.” “Jerk (maybe something a little stronger might have emerged).” “I’m sure a sucker.” “What is wrong with people?” And then finally, I began to feel a little sadness for him. In my opinion, he violated his integrity for forty bucks. Another strong statement, I know. Who knows how important forty bucks is to him, but even though he wasn’t very well put together, he wasn’t starving (he had a belly), so forty bucks wasn’t between him and death. What really happened is he made, in my opinion, the wrong decision.
I hate it when people tell me I’m lucky to have the success I have. Lucky? Try hard working, tenacious, willing to sacrifice, resilient, motivated, focused, courageous, and a good decision-maker. These are all traits that I had to work hard to develop and maintain. I work very hard and found a way to love it (well, sometimes I will complain a bit). Not all of my decisions have been good, for certain! But I make decisions based on a checklist of sorts: What are my goals and is my decision in line with them? What will the short-term impact be? What will the long-term impact be? How will it impact others? Will it contribute or take away from the pieces and/or the whole? And most importantly, how will I feel about myself afterwards? I say to myself frequently, “short term pain for long term gain.”
It would have been “easier” to just ignore the frogs and drive over them with my tractor but I could not have possibly felt good about myself. It was about ten seconds of discomfort to save each one, but it paid off in spades in terms of how I felt. Because, and you can argue this with me, but I really think how we feel about ourselves is the most import feeling we have all day. When you feel good about yourself, your world changes. I feel badly for the man in the gas station because there is no way he feels good about himself tonight. And that forty bucks is going to be very unsatisfying money, no matter what he spends it on. See, I gave him that for gasoline. He can rationalize all day on whatever else he spent it on, but he should have gone inside, given it to the clerk, and then filled up his tank. But he decided to spend it elsewhere. So, I look at his life from my vantage point. Is he unlucky like I am lucky or does he lack quality decision-making? He has an old, beat up car that is falling apart, and he looks a mess. He does not look successful (from how we materialistically define success—but that’s a whole other blog), and he clearly lacks integrity. Perhaps he thinks he’s just unlucky or that life dealt him a bad hand but is that the truth? Makes me wonder if his life is a “mess” because of his circumstances…or because of his decision-making.
I think he has just set himself up for more failure. And yes, I think we could categorize today as a failure on his part. Based on his response to me, “A whole tank?” he is struggling to make ends meet. A whole tank of gas was not in his budget. But was driving off like that in his emotional budget? I wonder the true cost of that decision. I can only hope that his encounter with me creates some kind of opening for self-reflection and a better day tomorrow. Making excellent decisions is NOT easy, I know! But when we sacrifice our character for the variety of reasons we come up with, it remains a sacrifice no matter how you slice it. I have sacrificed my integrity plenty of times over the years and never felt better about it, no matter how positive I tried to perceive the result.
I wonder how his energy would have been affected had he used the money for gasoline? He was obviously presented with a mental struggle when I handed him the money: do I spend it on gas or on what I want or think I need? That is what I call a fork in the road. One direction leads to power, the other to justifications and excuses. I imagine how he felt about himself the rest of the day. Imagine if he had filled his tank with gas, even though there were several other things loudly competing for the money. Every time he looked at his gas tank gauge, he could have felt empowered (my fantasy) that someone cared. Instead, I wonder how he will feel for as long as a tank would have lasted. How about the way he felt the rest of the day, how about when he spent the money. I wanted him to feel good about something—himself, other people, or that something else might just be possible in life.
I hope he gets something more than forty bucks out of today. And I hope when you come to a fork in the road, you have gotten something out of reading this. Make a great decision that will lead to feeling great about yourself—no matter how difficult or initially uncomfortable it may be. That discomfort is quickly replaced by pride, power, self-worth, and usually, something better down the road.
Does A Moral Code Still Exist Today?
The cover story for last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated is called “The Dilemma” and is about Pete Rose. The author, Kostya Kennedy, wrote a book about the story and takes a look into the question of the slugger’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame. An entire book, a cover story on the number one sports magazine in the country, a divided fan base, and opposing positions from those in management of the sport…all over whether or not a gambler should be called one of the greats, not only in bars and hotel lobbies, but also in the Hall of Fame. This book asks if we should overlook his crimes against the sport in light of newer, more significant violations, namely the steroid-era cheating?
Lance Armstrong comes to mind in this scenario. Yes, he (finally) admitted to cheating (and cheating, and bullying, and lying) to win his record seven Tour De France titles. But then there is the emotional caveat: “Look at all the good he has done for cancer research.” Lesser contributions but similar cheating “stars” include Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, and the incredible list of baseball players, a few of whom are mentioned in the article and book.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I feel as though asking the question is an important place to start. I am in my late forty’s so born in the late 60’s. I grew up being punished for lying and cheating so that taught me it was wrong. Am I perfect, no, but I don’t cheat, have never cheated in any sport I have played, and I have a hard time with those that do cheat. To me, cheating is a sacrifice of self. When winning becomes more important than who you are to yourself, that is a problem. Dr. Jim Loehr wrote a great book called The Only Way To Win: How Building Character Drives Higher Achievement and Greater Fulfillment in Business and Life. This book spoke to me, not just because I work for Dr. Loehr, but because of the brilliant and simple commentary on how we might have gotten here…with here being a society and culture driven by achievement; leaving values and ethics behind. His “solution” to build character, value character, and teach character is so simple; it’s complicated. Anyone with a child should read this book. Heck, anyone with a heart should read this book.
The question I get stuck on is, “When did telling the truth and having ethics, a moral code, and character become gray area?” How can you have a little ethic? How can you violate a lesser rule? And how can you say Pete Rose should now be considered for the Hall of Fame because the steroid era is doing calculable and worse damage? I am not a baseball fan and do not have a strong emotional attachment to Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame status either way. What I find interesting is that his betting on games he was involved as a major league manager are now being considered incalculable. Since we don’t have any evidence that his action really impacted the games, let’s say that wasn’t such a bad thing anymore. Why not? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the ballot for the Hall of Fame and even if you don’t know a thing about baseball, you know those names and their association with steroid use and cheating.
We are surrounded by opportunity to cheat and violate our moral code every day. It’s the perfect conundrum: Character is something we do when no one else is watching…however, so is cheating. It takes something to stay true to yourself, your code, and your values. Especially, because cheating is so easy and so accepted now. I think about the pressure a young, middle or lower range player has in a locker room where PED’s are easily accessible. I can completely understand the move towards cheating yet I can’t understand it at all. You know, not everyone can win and the real world is not T-ball. Sometimes we lose, but if that were included in the original conversation about games, it would not be considered such a bad thing. I was talking about this with a friend yesterday and when the subject of steroid use came up, her comment was, “Well, if everyone is doing it, is it that bad?” Sadly, this argument has some traction these days because we have become so accustomed to this behavior that it doesn’t seem such a violation. But what if we swapped the words “steroid use” with “murder”? No gray area there.
Unfortunately, the cheating issue does have some gray area. When I was swimming, a woman tested positive at the 1988 Olympic Trials where I was competing. We all knew it because she looked Herculean and swam faster than ever. She had recently married a shot-putter. So there, we all made the connection because power track and field sports were known for steroid use in the eighties. She was removed from the Olympic Team, suspended for two years, returned briefly after her suspension ended and then disappeared forever. So where is the gray? Is the fact that we have suspension first and not banishment a breeding ground for cheating? Would so many athletes risk being forever banished from their sport if they knew one violation and you are out? It’s not that I believe in harsher punishment, I believe in a stronger relationship to our moral code! If “doing the right thing” had meaning any more, we would not be having this conversation.
We glamorize the lack of morality and ethical behavior now. Justin Bieber makes more money the more he’s on the cover of magazines—whether it’s for helping a children’s center raise important money for research (okay, that wasn’t him) or getting arrested. It’s shameful how we have spiraled down to this. I don’t watch shows like Jersey Shore or housewives or whatever because they don’t do anything to contribute, even sitcoms have some interpersonal value at the end of the day. The “reality” shows make doing dumb, rude, unethical things entertainment, and because the guidance towards a moral code is missing, this becomes the norm.
I don’t think it would be that difficult to move back towards a culture steeped in morality and ethics. It starts with the individual, and that is you and that is me. I don’t endorse, support, or encourage behavior that violates a moral code. I don’t put my money there and I don’t put my energy there. I do my best to catch it as soon as possible and move towards the things I value. It is not easy, mind you, but I want to put my energy where value is, where character is more important than accomplishment, where doing the right thing always feels better than a mark in the win column. Most of us forget quickly who won what game in what year, but not too many forget someone who has done you wrong—or even more importantly, something you have done wrong. Changing the world starts with one person at a time and if you can impact 20%, a huge shift has occurred. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is no dilemma in that.
The Olympics are on! I love the two weeks, not just as a former athlete (who still can’t shake that competitive drive) but also as a Sport Psychologist. I love to watch and listen to what the athletes say, what the commentators say, and the flow of energy and momentum. I was watching the Men’s Slopestyle and the Bronze medalist, Mark McMorris from Canada, had one shaky run and then pulled it together in the semifinal and final. He said in his interview when asked about the event, “the pressure just finds me.” I loved hearing this!
Mind you, this was a 20 second sound bite so who knows what comments preceded or followed this, and I don’t know him or how he thinks, but I found this interesting for two reasons. One, that he was almost surprised at the pressure. Heck, it’s the Olympics! There is not much pressure-wise that can compare to this event. And two, this tells me his preparation either made him feel he shouldn’t have felt pressure, or he didn’t prepare enough for the pressure.
I work with athletes preparing for big events all the time and many of them fall prey to the faulty thinking that if they just pretend it won’t be pressurized, then it won’t be! You know the old, “I will just treat this like it’s every other meet/show/race/match/game.” Not possible! The pressure will find you! What there is to do is to prepare for the pressure.
So, how does someone prepare for pressure? Isn’t that the $64,000 question! First, figure out what pressure looks like for you. Not everyone feels pressure when his or her whole family is there, some find it relieves pressure. Who is your “opponent” and does that create pressure or motivation? Home court or away, which means more pressure to you? Remember, what creates pressure to you might create power to someone else and vice-versa.
Second, third, fourth, and to infinity is to prepare for the pressure. The more you have practiced performing with pressure, the better you can handle it. I know too many competitors that create a performance bubble at home that protects and insulates them from pressure. Now, this is a useful tool in some parts of your training, but must not become the only practice habit. You need to practice performing or competing with things bugging you! Distractions take away mental energy, which converts to physical performance. Reduce distractions as much as possible by becoming used to having them! When you have practiced and performed enough with many distractions, they just fade into the background and leave only your excellence in the foreground. By doing this, you give yourself as few things as possible to think about so that all your focus can be on your event. Make as many things as you can into a routine so that they become automatic. Make your thoughts great and turn that into a routine! That is the BEST use of your energy and will result in the best use of your mind and body!
I love this article! The lost art of actually talking with someone, a past time that is sadly “lost” these days. Technology has given us many gifts, but the costs, obvious to some of us, will disappear and be lost over time. The ability for language is something that distinguishes human beings from animals. Sure, animals communicate, but we do it differently and in a much more complicated fashion. I love to conversate (is that a word, because it sure sounds like one; humor me here). I love to listen to new ideas, or old ones with a new twist or color of passion never seen before. I love to learn from people. I love to listen to stories unravel and try to figure out the source, the cause, the meaning behind thoughts and what makes one person think one thing and another think the opposite. When I am in a conversation, I can almost feel my brain tingle as it works to listen, process, control my need to talk over someone because I’m sure my thoughts are better or more important, wonder how they got that opinion or position, and try to connect to what they are saying no matter how I feel about it.
I read this piece Saturday morning as I drank my coffee and watched two horses and riders wander out into the field behind my house. I am lucky to live on a horse farm and to be surround by the wonder and beauty this animal provides daily. A few minutes later, I got a frantic call that one rider had fallen off and could I get out there quickly! I grabbed my phone and ran. The horse had spooked and then he zigged while his rider zagged (that’s a technical way of saying she fell off). She was completely calm laying on the ground and simply said in a monotoned voice, “I think I broke my arm.” Wondering if she was a little in shock, I called for an ambulance and then we headed the 2.3 miles down the road to the hospital emergency room. If you are wondering how this story ties into this article about “big conversations”, well, we had several hours in the ER, and after she had stabilized physically and mentally, we simply talked. One other woman from the barn was there and the three of us had the most wonderful conversations. As we chatted, I thought about this article and how I was learning things about these two women I have known for years and see daily, but clearly know very little about. Of course, sitting there in the ER after having a scary accident, the talk initiated around the event and how lucky everyone was today. The practice of gratitude is something I work to employ daily in my life and that day, it was easy. She had a helmet on, landed on her arm not her head or her neck, and the horse had broken through three fences on his frantic way back to the barn yet had remained unharmed. All of it was lucky and we took this opportunity to process our fears by talking about our gratitude.
The conversation eventually relaxed and we moved on to funny stories about college, travel, marriage, children and grandchildren (for them), and as it always does with horse people, back around to horses. The richness of the day was truly surprising. I felt the same hint of camaraderie that I experienced over and over again during my swimming career. I always assumed it was because we trained so hard in the pool that we related so closely as teammates. I’m sure that was part of the mix, but now, in my wise old age (ha, ha), I see it as a deeper bond, set by a shared passion. It wasn’t that we just survived all our workouts in college but that we helped each other to survive while being so very passionate about our sport. And on Saturday, I felt that same expression of passion, this time for our horses. Horse people have this thing, this love for this amazing animal, and you either have it or you don’t. When you have it, I think you’re lucky. A daily dose of passion, love, relationship, excitement, striving for success, failing and then striving again, learning, and pushing yourself to grow on multiple levels truly is a gift.
More and more I find the richness in my life on a daily basis. I have a wonderful life full of blessings, opportunities to grow and contribute, and amazing people and animals. It’s funny though, because every time I hear myself saying how great it is or how grateful I am, I always follow that with a justification that it’s the little things that make the difference…like there should be something bigger in order to feel this great. It’s almost like I have to convince myself that it is okay to feel this way about my life. I wonder how many years I missed this daily dose of happiness because it just didn’t seem like enough? It really is true what they say about smelling the roses. It’s also true that having a big, challenging life can be extraordinary. It’s the balance that makes it work. Oddly enough, an accident proved an excellent balancer for us all that day.
NY Times Article “The Trauma of Being Alive”
Grief and Gratitude
This wonderfully written article reminds me of one of the classes I remember the most from graduate school called “Grief & Loss”. It was required, which I am grateful for because it was one of the most impactful, important courses I took. My professor was incredible; deeply insightful and so willing to “go there” that she created this safe and powerful place to learn, talk, and experience. She was of those teachers that truly taught, much more committed to our learning than to any agenda she might have had. And I suspect this was a difficult course to teach.
Grief is such a tough subject and no one wants to talk about this monster that lives beneath all of our beds. Reading this article reminds me how dynamic grief can be. When I work with patients, I talk about grief like you are sitting on a bench next to it (grief)…you have to “be” with it, sit with it, be overwhelmed by it, sometimes connect and feel it, sometimes you get to ignore it, but it’s always there. Grief is a balancer in some ways as being elated all the time is just not realistic. And while it’s terrible to experience, if you can look for it, there is always that little part of grief which validates the love for the thing you lost, which then brings comfort.
Awareness of your grief process is important and helpful. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, “Death and Dying” is mentioned in the article and it is one of, if not the most important writings on grief around. Many people are not surprised by the denial or depression part of the grief process, but what takes most people completely by surprise is anger. And everyone in a grief process will experience anger, trust me. It is one of the most conflicting parts of the process…becoming angry with whatever you loved and lost. It never makes sense but at the same time, it signals progress in the process so just be on the look out for it and don’t read too much into it.
Which leads me to talk about preparation for grief. This is something we avoid like the plague in our culture. I can’t tell you how many people I know that refuse to write a will because they think that will make them die. No one gets out of here alive, right? So why do we pretend like we will? I suspect it is because we know the incalculable pain that loss can bring. Preparing for grief and loss is unnerving at first but having worked on this personally, it actually brings some relief. My hobby is horseback riding and I have horses, and like other “pets”, we tend to out live our animals. And when you have a handful of them, losing them is inevitable. My love for my animals is deep, surprisingly deep for me and I didn’t understand the true depth of it until I lost my first horse. I felt similarly to when I lost my grandmother, devastated and like my heart had been ripped out. I was fully unprepared for his death even though he was sick for long enough to know that he wasn’t go to be around much longer. It took me two years to really cycle all the way through losing him. Two years, for my horse. That blew me away. Now, when I look at my horses or cats, I think about how grateful I am for having them and try to soak up as much of the experience as I can and enjoy the moment’s with them. This practice of presence has spilled over onto my human relationships, something much more difficult to contemplate preparing for. As my parents age, I must begin to prepare. And as the sadness and pain step up to greet me, I have a new tool of preparation and gratitude to lean on, restoring that peacefulness that grief disrupts.
Here are my thoughts on this interesting article from Fast Company.
95% of what we think, do, feel, and say EVERY day is habit! 95%! That leaves very little room for intentional thoughts and actions. So, the key is to create “great” habits and make them part of the 95%, making most of your day “great”! Repeated action is the only way to make something habit, and you can make anything a habit–a physical action, a thought, a feeling. Figure out what “action” you’d like to make a habit, one that will improve your life, and then find a way to repeat that over and over and over (for at least 3 weeks, the article says 66 days). There will come a day you will take this action and not realize you did and BAM! you’ve got a new habit!
Having been a “Gleek” for the first few seasons, I was really saddened by the news of Cory Monteith’s death. I don’t use the word “untimely” because I have never really liked that word paired with death. Exactly what makes a death “timely”? It never made sense to me. Perhaps it is meant to soften the blow of the following word, death but death comes as a shock, no matter what. I am always a little amazed at how news like this effects me. I was surprised at my sadness…I know that sounds bad but hear me out. I didn’t really have a strong connection to him, I watched the show and liked his character but wasn’t a huge fan or anything. Yet, I was stunned by his death. And as someone who spends their life studying human psychology and behavior, that intrigued me. I don’t think I knew about his substance problems and his time in rehab recently so perhaps that contributed to the surprise. What made me the most sad was the story I concocted of his last few days. I can only credit his very industry for filling my imagination with dirty motel rooms, scattered clothing and furniture, drug paraphenalia on a glass coffee table, some broken items on the floor, and him, alone and sad in this mess. That is what made me the most sad, the alone part.
My “job” is to help people and when I see someone who was not help-able, it makes me feel empty and deeply sad. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., the father of Positive Psychology and past President of the American Psychological Association described the state of psychology in a great TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html). He said something to the effect of psychology’s job was to make people less miserable. Humph, really, ONLY to make them LESS miserable. Not really something that makes me leap out of bed in the morning. What he was really getting at was psychology’s past and how focusing on the positive was the direction in the future. And he is right and psychology has turned into a science-based profession that definitely helps more and more. But reading about Cory Monteith’s death made all of that seem a little too little, a little too late. What was significant to me was the pain…the pain he lived with for some terrible reason, the pain he couldn’t “cure” or get rid of that sent him searching for how to numb it, and the pain he must have died in. That is what makes me sad, the pain. That is what keeps me up at night, how to help people have less pain. I know it’s possible, I just don’t know how to help everyone yet.
Thanks Allison for the shout out on my October clinic at On The Rise! I am looking forward to coming back and seeing all the progress and meeting some new horses and riders. Making “change” is like an investment account…the more you put in, the more you get out. I love, love, love to see people hard at work like Allison! Success has a recipe, so does failure. She added new ingredients to her recipe and is very obviously committed to making them stick and the only way to do that is through practice. What’s your recipe like? And how hard are you willing to work on it to make it better?
I never understand people who talk about New Jersey like it's ugly. It's one of the prettiest landscapes we have in the urban areas surrounding New York City. As I was driving to the farm, I was surrounded by huge fields of green grass or crops, lined with majestic old trees creating boundaries with elegance and purity. To me, those kind of landscapes make it easy to smile and I can always feel myself breathe a little deeper and slower in that environment. The farm was tucked in between worlds, with a dairy farm across the busy street and what seemed like miles of grass behind it. I wanted to jump on a horse and just go! I shook myself to consciousness and walked in the converted barn to meet the group. Everything was neat and orderly, the horses were all healthy and happy, and there were so many cats, we had the “crazy cat lady” conversation until she convinced me of their important mousing role!
This was a Hunter barn and I am a Dressage person. Most of my clinics have been Dressage riders with a few Hunter riders mixed in here and there. The design of my clinic is different from how they do things in the “Hunter world” which I think prevented some folks from giving this a try. In Dressage, we have one horse, one rider, and the trainer (or me :)). In a Hunter clinic, there are 8-10 riders and horses and one trainer with a bit of controlled mayhem (probably only to us Dressage folks!). I appreciated Aimee Poris' grand effort in organizing this clinic, not really knowing the uphill battle it was to pull off. Aimee came to a clinic I did at a Dressage barn not too far away, brought 2 students, and threw herself completely into the process. Her students improved and connected with themselves and their horses in a new way. She was so inspired by this, she took on having a clinic at her farm, On The Rise Equestrian.
I like challenge and I love to have to think…and this weekend made me think! It was surprising to me that there is a difference in the relationship between horse and rider in the Hunter vs. Dressage worlds. Not that one is better than the other, but the distinction to me was kind of cool. Dressage riders fuss constantly over their horses: sugar here, fly spray there, bath everyday, hoof paint, matching wraps and saddle pad, bubble wrap in the stall over night. As a self-admitted horse fusser myself, there is a kind of addiction that comes with the attention–both in horse and person. This kind of pedestal was not evident to my eye at this barn. There was no fussing, no strong-smelling products on the horses when they came in the ring, and boots on the legs for protection not for the curb appeal. The horse's jobs are different, obviously, but I never really thought about how that might impact MY job. Dressage riders are constantly fixated on the horse, how their aides are impacting them, and how they look and feel. Hunter riders are more focused on the line, the strides, the correctness of the job being done by the horse because otherwise, someone can get hurt. This shift in focus on the horse caused a shift in focus for me on the ground.
People are people and we all have the same basic wiring. We all fret over our value and abilities. We all wonder if we are good enough. We all dream secretly of bigger things than we ever dare to admit. We all fear failure, well really, the vulnerable sting of failure that lasts far beyond the event. We all talk negatively to ourselves…that is until someone like me lets them know that there is another way. So, while the shell was a little different, the insides were the same; humans looking for a connection with their horse or their value, and a way to have other people see this, recognize this, be inspired by this, and acknowledge this.
I don't often get children as participants, but I love it when I do. This weekend was special because I had 3 young girls ride with me. The first day, a timid young girl afraid to canter climbed upon a hearty, more-than-trustworthy school horse and hesitantly told me her worries. Keep them, I told her, because they will keep you safe. When they move from worries to curiosity, take the next step but not until then. “Can I jump now?” she asked as she trotted over the same little fence over and over and over until the horse said, “I've had enough.”
Day two brought 9 and 11 year old sisters and their ball of energy mother. Diametrically opposed personalities, I was elated by the energy of them both. Sara, the older sister, went first. “I'm an older sister, too,” I admitted. “What do you want to get out of today?” I asked. “Well, I have communication issues with my horse, Benny. I'm really hoping you can help me with that.” As she began her warm up, I told her to do the walk and trot and then we'd chat. “OK but do I get to canter and jump? Cuz I really want to canter and jump.” So brave, so confident, and I couldn't help but smile. We worked on steering her horse with her “bum” because he was a little wiggly. She connected right to him and him to her and instead of him veering down the line, he went straight and jumped so big, her smile was almost uncontainable! Her younger sister started around and I couldn't help but notice her perfect position. Her mother told me she hated jumping but loves her horse and trotting or cantering around. Hmmmmm. “Can I convert you to a Dressage rider?” I asked. “Yes!” she screamed, “but what's Dressage?” Knowing her love of singing and dancing, we showed her Debbie McDonald's Freesstyle (ah, technology), and I thought her heart might leap out of her chest. We played “Thriller” and she trotted and cantered around the ring like a banshee. “Get out your checkbook mom! I need a Dressage saddle!” We all laughed until we had tears in our eyes…not sure if they were from laughing or from how wonderful that moment, and the whole weekend, was.
“This is not your usual dressage clinic…people's lives change.” I said this to the clinic organizer as we were discussing logistics and such. There is always the pregnant pause that follows this statement but that doesn't bother me. At dinner Saturday night, she says to me, “When you told me this was life changing, I thought, great, more touchy-feely-hoo-hoo. But I'll tell ya, you weren't kidding!”
I never know how to describe my clinic to people who haven't been to one. I suspect this makes me sound boastful or something, but I say this in about as much humble honesty as I can. Because, you see, I am always blown away by the power of these weekends and how extraordinary people are. This past weekend at Fox Ledge Farm in the clinic sponsored by the Connecticut Dressage Association, we had an amazing two days. I am truly grateful to Donna Leonessa for all her hours of work, organization, and support of something she had no idea of! And Ann Guptil graciously donated the use of her farm so we could have a wonderful environment to safely play in.
I had a mentor once who told me she always looked for the gold in people. She said people stopped her no matter where she was to ask her things; like in the grocery store, people would ask her if she worked there even though she was wearing a dress. They would just want to talk with her, be in her energy. I loved that and took that on…to look for the gold in people. Sometimes it is harder than others and I don't always succeed, but trying sure changes perspective and energy. This is the platform I use in my clinics. I push people to connect with the gold that I see that is usually hidden from their own view of themselves. Surprisingly, there is always a fight to this. Why we don't want to be connected to that part of ourselves constantly confuses me, but I just keep redirecting until a connection is made…because once you've touched it, you own it. Then, you can control how much (or how little) you get to traffic in that gold.
Horses are what makes this indescribably special. The partnerships, or potential partnerships, that I see sometimes move me to tears. Each and every combination there had something special to it. The generosity of the horse is unmatched in any other being on the planet, in my opinion. And this is why many people suffer through fear and anxiety and STILL get on each day. Just being around horses does something to a human. There was a woman this weekend who was a little scared on her horse. They have been together for 11 years and he is a “mature” guy (in his twenties–although you would never know it by how great he looks and how sound he is!). We worked to shift her perspective of him and how they “go”. Something so simple yet so profound. On Sunday, I look over and they are cantering all over the ring in this harmonious flow. She is grinning and, if I may anthropomorphize, so was he. I hear an auditor say, “See, this is what life is about.”
On The Rise Equestrian Center, LLC Vincetown NJ check out site here!
RIDING WITH CONFIDENCE
Fear is real, and it can be paralyzing. Technically, fear is our mental (and subsequently physical) response to a real threat. Anxiety, by the way, occurs without a real or external threat, but is powerful just the same. Our minds and bodies develop “muscle memory” to our fears and anxieties and before you know it, all you have to do it think about riding and your body responds with sweaty palms, elevated heart and breathing rates, and that pit in your stomach. Riding with fear is something many of us do everyday because we love our horse enough to withstand the discomfort—and mostly hope that it will just go away some day. If this sounds familiar, this clinic is for you…
How about “show nerves”, do they ever get in your way? Do you wish you could ride as well at a show as you do at home? Do you avoid showing your wonderful horse altogether because you get anxious just thinking about it? Do you wish you had some magic formula to make your brain go away so you could just enjoy showing or clinicing. No matter what level, we all can perform better competitively with better mental skills. Join Dr. Jenny Susser for an exciting new clinic to help you RIDE BETTER MENTALLY!
“Riding With Confidence” is a 2-day clinic for riders given by Dr. Jenny Susser. Start off both days with an hour-long lecture on Sport Psychology and begin forming a new foundation of mental toughness. Learn how to improve focus and self-confidence, two integral parts of riding better mentally. Then, get on your horse and ride! With a gallery of on-lookers, your trainer, and a sport psychologist, you’ll feel as nervous as you’ve ever been at any horse show. With your fears or “show nerves” palpable, Dr. Jenny will help you develop confidence and learn new ways to control your physical responses right there on the spot! If riding is too much anxiety to think of, audit and learn from those on their horses…you’ll feel nervous enough watching for it to have an impact, and will get one-on-one time during the breaks. Then, finish out the day with a Q & A discussion, a great way to solidify the learning from the day.
Dr. Jenny Susser has a doctoral degree in Clinical Health Psychology, is New York State licensed, and specializes in Sport Psychology. Dr. Jenny was a four-year All-American swimmer and then assistant coach at UCLA, swam on two national teams, and at the 1988 Olympic Trials. She has worked with Division I collegiate teams such as UCLA, USC, California State University Dominguez Hills, and Hofstra University; and has worked with athletes of all sports and ages, including professional, international, and amateur. Her work with equestrians has a wide range, including adult amateurs, top-ranked Young Riders and Juniors, FEI competitors and trainers, and she is an active participant in Lendon Gray’s D4K. She remains active out of the pool these days by running and riding her horses. Please visit www.JennyRSusser.com for more information.
For more information, or to reserve your spot, please contact Aimee at 856-296-2624 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Day and overnight stalls available
IN the May Issue of Equine Journal ( Page 126) Dr. Jenny R. Sussers' Riding with Confidence
Clinic is highlighted. This clinic was at CDCTA on February 23,2013 in Baltic CT.
The Boston Marathon events yesterday will impact us all, some more than others. How do we make sense of these tragedies in our culture now? This is not a country where these things happen so “getting our heads around it” is a distinct challenge. Try to be mindful of how you feel and how you react, especially to how others react. The young man who delivered my room service last night in the hotel in Orlando went on a bit of a rant about our government as he waited for me to sign the bill. He couldn't have been 25 and had such set, angry feelings already and was a bit too willing to share them. He had zero responsibility for himself and his feelings, they were the government's fault. I asked him if the things he said made him feel better or if they were intended to make me feel worse? My energy was passive, not at all like his, which was very strong. H
e had no idea how to answer that question because his relationship to his feelings and opinion were the most important thing and very powerful.
I like the color blue. Maybe you like red. Am I right and you're wrong? Are you right and I'm wrong? It seems like everyone is so busy being “right” about how they feel about anything that we have turned into a culture of opposition and in-fighting. Blue and red together make purple, a beautiful color that wouldn't exist on it's own…
Have your opinion and your strong feelings, that can't be avoided. But be aware that the person you are fighting or arguing with, disagreeing with, accusing, and diminishing also has powerful feelings and opinions. Are you so sure you're right? Because they are sure they are right, too? And if I like blue and you hate it, can't you still like red?
Small but Mighty would have to be the theme for this clinic. There were the few souls who braved the cold temps to watch, listen, share, experience, and learn about Riding With Confidence at Windfall Farm in NJ a couple of weeks ago. Jennifer A. Allen’s farm is remarkable. The horses live like horses there so the health and happiness of every animal, dogs and cats and chickens included, is highly v
isible. Jennifer is an over-achiever in the best of ways. She loves to push and strive to get the best out of everything, herself included. That is how we met and cultivated a very powerful working relationship. Every time I do this clinic, it takes on a life of its own and is highly dependent upon the group and especially the trainer. It is not that one is better than another, it’s just that it’s always different and that always amazes me. Jennifer’s high intensity created a high intensity atmosphere which her students were already swimming in when I got there.
I love the learning process. As a “teacher” of this process, I have to stand in the future and lure people there. Being this stand can be challenging at times and there were a few this weekend that were so committed to change that I had to up my game to get them all the way through. This metamorphosis reminds us that process does not look anything like product. And that is hard for all of us, me included! It’s a great metaphor for riding and training, however, because while we want it all to look perfect all the time, that is not reality. When we can be patient enough to endure the struggle, when we get through to the other side, it is almost magical. And that is what this weekend was really like, magical. The trust this group put in me because of Jennifer’s passion for growth and change was tremendous. And the results we produced were also tremendous. I have gotten so many emails filled with fabulous goals from this group, the show season in NJ is going to be off the hook!
Thank you to Robert Zwaap for the beautiful images!
I am in Ocala, FL at the Parelli Ranch spending time with Pat & Linda. Mette Larsen, her 3 horses, and I were invited for some cherished personal time with these special horsemen. The experience is proving to be as powerful as expected. First of all, every person here is great…great attitude, motivated by purpose, and actions just seem to flow from everyone with ease. I have not heard one complaint, period. There is a lot of work to do but because it is so attached to purpose, it fails to occur like work, it is just what is next to do…really making it more like play. Making everything a game creates a learning (growth) mindset and the results, no matter how significant, all contribute. It is truly an “unnatural experience” that comes from all the natural here and is completely addicting. This subtle power needs to be available to everyone. Pat challenges me daily (hourly actually) to use my brain in ways I don’t always spend the energy to do. Everything is an opportunity to learn and grow from and his vast depth of education (he is really brilliant and has read more books than a cowboy ought to have), experience, and passion combines to create an ability
to use everything in his path. The foundation of his philosophy is evident in everything here. There is a roping clinic going on this week and the clinician, Martin Black, has this foundation of feel and relationship in his teaching, too. I sat on a horse for 4 hours (which was its own experience) and watched him teach cowboys to feel their horse and cow. When it happened, it was extraordinary and wonderfully surprising to experience. I think Pat is the most patient and generous teacher I have ever encountered. Nothing is ever “wrong” there is just discovery and what else is possible. Pat’s relationship to focus is so complete that mine feels like that of a toddler. The layers of learning are endless here and I go to bed each night with a very full mind and soul. Linda is a perpetual student, looking at every situation with the inquiry, “what can I learn from this, what can the horse learn from this?” It is the most refreshing attitude I have ever encountered and it keeps possibility alive constantly. Where I would get frustrated, she gets curious. I want to be like this more of the time everyday! This is my new life’s endeavor…and they have let me ride a horse that is a mini-Coriall (even looks like him) and she provides me with this challenge constantly! I love/hate this mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual challenge! I am definitely a caterpillar in a cocoon, wrestling with the boundaries I have set for myself and gaining strength to break free.