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stop being a critic with self hypnotherapy
Many athletes develop problems with their “mind-set” because they begin to overindulge in self-criticism and self-judgment. Riders, like all other athletes, can often be their own worst critics and harshest judges.

Early in hypnotist Laura King's career in hypnotherapy, she noticed a trend in the athletes that came to her for hypnosis help related to performance. All of the athletes who came to Laura King for help were extremely talented, and the majority were already very successful in their sports. They all seemed like people who should have been incredibly confident. So why were they having trouble?

Hypnotist Laura King began to see that it had a lot to do with the standards they were setting for themselves.

A poor or weak mind-set normally is the result of over-critiquing one’s abilities to a fault. A poor mind-set is also the result of negative self-judgment. With the highly skilled, successful and otherwise self-confident clients who came to see her, Laura King realized that the reason they were having so much trouble with performing was that they were judging themselves not against other competitors, but against an unrealistic expectation that they had to perform perfectly each and every time.

The result of this pressure was counter-productive stress and anxiety that produced negative self-talk and a self-destructive attitude that took away from the performance quality.

Equestrian riders often believe that it is imperative to nail the “perfect spot” on the first fence, to perform flawless transitions, and to have perfect lead changes each and every time. When, once in a while, we don’t perform perfectly, we feel frustrated, embarrassed, and humiliated. Our performance can go downhill very fast from there as we start to berate and reject ourselves right there in the riding ring.

All of this occurs because we expect perfection from ourselves.

To overcome the problems that occur because of a poor mind-set, Laura King suggests that you look at your riding from a brand new perspective. Take a step back. Realize that you are only human and that people make mistakes. The best athletes in the world and the most successful equestrian riders make mistakes as well. Remember that very few performances are flawless.

When a mistake is made it is important to learn to forgive yourself because you are only human. You must not let these imperfections, either large or small, get the best of you.

“Mistakes are essential to progress. The willingness to learn from them is the backbone of any progress. The object is to succeed, not to count your mistakes.”
       - Tae Yun Kim

Once a rider demands of themselves that they be perfect, it is a downward spiral from there. Not only do they judge themselves against a false ideal, but they become convinced that other people expect them to be perfect as well. The end result is that the rider feels an extraordinarily unnatural and unhealthy amount of pressure when competing before a crowd. The rider becomes afraid of making a mistake because of the fact that it may reveal them as being less than perfect.

This fear causes muscle tension, negative self-talk, loss of focus, and an accompanying array of other harmful thoughts that stand in the method of achieving peak performance.

If you happen to chip a fence, or miss a transition, remind yourself that the mistake does not reflect on you as a person or an athlete – it’s the manner in which you respond to that mistake that does.

A fellow sports hypnotist and NLP practitioner whose focus is on golf hypnotherapy, Joan King, has this to say: “Peak performing athletes rarely put themselves down. They talk to themselves positively about what they are attempting to create. They change past negative messages that come up into positive empowering ones. This is a part of the mental training program.”

The bottom line here is that you can be the best judge of your own performance. The greatest damaging criticism you can receive is criticism from yourself. Take time each day to remind yourself of how much you’ve improved since you first started to ride. Remind yourself of all the positive experiences you have had, of all the successes you have achieved.

Tell yourself that you are brave, smart, balanced, and confident. Tell yourself that you are proud of your achievements and that you believe in your abilities. And, most important of all, remind yourself that each mistake you’ve made along the way has been a learning experience that has brought you to your current competitive level.

As your own largest critic, it is crucial to your success that you teach yourself to recognize unfair self-criticism and turn it into empowering self-talk. Practicing empowering self-talk and working on your mind-set is actually just as important as practicing the technical aspects of your riding. Since the same technical aspects of riding (jumping, lead changes, counter-canters, half passes) need practice, it is imperative that you practice working on your mind-set as well.

What some of my self hypnosis clients find extremely helpful is to write little reminders, goals and affirmations on note cards and place these cards where they can see them at the start of the day. If you are having trouble with your mind-set, try making one that says, “I am relaxed and confident every time I get on my horse.” Repeat this phrase to yourself often and with a lot of enthusiasm. Before you know it, you will notice an improvement in your riding performance!

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