I`m sure you all know what I`m talking about – confidence is the belief in yourself that you can do the set task. We all know someone who is nervous, or at the other end of the scale, cocky.
I think that if you`ve never lost your confidence, or you`re lucky enough to be a very confident person, then it can be difficult to understand the fragility of confidence.
If it is you who is lacking in confidence and have decided to do something about it then firstly – good for you! It takes a lot of bravery to do something that scares you. Which is why you will never catch me going pot-holing in small, pitch black tunnels …
Secondly, it`s good to have a support group, and a confidant; so have a think about your friends and colleagues before deciding who you think would be the most positive about your journey. They don`t have to be your best friend, as sometimes it`s easier to talk to people who don`t know you so well, but you should want to see them regularly, and possibly so that they can see your achievements in the flesh.
Once you have your support group you can start to plan how you are going to become self-confident. Try making a series of baby steps, or targets, that all seem achievable individually, and work together to make a bigger goal. Then decide how you are going to go about these targets.
If it`s a physical activity, or one that involves you being in the spotlight, then it might be best to perform at quiet periods. For one of my clients this has made a huge difference to her riding. Previously her lessons were early afternoon, but the yard became fairly busy and she became worried about the activity distracting her horse, herself, and then people watching her. This meant that I ended up doing most of the riding, the lessons finished early, and she didn`t get much from them. So I offered to do an early morning lesson. The yard is quieter, everyone`s going about their own business so not observing, and both she and her horse are benefitting hugely from fewer distractions, and making great progress.
I think once a method, or approach, has been found that suits you it should happen every time, and become a ritual – e.g. if it`s riding that worries you then perhaps lunging for five minutes, or having a friend sit on top for five minutes, or even riding with someone in the arena with you, can make all the difference and you start to feel at ease before you even sit on. When you`re ready, you can always cut short one of your pre-ride routines, and push your boundaries one at a time (like sending the person in the arena into a corner, and then the other side of the fence, and so on).
Although it`s hard, the important part of building your confidence to continuity. I know some people who always feel nervous if they haven`t ridden for a while, so it`s vital that you make yourself do it regularly. booking lessons or time with a friend can help, as it gives you an allocated slot so you can`t procrastinate or, my favourite excuse “I ran out of time”.
Even with the nerves, it`s important to repeat the exercise until you feel you can do it in your sleep. Then, you`re ready to take the next step. There`s no point running before you can walk. This is where it`s so important that bystanders are supportive, and don`t question why you are still doing the same thing you did a month ago. Does it matter if you are? And if baby steps of progression are made then you should emphasise them and celebrate – it gives you that boost to do it tomorrow!
What I really want to say is that I admire those who are willing to try to overcome their fears – isn`t there a saying “do something every day that scares you”? – and I get so uptight when others seem ignorant to their journeys, and are unsupportive. Everyone is an individual and if they lack confidence then help them sort themselves out. Likewise, it can be very easy to forget that someone who seems confident on the outside, might be a good actor, and is actually a trembling wreck inside; so seemingly harmless comments or jokes can have a devastating impact on someone`s self-esteem. Usually you can spot this by their changing body language or habits. For example, why has the confident horsewoman suddenly starting exercising their horse early in the morning, or late at night?
On a lighter note, I used to be so terrified of speaking in front of people (despite my Mum`s attempts at putting me forward for public speaking competitions) that when I started teaching my mentor had to leave me in the indoor arena with my pupils (who were all kids) so I could find my voice, and then she would creep into the viewing gallery to eavesdrop on my teaching. Even now, if I think someone is listening critically to me teach I clam up and become a mute. This makes me really reluctant to take my next BHS exam even though part of me is desperate to take it, as I`m sure I`ll forget to talk. But then I probably just need a good kick up the bum. Speaking in front of an audience is a fear I`ll have to face next April as, in the interests of equality, I have been told that I need to make a speech at the wedding reception. Perhaps I could call in sick …
But that`s my little story of building my confidence, and it does show that it`s a fragile emotion – unfortunately those gremlins in your head which tell you you`re useless are very persistent – , which I think makes me aware of the problems people face when going down the same road. I love it when clients tell me they`ve repeated the lesson exercise without me, or taken their stirrups away, or hacked on their own. Take tonight for instance, I was sent a video from one of my clients of her sister having a canter in the arena. I`ve taught this nervous sister for months, and she`s been adamant she only wants to trot, despite being more than capable of doing some cantering. So I introduced a couple of little jumps and “Oh dear, we got a stride of canter between those jumps” but cantering was still a no-go area. My aim was to expand her repertoire, improve her balance over poles, and provide some light relief for the pony. She would do it in her own time, I said, and it`s better to provide her with the right tools and ensure her trot is secure and she is confident there and then all of a sudden she will ask to have a canter. And she did!