BY Lilli Biedermann
Life is hard. This is normal. Waiting for life to get easier isn’t always an option and even if it is, you’ll miss getting to the top when others get the hard stuff done. So, when life gets tough, what are you going to do? Be the one who handles the hard and rise to the top or wait for the Easy Bus to come around to take you where you want to go? (Hint: The Easy Bus rarely comes around and there is no stop at your destination.)
Whether you have exams coming up, SATs on the horizon, college applications due, a job interview, presentation, work project deadline or you are facing an important horse show or circuit, how are you going to handle it?
Success in life goes to those who handle hard well. Here are ten tips to help you navigate the “hard” and ease you through to the next level.
1. Understand HowYour Brain Works
Our brains are wired to keep us safe. This means that your brain tries hard to keep your today the same as your yesterday and your tomorrow. Brains don’t like change because change involves risk to our safety, at least in caveman brain “think.” Our brains have not evolved to perceive the difference between modern-day psychological stressors or real, life-or-death ones such as being eaten by a predator. A threat is a threat as far as the brain is concerned, and we are stuck with our fight or flight response to stress of any kind.
Fears or stress keeps you in your comfort zone and can prevent you from moving forward toward your goals by warping your thinking and convincing you to avoid whatever it is that you view as the “scary” thing. Keep in mind George Addair’s advice: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.”
2. Importance of Awareness
You can harness your power of awareness to recognize when your brain is letting your fears carry you away in unproductive ways, and you can reset yourself much like flipping a switch. So when your brain says, “Oh, this is too hard,” “I can’t,” or “I stink at this, I should just quit,” respond with: “Thank you, brain, for keeping me safe. We are fine. We can do this. Let’s go!”
3. No Excuses
Adopt a “no excuses” attitude. When you recognize your anxious brain’s self-sabotaging, fear-based excuses—which may include playing the blame game (the judge/boss/teacher/trainer doesn’t like me, the competition is too stiff, the weather or arena wasn’t quite right, etc.), turn OFF the excuses! Excuses will never save the day for you, but they will keep you stuck. Block them out and move forward.
4. E (Event or Your “Hard Thing”) + R (Response) = O (Outcome)
Your thoughts about your situation and the way you perceive that event determines your response to it, which dictates the outcome. Perception is everything. Try shifting from a place of, “I am nervous about X,” to, “I look forward to the challenge of X,” or, “I can’t wait to learn from X!” Changing your thoughts will bring you a different emotion, which then drives a healthy response and delivers the desired result. You can intentionally shift any of your negative thoughts to positive yet realistic ones and feel the shift inside.
4. Get Addicted to Facing Your Fear and Doing It Anyway
There is a science-based good feeling that comes from facing your fears, leaning into the discomfort, and getting through the hard things. Notice the little boost you get from handling something difficult; it’s our bodies releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, also known as our “happy hormone.” Remember that feeling next time you face something hard; it’s life’s little reward and it is very motivating.
5. Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time
When you are faced with a gigantic task, obstacle or goal that feels impossible, you have to learn to eat the elephant. When you eat the elephant, you do it one small bite at a time—one word at a time, one essay at a time, one test at a time, one jump or show at a time. And you keep going.
Shrink the task and take your next best step, and if you do this with consistency, you are going to get where you want to go. Don’t let the start stop you—commit and take your first bite!
6. Disciplined Time Management
Intentional time management is key to reaching your goals, and the bigger and harder the tasks or end-goals, the more disciplined you need to be. Schedule your days and stick to a daily planning routine. No excuses. Write everything down. Plan your time from wakeup to bedtime. There are 168 hours in a week; use them efficiently. Breaks and time off is necessary, but schedule them in. When you develop this habit, you will feel the relief of having it all down and simply following along with your plan.
7. Centering Breathwork
One of the most powerful pre-performance mindset hacks is using a breathing routine to manage your arousal state by lowering heart rate and releasing distraction and nerves. It’s important to control your heart rate because using your mind effectively becomes more difficult as the heart rate rises. You can use this exercise pre-competition, test, interview, etc. or anytime you want to de-stress.
Breathe in, deeply, through your nose for 6 seconds, pause for 2 seconds and breathe out through your mouth for another 6 seconds while intentionally releasing all of your thoughts, anxieties, tensions and anything unproductive remaining inside.
As you come to the end of your releasing breath, bring yourself into a mental and body state that is calm, focused, and ideally energized for what you are about to do. Your mind should be clear and clutter-free, like a blank screen ready but wiped clean of thoughts.
Repeat one to three breaths or more, whatever works. It’s personal and task-dependent.
If stress has you anxious, tense, and worried, and you cannot seem to find your relaxed self, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can help restore your calm and inner peace, bringing you into the present moment much like the centered breathing exercise above, which is a basic meditative form. A meditation routine can help you learn to stay centered even when life gets hard; the reason many highly successful people take up practice. Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are three popular meditation apps to try.
Start a daily gratitude routine. Research has proven that practicing gratitude increases brain chemicals associated with happiness and pleasure (dopamine and serotonin), and decreases stress hormones. The more grateful you are, the more positive and resilient you will become. It’s easy to overlook the positives when adversity strikes, but there is always something there, even if it takes a mental shift to see it. Every day, reflect and write down three to five things you are grateful for, and experience what gratitude can do to lift your mood and get you through the hard stuff a little easier.
Biedermann is a Positive Performance Certified Mindset Coach™ and Performance Visualization Specialist,™ helping equestrians of all levels and disciplines train their mental game, ride their best and achieve success. Lilli is an amateur hunter competitor; former pro, licensed USEF ‘r’ Judge, pony breeder, and lifetime horsewoman. She welcomes all correspondence at email@example.com.