It’s hard to create a new habit, we usually give up new things long before they become habits. I think most of us go through “I’m going to start working out (again)!” phases that never seem to stick, and often the same with eating healthier or dieting. It’s always things we know we should do, and genuinely would like to do, but somehow despite the best intentions, those New Years resolutions never last long. How do we overcome this so we can successfully improve ourselves? One way is to make the goal smaller, more achievable, so easy that even when you are tempted not to follow through you figure you may as well because it’s THAT easy. It works for your riding as well, it’s one of the things you can do TODAY to improve yourself and move closer to your goals. It makes making progress so easy that it’s inevitable. You don’t need a trainer or a fancy horse or even more knowledge than you currently have, all you need is a few minutes to read this and think about how it applies to one change you’d like to make.
A perfect example came up in a lesson I taught the other day. I suggested to my student that she would benefit from doing some work without stirrups on a daily basis (wouldn’t we all?). She groaned and sighed, she knew it was true but dreaded actually doing it. I’m sure I could have pressed for a polite but reluctant “Yeah, I’ll do it” out of her, but everyone knows she wouldn’t have! So instead I started to compromise.
“Could you do 10 steps of posting without stirrups?”
“Yeah, that wouldn’t be too hard”
“Ok, could you commit to doing those 10 steps on a daily basis? And you never have to do more than that, but if you want to on any given day, feel free to go a little longer…?”
She happily accepted, confident that even when she was tired she could still do those ten steps. I’ll see her again tomorrow night to check in if she did it or not, but I’m hoping to hear that not only did she do it, maybe once or twice she ended up doing a little extra too. And in a few weeks when doing ten steps feels way too easy, I’m hoping she’ll start routinely doing significantly more. But if not, even doing those ten steps is better than nothing!
I did the same thing with myself yesterday. I’ve been wanting to add more core workouts to my weekly schedule, but figuring out how to fit it in my day is challenging. My schedule is different every day, always adjusting around when my students want lessons and my boyfriend’s work schedule (and he’s a cop, so his hours can be all over the place!). It’s hard to get much of a daily routine going because I don’t even end up going to bed or waking up at the same time each day, much less having a regular schedule during the day. So, where to fit in a workout? I thought about what I had done with my student and did the same thing for myself. I needed to break it down into something that was SO easy it was almost harder to avoid than just to do it. I went down to our workout room, grabbed my big exercise ball, and brought it up to my office, replacing my desk chair with the ball. Now every time I sit down to check email or write a blog post, I will sit on the exercise ball. And that’s good enough, if all I do is sit on it everyday that’s more than what I was doing! But as long as I’m sitting on it, if I do just a few sit ups… well that’s bonus. And in the last 24 hours, I’ve already done lots of bonus!
Here’s another, for riders having a hard time getting enough hours in the saddle, especially when you’re tired after a long day of work. The deal I made with one of my students was that she had to get on every day and walk for 10 minutes. No trotting required, and the ride could end after 10 minutes. That sounds easy enough, even when you are totally beat you can walk for 10 minutes, if nothing else to relax and enjoy a few minutes with your horse at the end of the day, let him stretch his legs and get yourself a little fresh air and quiet time. It’s an easy enough goal to agree to, and I bet that most days after 10 minutes you’ll want to trot “just a little”, which will lead to more…. but even if you don’t, the goal was achieved and you did more than if you had skipped riding altogether.
I’ve also realized that this same concept is why my tack stays so clean. I am a believer in the bit getting cleaned after every time it’s in my horse’s mouth. I guess it’s like how I wash dishes after every use, it just seems icky not to, and it only takes a second to rinse a bit. Well, once I’ve got the water on and my bridle by the sink, and a towel in my hand… then I notice there is a little goo on the end of the rein or nose band and wipe that, then once I’ve made it that far, I may as well clean the whole thing! And so, my bridles get cleaned by habit after every ride.
There are so many ways to apply this strategy. All you have to do is break your main goal down into something that you’ll do easily, something that is so simple you won’t waste time trying to come up with excuses not to do it. Or find a way to blend it into something else you already do so you don’t even have to remember (like replacing the desk chair with an exercise ball). And then give yourself credit every time you do achieve that simple goal, and give yourself extra credit when you take it a step further! If you find yourself struggling to keep up with the goal, try to make it even smaller or even easier. Over time, if it gets too easy, you can always add to it too. Usually once you feel the benefits of a new routine, that sense of progress becomes motivating by itself, but getting through the first few weeks can be the hard part. But if you remind yourself to keep the goal almost ridiculously small, it will get you started, and then once you’ve established a routine of doing whatever little thing you decided on, it will be easier in time to increase the daily goal and stick with it. Then imagine the progress you could make doing these small changes over months or years! Talk about inspiration 🙂
If you think of a way to apply this to your riding, a small change you are going to make starting today, feel free to share it in the comments, your ideas may inspire someone else! (and coming up with something to write will force you to think about a goal instead of putting it off for later, settling on the status quo for another day, or two, or ten…)