The Rider’s Mind Podcast Episode 95: Develop Resilience for Uncertainty
Our brains are like bodyguards working behind the scenes to keep us alive. That’s why we like outcomes that are highly predictable. We like when we have an idea of how things are going to go. Whether or not we’re prepared with our horses can affect how our brain perceives the competition situation and decides if it’s a threat or not. In this episode, I discuss how we’re wired to love predictability and how that might impact your riding.
In Stride we’re currently learning about how our nervous system is wired and how to “tame it”. One of the things we’ve discussed is how our minds love predictability. Our brains are always predicting the future.
Your brain's primary job is to keep you alive.
In every moment, behind the scenes it’s asking – last time I was in this situation, what happened and what did I do to keep us alive? Your brain is assembling bits and pieces of known information based on your own experience or someone else’s or from a book or a video.
Lisa Fieldman Barrett says our brain is asking, “The last time I encountered a similar situation, when my body was in a similar state and was preparing an action similar to this one, what did I see next? What did I feel next?” The answer your brain comes up with becomes your experience.
So, if your horse has shouldered a barrel the last ten times, your brain might predict that will happen again in competition and react accordingly. Anytime there is uncertainty, it causes stress and pushes you a little further into your sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight system.
Your brain is working non-stop behind the scenes to predict an outcome.
If your horse ran up the wall last run or they stumbled and fell, you might be more nervous on the next run because your brain is trying to predict what will happen in this run based on what happened in the last one. This is also why you feel more confident when you have great runs. When you’re better prepared, your mind determines that you have a better chance of success.
An outlier like a stumble or buck or bolt out of the blue can be tricky. Your nervous system amps up trying to make predictions for next time. Even though it was an unusual occurrence, you might find yourself tensing or worrying in that next run. Sometimes this heightened state can make you try harder. It does give you a little edge you can take into the arena. You can use that energy to become focused.
We are wired with a need for certainty and here we are playing with horses. No wonder it can feel stressful at times.
As a rule, humans prefer certainty to uncertainty. Studies have shown that people would rather definitely get an electric shock now than maybe be shocked later. Where people differ is in the degree to which uncertainty bothers them. It can feel exciting when the stakes aren’t huge. We like the uncertainty of a thrilling movie or a rollercoaster or not knowing whether you’ll achieve a bonus at work. However, we wouldn't like not knowing if we were going to be paid or not for the year.
When things are unpredictable, the brain is searching for clues to determine all possible outcomes. If it doesn’t know based on past experience, then anything could be a threat. That’s why new things can be scary.
How can you practice dealing with uncertainty?
- Override your brain by recognizing what it’s doing.
- Embrace the energy that’s coming up and instead of calling it “nerves or anxiety” call it determination energy or focus energy and use your free will to use it for good.
- Prepare and practice to increase your odds of it going well.
- Change the narrative that your brain is trying to prove right: deal with negative self talk, negative core beliefs and stories that you repeat.
- Heal past traumas.
- Learn how to tone the vagal nerve so that you are emotionally more resilient to things that feel stressful.
- Practice handling small uncertainties (take a different hiking trail or order a different item of the menu at a restaurant).
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Learn with Me
If you’re looking to make changes to your mindset, be sure to sign up for my free Next-Level Mindset Mini Course.
You can also join Stride, my next-level barrel racing group. This group receives video training and coaching from me and Stride members have access to special guests. We work on becoming mindful barrel racers so we can show up, be present and perform with great partnership.