Psychology of Sport

Try Less and Trust More for Better Results in 2018

An idea to simplify and more fully trust your riding

Conor Swail in the "Think Box."

Overthinking in equestrian competition causes problems.

Too many thoughts demonstrate a lack of trust and lead to hesitation, confusion and uncertainty in your abilities in the show ring.

I’d like to introduce you to a simple strategy that you can consider using in 2018 that will help you trust your great training and allow you to ride with the right part of your mind.

The strategy was initially developed by my friends Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott—world-class golf coaches—using the Think Box and Play Box with leading professional golfers. It is a strategy used to separate the thinking and preparation from the actual “playing.” It is a two-part activity that allows players to play the game as opposed to overthinking it.

For you as a rider, the Think Box and Ride Box could be an approach to adopt in 2018. It can help you use your thinking brain to your advantage, introduce you to your “supercomputer” and let all of your training, lessons and experience do the work, allowing you to ride the way you are capable of—using your well-developed instincts.

Your subconscious mind is estimated to be 30,000 times more powerful than the conscious thinking brain.

In the work I do with equestrian athletes, we always strive toward “just riding.” Take out the interference, narrow the focus and allow talent, coaching and training to hit its mark.

The Fast Supercomputer and the Slow Calculator

Simply, you want one of the world’s most complex supercomputers, your subconscious mind, to run the show when you ride. This supercomputer contains everything about you, your experiences and your memories and can do a million things at once. It seamlessly runs all of your body’s systems and functions beneath your consciousness. For perspective, it is estimated to be 30,000 times more powerful than the conscious thinking brain—the inefficient brain you like to rely on in the ring.

In your riding, you want the calculator, your thinking brain or prefrontal cortex, to stay out of the way. It is slow and weak and can only process a small amount of information at one time.

The tendency for all athletes is to overload this thinking brain with too many thoughts that you hesitate, get confused and don’t allow the supercomputer to run the show. This is what you know as overthinking. In high performance, when many things are happening at once and the landscape is constantly shifting, there really is no place for slow processing.

So, instead of responding to what’s in front of you in the ring with your well developed instincts and enjoying the ride, your thinking brain gets in the way—you become anxious and too many thoughts in the calculator can short circuit the ride …

“Keep him straight”

“More left hand”

“Less leg”

“Watch out for jump #6”

“I wonder who’s watching?”

Sound familiar? 

The Think Box and the Ride Box

Here’s a practical strategy for 2018 to consider that will allow you to use your supercomputer and keep the calculator in check.

The area just outside of the ring where you wait for your trip will now be known as the Think Box. In the Think Box you can consider coach suggestions, review the course in your mind, think about last minute details of the trip. The objective is to simplify these thoughts and distill all of this down to one key thought for the slow, thinking brain.

When you and your partner cross the line into the ring, you now transition into the Ride Box where your supercomputer or subconscious is in charge. This is a relaxed state where you trust your instincts, experience and training. In the Ride Box, you can keep one thought in the thinking brain to get things started in a positive way. But, the objective is to turn the thinking off, just ride and allow the subconscious to run the show—trusting that the supercomputer knows what to do!

I think you’ll find that “just riding” or trying less and trusting more will lead to better performance, take out the indecision and help you enjoy your riding that much more in 2018.


About the Author

John Haime is President of New Edge Performance. A world-class Human Performance Coach, former professional athlete and current bestselling author of You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve Morein business, sports and life, John understands how athletes think and feel…he’s been there—under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. John coaches leading professional equestrians and up and comers – and is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes—professional and elite amateur. See www.johnhaime.com to learn more.