This week on the Under The Saddle with Adam Cromarty podcast, our favorite smooth talking Scot sat down with clinical, sport and exercise psychologist, Phil Johnson to talk mental performance. Here’s a listener question from their 30 minute chat.

Question: I’m currently competing at the 1.10m level. Why is it that when I want to move up to 1.15m that five centimeter height difference looks so much bigger?!

Phil Johnson: First and foremost, you’ve created this five centimeters to be about 25 cm. This is what we call a limiting self belief.

When self value is low, in other words, we don’t feel very good about ourselves, then we’ve created limitations in our own ability to do something. That might have come from an early experience of being told we’re not good enough. That we’ll never do it. Whether it comes from parents, coach, teacher or anyone else, that message then becomes internalized and in a pattern: I can’t do this, I’m not good enough. And the language is part of demonstrating the limitation. I can’t. I won’t. I never.

The first thing is to remove that blocking language. I can do this. It is possible. If you were to jump over five centimeters, you would just literally be stepping over it and not even notice. If you were to video your horse jumping over 1.10m, you’d see that it was flying at least 1.25m and for the horse it’s not a problem.

So it’s the rider that’s the issue.

The rider is telling himself and the horse: We can’t do this. And the horse will feel the worry and anxiety physiologically, through [the rider’s] legs, through the tightness of the rein when [the rider] becomes overly anxious approaching the jump. Whereas, if [the rider] was to say, You know what we can do this and uses [calm] breathing [techniques] and, in his mind, visualizes successfully jumping the jump—it’s fine.

So, these are limiting self beliefs that he will have created for himself for a whole range of reasons. And there are things that he can simply do [to recalibrate his focus]. But when he looks at the actual minuatia of that five centimeters, it’s his brain and perception that’s making it so much bigger.

I work with a swimmer who does 50 meter freestyle who had to take 1.2 seconds off his time to go to the Olympics. With one race to go, I said to him, “Afterall the work that we’ve done, your problem is your best friend is the record holder and you don’t have the guts to beat him because he’s your mate and you’re a lovely person. So don’t bother going to the Olympics. If you really want to do this, you’re going to beat him because you have to.”

And he did.

In that moment, he knocked an eighth of second off his time, then 25 minutes later he was called into the relay, and he wasn’t really prepared, and he went in and he smashed another 0.8 of off that time. So, in the matter of one hour, he took 1.6 seconds off his time and he needed to do 1.2s. In two and a half years, he hadn’t been able to do it and then in one hour he did.

Adam: You can make people go faster!

Phil: You can.

Listen to the full episode of this insightful podcast here:

Find more great rider interviews on the Under the Saddle with Adam Cromarty on Horse Network.