By, Liz Piacentini
I recently read that one of the most effective and easy ways to cultivate positivity is by practicing GRATITUDE. Simply write down what you are grateful for each day. You can keep a riding journal or start a gratitude jar. Either way, by practicing this simple skill, you’ll train your brain to first seek the positives as opposed to the negatives.
Sounded easy enough. I decorated a jar and decided to give it a try.
Benefits of Gratitude for Riders
Having an attitude of gratitude shifts our perspective to a more positive outlook and helps us stay focused on the present. For riders, this is exactly where we want our mindset to be! When we ride with a positive present-state mindset, we are concentrating on the jump in front of us. We’re not thinking of the rail we just dropped or the future ribbon we hope to win. We’re focused on what we need to do in the moment instead of on the worrisome “what if’s”.
According to scientific expert, Dr. Robert Emmons, when we are grateful, we become better at deflecting negative thoughts. We are even more successful at achieving our goals. Basically, because gratitude is a motivating emotion, it leads us to eagerly take action.
Essentially, when we practice gratitude, we experience increased happiness. When we are happier, our brains release hormones associated with self-belief and optimism. The greater our self-belief and optimism, the better we are at building confidence and being resilient under pressure.
An Equestrian Gratitude Jar: Same Concept, Different Twist
You’ve probably heard of a gratitude jar. Typical instructions suggest writing down 1-3 things you are grateful for, no matter how small, every day. The key is to have daily appreciation for different feelings, people or experiences. At the end of the year, read your notes and you’ll be amazed at the amount of positive experiences.
I decided waiting until New Year’s Eve to tip over my jar and read my moments of gratitude was too long to wait. I honestly need a spark of motivation more than once a year! I quickly discovered how keeping a gratitude jar could be tweaked for equestrians.
How to Cultivate a More Positive Mindset with a Gratitude Jar:
- Choose a small jar – small enough to store in your tack trunk where it’s easily accessible. The jar itself is a visual reminder to look for things you’re grateful for.
- Write down 1-3 thoughts of gratitude – after each ride, or visit with your horse. Reflect on feelings and observations. Consider your supporters, accomplishments and lessons learned.
- Date each note – to help monitor progress or mark achievements.
- Re-read your notes MONTHLY – for frequent boosts of motivation. Enjoy the opportunity to smile at the silly things and celebrate growth. You may even notice useful feedback for your training program.
- Display meaningful memories – At the end of each month, tape your favorite notes to the inside of your tack trunk or post them on a bulletin board. Perhaps you felt totally re-charged after an amazing trail ride, or extremely thankful for your trainer’s insights as you completed a short-term goal.
Mentally reliving favorite moments provides more time for you to savor positive experiences. According to psychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson, this is when the real change takes place in the brain. The more we take time to absorb our good memories, the more our brain releases good neurochemicals. The neurons that fire together, wire together! Over time, our brain forms more pathways to positivity.
- Build Team Support – Do you coach a team? Start a team gratitude jar! Place one larger jar, scrap paper and colored pens in a central location. Inspire positive attitudes and stronger connections by having riders write down what they are grateful for after each practice and competition. You may even discover riders sharing appreciation for each other.
A team jar is a creative way to remind riders that even mistakes are something to be grateful for. Yup. Inside every mistake is a hidden opportunity to learn and grow.
Keeping a gratitude jar is a simple way to reflect on the good times spent with your horse. It’s easy to recall a proud moment you worked hard for at a horse show or the compliment received from a clinician.
More importantly, keeping a gratitude jar heightens our awareness of the little moments we appreciate by inspiring us to look for them in the first place. Perhaps it’s being thankful your horse didn’t roll in the mud when you were short on time, or having an indoor arena to ride in on a rainy day.
Did the gratitude jar work?
Yes! I actually had a more positive outlook after a few weeks. I found myself looking on the bright side of numerous situations – even being stuck in a traffic jam.
So, get creative! Have fun practicing gratitude to train your brain to first look for the positives. After all, happiness, self-believe, optimism and resilience are worth cultivating to help you ride at your best.
Treasure the simple pleasures and enjoy the journey!