Reframing versus making excuses

“I’m so bad at this,” I wailed on several occasions when attempting to learn how to make a horse move in the direction I wanted it to go from the ground.

“You’re not,” my mentor replied. “It’s just new.”

It’s a back and forth which has no doubt happened countless times throughout my life: when learning to ride a bike (I got there in the end); when trying to wrap my brain around quadratic equations (I got there for long enough in order to pass the necessary exam before erasing the lesson from my memory); when waving a rope at several hundred kilos worth of animal (I’m working on it).

When we’re learning, particularly with the assistance of a coach, mentor or someone else with near limitless patience, we’re often told, “That’s not right, you need to do it like this.” Or, “Try again, you were close, but this bit was wrong,” and other phrases to that effect. Even with people who applaud the marginal gains and are able to look on the bright side, the focus is still on what needs improvement, or which bit isn’t working. It’s drilled into us, we’re trained to analyse what needs to change and practice until our new skill is seamlessly achievable.

But it doesn’t work that way in my new world. The only limit is your imagination, and the mastery within this sector is to settle on a language which is spoken and understood by yourself and a given horse, in order to work together. It’s about relationship-building and confidence, and mistakes are congratulated – in fact, they often lead to better experiences, rather than accidents or negative steps in the process.

However, it still feels like I’m making excuses. I find myself saying, “I’m new at this,” and, “I’m still learning,” or, “I haven’t figured that out yet.” There isn’t a set timeline, there are no benchmarks, it’s a wholly individual process which takes as long as it takes. And in some ways, that’s nice: there’s little pressure on me to achieve a lot of the time, things just have to “be better”; I’m expected to make some sort of improvement on the current situation, but I’m not expected to be the ultimate answer to everyone’s problem.

Fundamentally, I think I’ve learned that I have a negative outlook, which is probably the more distressing part. A kinder thing to say would be that I’m analytical, always looking to improve and take things forward, rather than accepting the current situation as the best possible outcome. But I’m easily frustrated when something doesn’t work, and feel upset to think that I’m potentially less imaginative than I had previously considered myself to be, or that I don’t always have the answer to a question in a world which I’d for a long time felt comfortable and knowledgeable.

The good days are a pleasant surprise. I expect very little of myself and the animals I work with, so when something great happens, I get pretty excited. But on the days when I know that my time is precious and the clock is ticking, I wonder if it’s possible to get those positive results I want, and if moving off square one and out of the realms of the beginners is anywhere in the near future.

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