What is your first reaction when you read the word 'failure'? Most of us think of failure as something negative, something to avoid at all cost. In fact, some of us might even ride into the competition arena with one goal in mind, to not make any mistakes. Similarly, you might exit the arena immediately criticizing yourself for the one mistake you made, not noticing all the other great jumps that you nailed.
Failure is a loaded word for most of us. When I asked top ranked riders like Laura Kraut, Daniel Deusser, and McLain Ward about how they deal with failure , however, I was struck by the resemblance of their answers (read on for more on that). What I have learned as a result is that the way we view failure has a huge impact on our confidence and our ability to keep learning and growing in the sport.
How the Top Show Jumpers View Failure
To summarize how most riders answered my question to how they deal with making mistakes, let me share with you Laura Kraut’s responds. “Everyone makes mistakes in this sport and everyone, even at the highest level, can do diabolical things. I am no exception. There will be times that I go into the ring and make mistakes.”
How do you deal with that? “I just shrug it off. Obviously you are upset, but like the other night I had a mistake in the jump off, my horse didn’t understand me and basically tore out the entire jump and a lot of people made fun of me when I got out the ring, but it doesn’t bother me one bit! We all make mistakes. I have seen Ludger [Beerbaum] do it, I have seen Nick [Skelton] do it, and I have seen Simon Delestre and Scott Brash do it. I have done it right a thousand times before and I will probably do it another thousand times.”
Learning How to Lose
Another lesson I learned from these riders and that can heavily impact our confidence is the importance of learning how to lose. Talking to Olivier Philippaerts, he mentioned; “It’s nice to win but to be able to lose is also important, to be able to respect that. Because in the sport, you lose more often than you win. If you can’t accept that, it’s going to be tough [for you]. There are always ups and downs, even at the highest level. People don’t see that, but everyone has ups and downs.”
How did you learn to respect losing? “In the last few years I had a few setbacks, I had some falls, I had some bad moments. Now it is a strength, when something goes wrong I see what I can learn from it and then I leave it behind, I don’t keep thinking about it. Just try and do it better next time. If you keep thinking in the past, everything will be more difficult.”
Change Your Mindset
In order to think like Laura and Olivier, we need to change our mindset. One of the biggest triggers of the fear of failure is a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset creates the idea that failure is a direct result of a lack of talent and abilities and therefore, making mistakes is something we take very personally and feel we must avoid at all cost. Paradoxically, however, this mindset creates more failure and ultimately we get stuck - so afraid to fail, we don’t dare to try anything new.
Instead, let’s grow into a growth mindset and focus on how to improve instead of how not to fail. The key quality of the growth mindset is a passion for learning, the desire to keep stretching ourselves and to constantly push outside the comfort zone. Failure is not something to avoid, but rather something to learn from. In a growth mindset, failure means your training is not good enough. It doesn't mean you are not good enough.
Create a positive outlook
Our brain is wired to focus on anything potentially dangerous to us. All the information that comes in through our senses gets checked to make sure we will stay safe. Therefore, our brain doesn’t need to focus so much on the “good” or positive information, as this means we stay safe. Our brain spends a lot more time thinking about the negative or ”bad” information. The better it can predict what might go wrong in the future, the better it can protect us to stay alive... or so it thinks. This explains why we generally find it a lot harder to let go of any negative thoughts than positive ones. It also explains why that one mistake we made ‘feels” so much worse than all the great jumps combined.
As our brain is designed to keep us alive, instead of helping us to thrive, we need to consciously train our brain to also see and take in the good news, feedback, jumps and results. Not only to feel better but also to ride better.
In a growth mindset, failure means your training is not good enough. It doesn't mean you are not good enough.
Great Questions Lead to Great Confidence
Start asking yourself better questions in order to improve your mindset and create a more positive outlook.
For example, an important question to ask next time things don’t go as planned is, What can I learn from this situation and/or mistake? As a regular practice to train your brain to think differently about your mistakes, end your day with these three questions:
1. What went well today?
2. What could have been better today?
3. How am I going to improve this?
Lastly, a great book to help change your view on failure is Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. Happy Riding!