Last week (plenty of time to properly assess results, just hear me out), a friend and I initiated a new challenge. We both were sick of the constant flow of negative talk between us: gossip, ranting about work/relationships/noisy neighbors/that guy who looked at me funny at Target… the usual.
Our challenge was this: just like with our healthy eating habit, where we allowed two mild mental “cheat” days each week, we were going to make ourselves switch off that impulse to gossip, complain, or otherwise exercise negative thinking. Once per day, if we really just needed to have a fit, we were allowed to have one solitary “bitch fest”. But that was it.
I nodded in agreement, thinking it would be far too easy and that it was pretty silly we were even delineating this concept so much. I mean, I’m a pretty positive person.
I scrolled through my Instagram feed a few hours later and came upon a post from a hashtag I follow of some random rider from some random place on some random horse. I felt my mouth opening, drawing breath to make a snickering remark about the rider’s hand position.
I closed it, thinking, Wow, that was really quite mean of you.
Later, I had a minor work crisis that required my immediate attention, interrupting my work flow for the day. I found I was almost reflexively pulling up my screen grab tool to send a shot of the offending email to my best friend, who would commiserate with me on the extra work time.
Huh. This is harder than I thought it would be.
Throughout the day, little delays or hiccups or annoyances would pop up, and I would think about whether those flare-ups were worth “using” my one complaint of the day. By day two, it was pretty easy to just shrug and decide it wasn’t worth wasting a complaint on.
Our first “cheat” day came up, and I thought I’d be bursting at the seams with gossip and rants. But honestly? Few came to mind. Whatever they were, they’d been so trivial that they were forgotten already. What had gotten me so riled up, so irritable just the day before was already gone.
Now apply this to your riding. Before you self-deprecate or before you judge even yourself, ask how it will help you improve. Upset about that two-stride line you can’t seem to find a good rhythm through? Before you beat yourself up or have a cry session with your barn bestie, ask yourself if the other six fences in your course were good, or if your flat work or the right lead canter you’ve been struggling with have improved. Look for the positive things, even if you have to search a little. But don’t just default to the complaint, to the commiseration.
It’s a good way to audit your thinking. We all need a bit of a kick in the pants now and then. And we all can use a little self-improvement, even if we’re convinced we’re one of the “healthy” ones.
Next time you open your mouth, ask yourself if your comment is constructive or critical – and if it’s worth “wasting” a complaint on. You might be surprised to find that you need to follow a bit of your own Instagram-caption advice, and you might find it’s actually really, really hard to break the habit you didn’t know you had – and that’s OK!
That’s what cheat days are for.