EQUUS - - Biology -


The next step in rous­ing in­ner drive is to study your ori­en­ta­tion to­ward per­for­mance. Many peo­ple are out­come­ori­ented, in­ter­ested more in the prod­uct of their work than the process. They tend to as­sess their skills by so­cial com­par­i­son. Am I a bet­ter rider than my peers are? Can I per­form tasks on horse­back that they can’t per­form?

Out­come-ori­ented ath­letes of­ten fall into two cat­e­gories: They seek suc­cess or avoid fail­ure. Suc­cess seek­ers chal­lenge them­selves rel­a­tive to the field of nearby riders. They fig­ure out where the bar is set, then ap­ply just enough ef­fort to show su­pe­ri­or­ity. They of­ten at­tribute fail­ure ex­ter­nally and build skill only for as long as they be­lieve they can re­main on top. When a bet­ter rider comes along, they avoid risky learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in an ef­fort to re­tain sta­tus. Suc­cess seek­ers evade dam­age to their egos, and the best way to do that is to do less. Met with set­backs, they tend to jump ship and blame their peers for the splash.

Fail­ure avoiders con­cen­trate on so­cial com­par­i­son, too, but they don’t re­ally be­lieve in their own abil­ity. They of­ten set goals that are ei­ther much too easy or far too dif­fi­cult. An easy goal leads to an easy vic­tory, al­low­ing fail­ure avoiders to dis­play suc­cess to their peers. Wow, look at me, I turned left! A very dif­fi­cult goal re­lieves shame if they don’t suc­ceed. Darn, I couldn’t get the pony to leap the five-foot wall; well, no wor­ries, no one could. Rarely does the fail­ure avoider se­lect a mod­er­ate task that builds skill and mo­ti­va­tion. Fail­ure avoiders re­spond to set­backs by con­ced­ing early and of­ten.

Be­cause they’re fo­cused on oth­ers, out­come-ori­ented ath­letes usu­ally have in­tense so­cial anx­i­ety. Any­time you as­sess your per­for­mance us­ing some­one else as your mea­sur­ing stick, ten­sion builds. Sud­denly, the power to con­trol an out­come is not within us---in­stead, it rests with other peo­ple. And they may not have our best in­ter­ests at heart.

To kin­dle in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion, shift your per­for­mance ori­en­ta­tion away from out­come and to­ward mas­tery. Mastery­ori­ented ath­letes love the process of skill de­vel­op­ment for its own sake. Work on a skill set for a month. Are you bet­ter at it than you were be­fore? Then you’ve suc­ceeded! Whether the rider down the barn aisle does the same skill bet­ter or worse than you do is ir­rel­e­vant. By fo­cus­ing on your own im­prove­ment, you teach your­self to cre­ate com­pe­tence.

Mas­tery-ori­ented eques­tri­ans--re­gard­less of skill level---value learn­ing and progress. They choose mod­er­ately chal­leng­ing tasks, re­gard­less of whether such tasks cause public mis­takes. They work long and hard with sin­gu­lar fo­cus, ap­ply­ing ef­fort to a prob­lem for months at a time. They re­spond to set­backs with in­creased ef­fort, and they know that fail­ure is caused by fac­tors un­der their own con­trol. They do not give up on them­selves or their horses.

If you want to ig­nite your pas­sion for rid­ing well, de­velop in­ner mo­ti­va­tion in­stead of seek­ing re­wards. Iden­tify fac­tors over which you have con­trol. Seek in­ter­nal at­tri­bu­tions for suc­cess and fail­ure, re­ject­ing the eas­ier path of ex­ter­nal at­tri­bu­tion. Build self-ef­fi­cacy by set­ting mod­er­ate goals that al­low small but fre­quent vic­to­ries. Re­in­force your­self with in­ner speech that is pos­i­tive and help­ful. Refuse to give up en­tirely, but learn when to change tac­tics, call for a trainer’s help, or give the horse a break and try again to­mor­row. Fo­cus on per­sonal mas­tery rather than so­cial com­par­i­son. How oth­ers ride just isn’t that im­por­tant--how you ride is.

Soon you’ll find your­self bound­ing out to the barn, im­pelled from within by the sat­is­fac­tion of learn­ing. Go ahead, drop those irons for 15 min­utes. You’ll feel bet­ter for it all day long.

About the au­thor: Janet L. Jones earned her PhD in cog­ni­tive science, the study of the hu­man mind and brain. She won UCLA’s dis­ser­ta­tion award for her re­search on brain pro­cesses. Now pro­fes­sor emerita, she has taught the psy­chol­ogy and neu­ro­science of mem­ory, lan­guage, per­cep­tion and thought for 23 years and is the au­thor of three books. Jones be­gan rid­ing at age 7. She has com­peted in Western, English, rein­ing, hal­ter, hunter and jumper classes in five states and uses the prin­ci­ples of dres­sage with ev­ery horse. Jones cur­rently owns a 17.1 hand off-the-track Thor­ough­bred who makes ev­ery day in­ter­est­ing. Read­ers can reach her at ride­with­y­our­[email protected]

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