Silencing Your Inner Bully with Kirsten Farris

One of the major issues that prevents peak performance is our “Self Talk”. Not only is it distracting and keeps us from focusing on the task at hand, for many of us the little voice inside our head can be critical, mean and downright nasty. If your self talk is overshadowing your self esteem, these tips will turn your Inner Bully into your Inner BFF in no time at all.

We’ve all been there…you are sitting in the stands watching a barn-mate or friend competing and all of a sudden they make a mistake that is too big for the judges to ignore. After the class, you see the disappointment on their face, and you turn into a human Hallmark card with a warm hug and motivational soundbites reminding them that, “Everybody has been there, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn and it’s just a horse show.” It’s easy to be kind and thoughtful to our fellow competitors when things go awry, but why is it so hard to do unto you as you do unto others?

You are not your brain or your thoughts

Your brain is an organ. That’s right, an organ, and you are not your brain in the same way that you are not your heart, stomach and all of the other organs that make up your body. In simple terms, the brain has two main jobs, to learn things and then automate them as fast as it can. This is why you can drive without a whole lot of conscious thought. At first, you had to really pay close attention to every little thing, but once you mastered the art of driving, you are able to get from place to place on autopilot.

You are not your thoughts the same way you are not your brain. Your brain just cranks them out. Some are good, some are bad, but hey, your brain is just doing its job, and filtering the thoughts isn’t part of the gig.

The key is to realize that we don’t have to accept these thoughts as truth. If you have a thought that you are a cat, does that make you a cat? Of course not. To the brain, there is no difference between thinking you are a great rider, a basket case, or a cat. When we acknowledge that we don’t have to believe everything that we think, we are free to chose to focus on the thoughts that support and motivate us and let the other stuff go. For many, this is easier said than done, but the following exercises can turn your inner critic into your inner coach.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop. However, I have a terrible shopping strategy. I don’t usually walk into a store looking for something specific. I have to wander about until something catches my eye, and with all of the stuff one can find at Neiman Marcus, it can be very distracting–that’s why I shop online. I can browse through thousands of items, find one that I like, and then take a closer look. When I decide to focus on one particular item, most websites will have a ‘If you like this, you might also like this’ feature, where I look at various items that are similar in nature to the first one I picked. Websites can do that because they arrange and categorize items systematically so that all of the black Gucci Horsebit Hobo purses can be cross referenced.

Guess What? Your brain has that option too. Just try it. Ask your brain to think of a positive thought, one that really makes you feel great inside. Then ask it to find another thought that you will like just as much, or even more, and then ask for another one. Trust me, it will find them. When you start teaching your brain what you want to pay attention to by asking for more of the same, it will stop bringing up the thoughts that you aren’t interested in.

Jimmy is right!

You might be too young for this, but in an episode of Seinfeld called “The Jimmy”, Jerry and George are playing basketball with a guy named Jimmy who always refers to himself in the third person saying things like, “Jimmy’s under the boards. Jimmy’s in the open. Jimmy makes the shot.” Talking in the third person not only makes great comedy, it actually increases the effectiveness of self talk.

Psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan led a study about pronouns people use when they talk to themselves and found that when you refer to yourself as “You” or use your name, it creates more distance and objectivity than when you talk in the “I” or first position. This is another one of of those “Just try it” exercises. “You” can do it!

Next time you find yourself having an internal conversation, notice how you address yourself. You may notice when you change your frame of reference from ‘I” to “You” or “Your Name” that the location of where you hear the voice also changes. Your job is to notice which one feels more supportive and less critical, so you can utilize that form of communication in the future.

Give it instructions

Everybody needs a job, including your inner voice. Since most people find it almost impossible to shut off their internal chatter, why not put it to work? Instead of running wild thinking random thoughts, take control and have your chatterbox say something useful while you are competing. You can make up a little song in your head that contains all of the things you need to remember, you can count strides, or maybe you can have it remind you to breathe every few seconds. Once you know what you should say to yourself, and you know the best way to say it, your inner voice will be as nice and helpful to you as it is to others.


About the Author: Kirsten Farris is a regular contributor to and a Certified Sport Consultant, Certified Equestrian Fitness Trainer, and the Author of The Workbook for the Equestrian Athlete – A Guide to Showring Success. Kirsten and her horse, Lyles Al Lie, were the 2012 and 2013 AQHA Select World Champion in Hunter Under Saddle and Reserve World Champions in 2014. For more information contact her at: © 2014