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Define what you want
by Jim Will, Ph.D.

Do you really know what you want? If not, how will you ever get it? 

Instead of thinking about what you don't want, start thinking about what it is that you do want. What kind of race results do you want? How do you want to handle your horse to enhance his performance?

Thoughts about what you do want, combined with an ability to change, can bring about great improvements. What's keeping you from changing your habits and attitudes?

Often it's easier to define what you don't want than what you do want. If that's the case for you, then go ahead and write down on a piece of paper whatever it is that you don't want: "I don't want to be nervous, I don't want to be tense, I don't want to hit a barrel in a run," or whatever applies. That's fine. But when you've done that, then take another piece of paper and write the opposite of each of those things that you don't want. The result will be the things that you do want. This is the list that you will use and the list that will be in your thoughts.

Once you've done this, then take the first piece of paper with all the things that you don't want – things that might have plagued you for days and weeks and months and years – to the shredder. Or take that list and burn it. Get rid of it. Don't look at that anymore. Stay focused on the list of things that you do want – how you want to see yourself barrel racing, and how you want to position your body for your performance, or devise your strategy.

The thing that causes many of your problems is your self-talk. Your negative self-talk is working against you, keeping you from changing the habits and attitudes that cause you problems. It's also affecting your ability to relax before a race and while you're practicing and training.

But you can make your self-talk work for you. By defining what you want in your choice of recreation, and by thinking of the way you want things to go in your performance, you can change your self-talk from negative to positive.

Do you want to be uptight? Do you want to be nervous? Do you want to get all tense when you're in the alley lane? No, of course not. Then don't think about those things; instead, think about the list that you made of the things that you do want. Make sure that all the self-talk that goes through your mind is about the things on your list, and be sure that you stop any self-talk about negative things – about the things that you don't want to happen.

Realize that the way things have been in the past isn't the way things have to be in the future. Don't let yourself think, "I always make a mistake at this point," or "I always hit the second barrel." That's all in the past; that's history.

What kind of temperament, what kind of emotional situation, do you want? The fact that you might have always lost your temper after a bad run isn't really relevant anymore. Do you want to keep losing your patience or keep losing your temper when something goes wrong? Is that on the list of things that you do want, or is it on the list of things that you don't want – the list that you shredded or burned?

Maybe you don't want to keep on acting that way, but you're saying to yourself something like, "Well, no, I don't want that but I know myself. I've always been that way. I'm just like my dad. I'm just like my uncle. I'm just like my mother."

Then what you've got to do is to stop that "crazy," vicious cycle. Stop thinking about negative aspects that you have possibly learned from your family, stop thinking about not losing your temper, and start thinking about being calm and in control.