Jun 13, 2021

Pressure Proof with Daniel Stewart: Mistake Quotas

USEA/Kim Beaudoin Photo.

Our sport is brilliant and epic and unlike any other. . . But at times, it can feel more pressure-packed than all other sports combined. When your horse’s unpredictable nature combines with high expectations and the endless physical and mental demands of riding, it's only natural to feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time.


In a way, it’s kind of like weird “pressure” math:
Unpredictability + Expectations + Physical and Mental demands = Pressure.

Fortunately, while you can’t eliminate unpredictability and the physical and mental demands of riding (and the frequent mistakes, mess-ups, and missed opportunities they create), you can eliminate some of the resulting pressure by adjusting your expectations. To do that, however, you’re going to need a little help, and that’s where this month’s Pressure Proof Tip comes in.

There are many ways to manage pressure (just read my previous monthly tips, and you find many), but this month’s tip is perhaps the simplest and most effective of all. This month’s tip is called a mistake quota and its goal is to help eliminate pressure by helping eliminate the disappointment of unexpected mistakes and mess-ups.

The first step in developing a mistake quota is to give yourself permission to make, accept, and even expect a few mistakes from time to time (pressure is created when you hope everything goes perfectly but are afraid it won’t). When you learn to expect a few bumps in the road (expect the unexpected), the pressure you experience decreases. It’s like a pressure valve. When you’re worried about messing up, the pressure builds, but when you permit yourself to make a few mistakes, that pressure is relieved.

So this month, give the mistake quota a try by allowing yourself three mistakes in every class, clinic, or schooling session. If you need more, borrow one from tomorrow’s ride, and if you don’t use all three today, you can carry them over to tomorrow’s ride. The idea behind the mistake quota isn’t that you’re incapable of giving a perfect effort; it’s just that you know perfect efforts don’t always equate to perfect outcomes.

Here’s a funny story about how a mistake quota can relieve pressure. I was teaching my 15-year-old daughter to drive the other day and told her about the mistake quota and said she might expect to make a few mistakes. She thought it was a bit weird that I was “expecting” her to mess up but seemed okay with the idea. A few minutes later, she unintentionally cut off a car while turning from one busy street to another. When I asked why she didn’t wait, she said, “When I turned into the new lane, I saw the words “BIKE LANE” painted on the ground - I thought it was a car lane! Then she did something weird. Just as I was thinking she might feel overwhelmed and bummed out, she looked over at me, smiled, and said, “1”. A few minutes later, we found ourselves in the drive-through at Chick-Filet where my daughter unintentionally bounced the Subaru over a curb. . . Instead of getting mad at herself, she just smiled again and said “2”.

Then it struck me! When I gave her permission to expect and accept a few mistakes (make a perfect effort but be okay with an imperfect outcome), I had released the pressure she was feeling, and in doing so, allowed her driving lesson to become more enjoyable and educational, and less worrisome and disappointing!

So, in the future, if you’d like your riding classes, clinics, and lessons to become more enjoyable and educational and less worrisome and disappointing, remember the mistake quota!

I hope you enjoyed this month’s Pressure Proof Tip! If you’d like more empowering tips like these, you can order an autographed copy of my new equestrian sport psychology book Bolder, Braver, Brighter. It’s chock-full of helpful mental coaching tips, tricks, and techniques. I think you’d love it! You can order your autographed copy here.

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