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Know Where You Are Going - Life Skills From a Horse

​​​​​I haven’t always found goal setting particularly easy. In the past, I have been so fixated on a goal that wasn’t fully within my control that I became frustrated by it. I was all about the destination and I learned this lesson the hard way. I then moved more towards the notion of opportunities evolving naturally and trusting that everything was occurring just as it should. Reading ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle helped enlighten me and I began to enjoy and appreciate the journey but I did become a bit non-committal with timescales.

Goal setting and planning has enabled me to challenge myself in many areas of my life and to be excited and optimistic about the future. It has also been useful in helping to stretch many of the people I have trained and mentored previously.

However, it was only when I trained with the Coaching Academy that I really learned how to set goals effectively and now I help my clients do the same. It’s not just about deciding to aim for something (I am sure many of us have half heartedly made New Year’s resolutions that surprisingly we haven’t stuck to!). The power is in understanding what you REALLY want, what motivates you, how it fits with your values and what impact it will have during the journey as well as the destination.

So where does the horse part come in?! Well, one of my biggest personal challenges has been learning to ride later in life. When I started, I was terrified and I would be fibbing if I tried to make out that I am super confident now! However, it has been an incredible experience so far. I have been learning a lot more than I expected at the start. Horses have taught me about trust, leadership, courage, confidence and myself. I think we can take some general life lessons from these amazing animals.

During my riding lessons and those of my two daughters, our instructor (who takes no prisoners!) calls out various instructions. These are useful in the arena but I can’t help thinking how relevant they could be in many areas of life. One of them sounds obvious but is also easily forgotten in both every day circumstances as well as the arena…...'Know Where You Are Going.’ Now this brings us nicely back (after a canter round the meadow!) to goal setting.

When you set off on a horse, it requires clear forward direction. You have to know in advance where you are going to send it, focus on that first spot and have the impulsion to get there (if my riding instructor is reading this, she will be wondering why I don’t always do that but that is probably a whole other blog!). Without this direction, the horse could be confused, possibly resist, choose its own path, head towards the nearest source of food or follow the herd.

We also need to know where we are going in life to live it with purpose, otherwise we could be drifting aimlessly, take the easiest route which might not necessarily give us the best results or we can follow the crowd. No doubt this is why ‘begin with the end in mind’ is one of Stephen Covey’s powerful habits from ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’

When I work with my coaching clients, we look at areas of their lives they wish to work. I help to establish what their motivation is, their values and to identify options as well as the necessary steps to take to achieve desired outcomes. I challenge my clients (with their permission of course) so we can fully understand what might be holding them back, how to overcome obstacles and create greater self-awareness. We work together over time to achieve what they truly want. It’s a far more in-depth process than I could include in this blog but I am sharing some tips on the basics which I hope might give you a good start and structure to your goal setting.

You will likely be familiar with ‘SMART’ Goals. There are several versions but this is the one that makes the most sense to me:

Amanda’s 'Hot To Trot'Tips for setting SMART Goals:

S = Specific: In the words of Zig Ziglar ‘You can’t hit a target you cannot see, and you cannot see a target you do not have.’

Your goal needs to be specific, well defined and clear. If it isn’t specific, it isn’t measurable. What is it exactly that you want to achieve?

Remember..........‘Know Where You Are Going!’

e.g. ‘I weigh 11 stone and I eat accordingly’ rather than ‘I want to lose some weight'

Or, ‘I canter a 25 metre circle confidently’ rather than ‘I wish I could keep a canter.’

M = Motivating: Motivation is the key to taking action. We need a strong urge to do something to drive us on, especially during challenging times. What is it that will power you on to achieve your goal when the going gets tough, when you could get lazy or when obstacles present themselves?

A fitting term my instructor uses is ‘impulsion’ because riding with impulsion is vital to keeping your horse engaged, active and going forward with energy and controlled power.

Motivation is the impulsion we need to reach our goals. Coaching can help you realise what this is and to plan the journey (twists and turns included). Vision boards, goal cards, planning wheels, journals and people can help to keep motivation alive.

Ask yourself the following questions and note the answers to discover how you will stay engaged and committed to your goal:

What is it about this goal that really motivates you?

On a scale of 1 – 10 (1 = not at all,10 = ecstatic), how motivated will you feel when you achieve it?

What impact will it have on your life?

Who will it benefit and how?

If you don’t find your goal that motivating……you can change it!

Your goal also needs to be positive with a focus on gain, not loss.

Write it in the present tense as if you have already achieved the goal, it feels more real and becomes an instruction for your subconscious mind. You can even use this as a mantra.

e.g. ‘I am healthier, wealthier and enjoy having clear lungs’ rather than ‘I want to give up smoking.’

Or, ‘When I get on my horse, I feel relaxed and confident’ rather than ‘I don’t want to feel anxious from the start.’

A = Action Orientated – ‘Ride Every Step’ and ‘Focus’ are other regular commands in our arena. We have to concentrate on each step the horse takes to keep the rhythm and pace, give correct and timely aids and stay on track. It’s the same with working towards our goals, we can’t forget about them, we need a sense of purpose to keep us heading in the right direction and to constantly take positive steps forward and make adjustments where necessary.

A big goal can sometimes be overwhelming. I help clients break them down into manageable steps to measure success and celebrate the milestones so they can enjoy the journey. It’s a bit like going on a hack where you can take in the scenery and appreciate the birds singing but you are always aware of what you are asking the horse to do, your surroundings and possible obstacles and you know where you are going.

So break your goal down:

What is the very first step you can take that will help you work towards to it?

Note it down and WHEN you can realistically do this.

You can add to this list continuously with other steps to take. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day but they did work on it fairly regularly!

R = Realistic: Check how achievable your goal is, you want it to stretch and challenge you so that you learn and grow through the experience. We don’t want to become bored or frustrated by a goal or striving for something that isn’t within our control.

Ask yourself:

How do I know this goal is achievable?

How much control do I have over achieving it?

T = Time Dependent: In the words of Beyonce, ‘If you liked it then you shoulda put a timescale on it.’ Well, not quite those words but I couldn’t help myself!

The message is….commit!

When can you realistically achieve this goal?

This helps us to plan the steps that will take us there. Be specific about this too.

Attach timescales to your actions, commit to it and you will make great things happen!

One of the riding instructions that my daughters repeat at home and I used to hear a lot in the early days of riding is ‘Don’t look down at the ground or that’s where you’ll end up.’ A great life lesson! Shoulders back, stretch tall and look ahead….to the future. Best of Luck, Amanda

Unlock Your Potential

Amanda Green

Career and Performance Coach

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