Learn the Secret to Improved Focus—and Performance—While Showing
by Daniel Stewart
Heather asks “I stay focused in my lessons but when I show I think about a million different things and completely lose my concentration. Why can’t I focus when it counts?”
What you’re experiencing is quite common, but before I answer your question I’d like to talk about the question itself. Sometimes the way we voice our questions may unintentionally convince us that we own the unwanted condition. If you always ask, “Why can’t I focus…” you’re actually assuming you can’t. To avoid this we should always voice our questions so they assume a strength rather than a weakness like: “How can I learn to focus at shows as well as I do in my lessons?”
Now back to your question. One of the best ways to stay focused during a competition is to create a small list of things you’d like to focus on. This is called selective attention because you purposely select what you’re going to pay attention to (like your coach’s instructions) instead of letting your mind wander to whatever random thoughts might pop into your head (like previous disappointments).
The good news is that your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. If you’re focusing on your coach’s instructions you literally can’t think about previous disappointments. This is called attention blindness.
An interesting condition called the cocktail party effect can help you understand how this happens. You can probably recall a time when in a noisy crowded room you tried talking to one person while trying to listen to the conversation of another. If you’re like most, you learned that it’s impossible, not because you can’t focus when it counts but because your mind can only really focus on one thought at a time. You just need to define clearly what that thought is going to be!
When it comes to riding, create a very short list of things you’d like to focus on. Write them down well in advance of the competition and repeat them often so they’ll stick with you once you arrive at the show grounds.
Remember to ask yourself: Are you thinking about what you think you should be thinking about?
Published June 2013 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.