For some reason, I have always loved challenges. I can’t really say why. It doesn’t come from my immediate family, or a strong influence while growing up. It’s just always been there. Inevitably, this trait led to competition. Horseback riding, swimming, softball, body building, racing mountain bikes and road bikes and dog sports. I always loved training, but HATED the actual competition. Why? Ring nerves!! I would be sick to my stomach days ahead of time. Imagined every possible thing that could go wrong. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. I was superstitious, always downgrading my goals, beating myself up. I had terrible self-esteem and never felt I was good enough. If I did have a good training day or competition, I downplayed it because deep down, I felt I didn’t deserve it. Paradoxically, that is why I worked insanely hard and pushed myself mercilessly. As a result, I never reached my true potential in any competitive endeavor. I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I just had to work harder, dig deeper, push myself further. It was a vicious, and not very happy cycle. Take for example racing bikes. I LOVED riding my bicycle. Literally. I rode for hours and hours. I loved all aspects of training… group rides, intervals, hills, endurance rides. But, over time, what I perceived as my lack of success in races stole much of the joy. I was completely burned out. One day I was riding with my training partner and he said to me “You know what your problem is? You forgot why you started racing. Why did you start racing?” I thought about it…. I LOVED riding my bike. Training for races was the motivation behind riding my bike for hours on end…which I loved! He was right, it was that simple. My passion for bicycling had become buried beneath my competitive goals. I regained my joy in riding my bike. However, my ring nerves were as abysmal as ever.
When I transitioned to dog sports, my ring nerves happily came along for the ride. I made countless errors in the ring. I was a nervous wreck, sweating, wound up tight, miserable. Fast forward several years, I was training my Labrador, Tyler, for competitive obedience. One day, I realized that I was asking my dogs to give me their all in a sport that is not inherently rewarding for them. They did it for me, for our relationship. I was asking them to dig deep and perform in the ring in spite of my mistakes and nerves. I suddenly realized that I was not holding up my end of the bargain. I read a book by Jane Savoie entitled, “It’s Not Just About the Ribbons”. To this day, it’s my go to book when I need a refresher. I became aware that I was doing EVERYTHING in the book that I shouldn’t be doing…. Oh boy! BUT, MOST IMPORTANTLY, I recognized that I needed to make a commitment. I needed to work on this daily, week after week, month after month. This wasn’t going to be a quick fix. My mental habits had been with me for a lifetime. Creating new habits was going to take some work. As always, I was up for the challenge. Although I have to say that the driving force behind my commitment, especially at the beginning, was my dogs. It was important to me that I become the best possible teammate.
That day changed my whole life. Yes, I worked on my mental management skills daily. And yes, over time I learned how to manage my ring nerves and, dare I say it, even have fun competing. But I started reading more books, listening to more podcasts and youtube channels. All of which led me on a journey of self-discovery and reinvention that has profoundly changed my life. THIS is now my greatest passion. Living a conscious life filled with gratitude, kindness, joy, peace and laughter. And when things do get hard, as they inevitably will, I’m now well-equipped to handle life’s bumps and curves without falling over the cliff.
The next time you go out to train your dog, or to compete take a minute to assess your state of mind. Our dogs are inherently happy! They live in the moment. They adore us and just want to make us happy. Make sure you are doing the same. If not, perhaps it’s time to make a commitment to work on your mental management. Who knows, you might become addicted to leading a positive, joyous life!