8 Secrets to Think and Perform Like a Champion

By: Dana Hokana

Our thoughts are powerful! Our thoughts help to shape and control our destiny. Directing our thoughts in the correct direction is one of the most important things that we can do in our life as are these “8 Secrets to Think and Perform Like a Champion.” Our results, positive or negative are often a direct result of our thoughts.

Many people struggle with negative thoughts, and a negative self image. They often have negative patterns that are repeated over and over and don’t really know how to break them! For many people the biggest battle they fight is the battle of their mind. Your success in life, with your horse, as well as your success in the show arena, is directly related to how you think and your thought patterns!

Competition touches upon one of the most sensitive areas of our emotions. That is, “What will people think of me?” Competition can invite us to be overly critical of ourselves as well as other people. For some people, competition can bring out the worst side of them. When you compete, you are being judged. The key to your success is how you internally handle the pressure of competition.

I have 8 key points to help you handle the stresses of competition as well as how to think and perform like a champion!

8 Secrets to Think and Perform Like a Champion

Determine to Compete Primarily with Yourself

Think of it like this, you exhibit horses with other people but you compete with yourself. Get your eyes off of everyone else. I am very careful to not over watch other people. Now don’t get me wrong, striving for excellence is always my goal. Watching people who have succeeded and seeing what they do will help you to raise your standards. But, every time you watch other people you are forming an opinion in your mind. That’s the purpose of watching them. Well, when you form that opinion you must be careful to not negatively turn on yourself. In other words, don’t spend a lot of time comparing yourself and developing a negative, critical conclusion based on what you are seeing.

There is no doubt that you need to watch your events. It is good to see what your competition is. Learn your events inside and out. Learn what the rule book says. Study the standard and reach for that! But don’t turn on yourself and form a negative opinion about yourself as a result of how good other people may be. If you discern that you have a long way to go, that’s okay! We all start somewhere! Use the standard to be a place to reach towards. Tell yourself you can be excellent too. Encourage yourself to be hopeful and optimistic. Be your own best friend, not your enemy. Even if you know that you are unable to truly be as good in one way or another as the people that you are watching, set a reasonable goal to work towards. Make sure your final conclusion about the situation is positive. If you start to self criticize, tell yourself, “NO!” Remind yourself of your positive traits and make sure your final thoughts are positive.

I cannot stress how important this is. Many people don’t even realize how negative their self talk really is. Become mindful and aware of your thoughts, learn to control them and make them positive. Decide that you will be okay with yourself right where you are at, as you continue to reach to be where you want to be!

8 Secrets to Think and Perform Like a Champion - Dana Hokana

Learn to Control Your Nerves!

All of us can get nervous before a big competition. In fact, excitement can feel like nervousness. Excitement is normal and good! Excessive nervousness can cause failure! When nervousness gets out of control, or causes you to perform poorly, it is important to know how to deal with that.

So first of all, don’t be too hard on yourself! Forgive yourself for any past mistakes! Wipe the slate clean so to speak and allow yourself to have a positive, happy expectation.

Learn this very important fact! Your nervousness is not caused by your tough competition. It’s not caused by your upcoming classes. It’s not caused because you are at the World Championship show! “Your nervousness is caused by your internal response to the things going on outside of you.”
So in other words, your nervousness or anxiety is caused by what you are saying to yourself about the event, the competition, or “what may happen”.
Your nervousness is caused by your focus on all the “what if’s” and the more you focus on those “what if’s” the more your nerves will escalate.

To help you to control your nerves and have the best ride that you can have, direct your focus onto things that you can control. I look for details in my horse’s performance that can improve. If my horse is a little nervous, I do exercises to calm him down. If he’s a little sticky or stiff, I do suppling exercises. In other words, I take my focus off of the “what if’s” and put it on my horse. I am his coach. He needs me calm and relaxed as I will transmit my feeling to him! I also visualize what I want. I plan out that great ride in my mind.

Remember, take your thoughts off of yourself and put them on something positive and you will see great results!

Do Not Replay Failures or Bad Goes in Your Mind, or Re-Watch Videos of Bad Rides with Your Horse

Some people are harder on themselves than others. In fact, some perfectionists, who really excel are the ones who are the hardest on themselves. There is even a mindset that if you are good and hard on yourself, you won’t “do that again”.

But this is usually not true, and can really backfire! When the mistake is magnified in your mind, it is harder to let go of and move on. If it stays big in your mind, your focus stays on what you don’t want, and you actually are prone to repeating that. Where your focus is, is where you will go towards.

One of the biggest secrets to success is to let go of past mistakes!

This is why it is so important to not watch over and over videos of a bad go or replay your mistakes over in your mind. When you do this, it roots it in your mind and subconscious and you are prone to repeat it.

I saw the power of this first hand recently at a large AQHA show… I have a student who is a wonderful English Equitation rider. I had never seen her miss a diagonal. Well, she went into her Equitation class and had a winning pattern, except she missed her diagonal for a few strides. Someone videoed her go, and she watched it over and over because it was such a great ride! But her subconscious saw that mistake. She went in the next few classes and missed her diagonal again and again. She became so afraid of that same mistake happening, that she recreated that pattern. I had her to stop watching the video of her mistake and to forgive herself. She had to let it go! I taught her the value of replaying what she wanted to happen in her mind.

One of the biggest secrets to success is to let go of past mistakes!
Forgive yourself, and move on to what you want!

8 Secrets to Think and Perform Like a Champion - Dana Hokana

Have a Clear Goal

Champions usually know where they are going. Your goal gives you direction. Your goal also keeps you focused and it directs your daily workouts. Your goal keeps your eyes on the finish line. Setting a goal also can keep you excited. It can keep your motivation strong even when discouragements come up.

Set short term and long term goals for yourself. I highly recommend that you don’t put time frames on your long term goals. When you put tight time frames on your goals, it can add to your stress and anxiety. Your goal is to be a measuring stick, something to reach for, not a burden!

If you are unclear as to what to set your goal on, do your research. There are so many directions in the horse industry you can go towards.
A suggestion would be to look at the year end awards offered in the divisions you are considering. Look at what you love to do with your horse. Take the time necessary to research and set your goal to be in line with what you really desire! Go back to some of your dreams or desires and rekindle those desires! The time is now! Do some of the things that you have always desired to do. Once you have your goal set, put some reminders out to keep yourself stirred up! I have a goal list that I read. I have done this for years. I also have some pictures out that can be my reminders to keep reaching, and keep yourself excited!

Remember, if things don’t come to pass as quickly as you would like, don’t give up! Never give up. I have a saying, “inch by inch it’s a cinch”! So continue to keep moving forward.

Visualize Yourself Doing It Correctly and Effortlessly

There is extraordinary power in visualizing success!
Top athletes and performers have used this powerful technique for years. The great boxing legend, Muhammad Ali was always stressing the importance of seeing himself victorious long before the actual fight. Michael Jordan always took the last shot in his mind before he ever took one in real life.

These top performers have harnessed the power of visualization and you can too.

I have used visualization many times in my career, and before some of my biggest wins, I have spent a lot of time visualizing my winning ride. And you know what? It was often just as I visualized! We have talked about negative self talk which leads to negative mental pictures and the opposite of that is positive self talk and positive visualization. Positive visualization or imagination is a huge key to success.

Get in a quiet place, and allow yourself enough time to fully play out in your mind the performance that you desire! The more that you practice, the easier it becomes. You may even find that you will touch into fears you didn’t know you had. That is okay, push through them. I have found that as I was visualizing what I wanted, I had moments of anxiety. This concerned me as I didn’t know why this would happen. Then I realized that I was dealing with feelings of fear surrounding the success, which rooted in the question that “maybe I wasn’t good enough”. That was a very pivotal moment for me as I had to address that negative self image and turn it around.

I truly didn’t even know it was there until I allowed myself to experience great victory in my imagination. That’s what visualization really is, using your imagination to play out a possible scenario. If a negative thought and mind picture can cause a person to self sabotage or “mess up” their go, just think what a positive mental picture can do.

Control Your Words

Many people have bad habits of speaking very negatively. I often hear people saying things like, “Oh I never win” or, “My horse always jumps at things” or, “Go figure, something always happens to me”. You know there is a saying, “People get what they say” and this is so true. People really do experience what they say they will experience.

As a whole, you won’t hear champions talking like that. A champion won’t stand outside the arena and say, “I never win”. A champion is not a person who always wins. Nobody wins or is great every single time. In fact, champions often fail many times before they win. But one trait of a champion is that they often do well. True champions are positive, hopeful people. When champions don’t win or do well, they will usually not have a bad confession about themselves. My point is to watch your words! When you have a bad performance, just focus on the good parts. Be honest and clear with what you need to improve and say, “It will be better next time” because you will get what you say!

Speak positively and you will have positive results.

Champions Are Willing to Do Whatever It Takes!

A champion will do what other people just aren’t willing to do. Champions will go the extra mile. Ask yourself, “In what way could I give more or do more that would impact my results?” Are you doing all that you can do to reach your goal? Look for ways you can give a little more, and do a little more. I have a definite opinion that is, this is the life we are given to live, we are given certain gifts and talents, and we are given desires. Often our gifting’s are in the same area that our desires are in, and we need to do the best that we can with what we are given.

We are all unique and different so none of us are to reach or strive to be like anyone, but to be the best “me” that I can be. I believe in living intentionally, giving care and thought to my path in life. As horses are a desire of mine, I owe it to myself to be the best I can be. When I look at it like that, then it’s easy and natural to go the extra mile. Then those things I have been visualizing to do, all of a sudden seem like no big deal.

I will drive half the night or all night if need be. I will ride in the night if need be to get into the arena that I show in. I will pay attention to what my horse is saying and how he is reacting, to be the best coach and team member possible to my horse. I will put my horse’s care and needs as a very high priority. When it gets hard or difficult, I will tell myself, “It’s light and easy”.

I won’t tell you it’s always easy. Sometimes you just have to say, “I can do it” over and over. But I encourage you to not back down. Look for ways to be excellent and to go the extra mile.

Enjoy the Journey and Stay Grateful

Your hopes, dreams, and goals with your horse are part of your journey. Your hours of hard work, with the great times and the disappointing times are all part of your journey. Make this journey you are on, a good one. Take the time to celebrate the victories – the big ones and the little ones, even the daily victories of a great ride. I have to remind myself sometimes that life is more than my one class or my one big show. Our lives are a culmination of all these little moments. Find the meaning in each and every step or day of your journey. Remind yourself why you are doing this. Go back to when the desire to ride or compete with your horse began. Revisit that moment. Savor that moment!

Sometimes I just put my face in a horse’s neck and smell their wonderful smell. Or I look into their eyes and still my thoughts as to how beautiful and noble these amazing animals are. I am reminded of my love for horses. How blessed and grateful I am to be able to ride and work with horses. I remind myself how truly grateful I am to have the opportunity to do what I do.

I cannot emphasize enough the power of gratitude! A grateful heart will take you to places and around people that you never realized you could go. A grateful heart changes your perceptive on things. It changes how you treat people and horses. A grateful heart puts you in the moment, it puts you in the now. When we are in the moment, in the now, so to speak, that is when our creative nature rises up and inspires us, empowers us, and helps us to be all that we can be. That’s the power of gratitude.

Practice gratitude. Look to be grateful as often as you can and remember, enjoy the journey! It’s a choice.

These “8 Secrets to Think and Perform Like a Champion” are available to each and every one of us. They really aren’t difficult, they just take practice and determination. I promise you, it’s worth the effort. Start putting these Secrets into play and you will see results!

You truly can see your dreams and desires come to pass!

To learn more from Dana Hokana consider joining Team Hokana for access to over 200 streaming video lessons plus new ones every month.

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