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Mon, 2018-03-05 14:14

Daniel Stewart's Tip of the Month: Am - Am Not

Authored By: Coach Daniel Stewart
USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Last month we continued our four-part series on positive thinking by talking about thought chatter (or what I often call brain babble). If you recall, your brain thinks up to 60,000 thoughts each day (that’s about 40 thoughts a minute, or one thought every 1.5 seconds). Our brains are like boats, as long as they keep moving they stay heathy, but let a boat idle for too long and barnacles begin to grow and slow its performance. Our brains act in a similar way. They stay healthy as long as they keep thinking.

But perhaps the most surprising thing when it comes to thought chatter is that up to 70% of our thoughts can be considered counterproductive to success! So, how is that possible you might ask? Well it’s simply because so many of the thoughts that we consider positive can actually be interpreted as quite negative by the brain. 

For example, typical negative words like "can't" and "hate" are easy to spot, but it's the tricky ones like "think," "try," "hope," and "pray" that can really mess with your thought chatter. The reason this happens is because they actually sound pretty positive - after all, think indicates a desire to ride with your mind; try indicates a desire to accomplish something; and hope and pray must be good because their mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible - but use them while riding and the positive thought “I can do it” just might become “I think I can do it”, “I'll try to do it”, “I hope I can do it”, or “I pray I can do it”. As you can see, each of these phrases is considerably less positive than intended, simply because the tricky words changed the thought chatter into something counterproductive to success. 

Perhaps the trickiest negative word of all is the word "not" because your mind has a very difficult time hearing it. For example, tell someone who's afraid of heights while standing on a cliff to not look down and what's the first thing she’ll likely do? Likewise, repeat the statement “I am not nervous” over and over again and don't be surprised if you start to feel just a bit nervous. You said, “I am not nervous” but your brain heard, “I am-nervous” just like the person afraid of heights heard “Do-look down.”

The good news is that there’s an easy trick that can help you avoid unintentionally turning your well-intentioned thought chatter to negative, and that is to simply use the word “am” in place of the words “am not”.  For example, “I am confident” is interpreted differently by your brain than “I am not nervous” and “I am calm” is interpreted as more positive than “I am not tense.” In each of these examples, simply changing the words “am not” to “am” changes any potentially negative thought chatter to positive…as long as you’re not saying something like “I am nervous!”

Which leads us into our final tip on positive thinking, which we’ll discuss next month. But in the meantime, always remember to remind yourself who you are instead of what you aren’t (change “am not” to “am”) and that: Whatever you plan on being…be a good one!

Join Coach Stewart at the US Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid this summer for four-day Equestrian Athlete Training Camps. Riders of all ages, levels, and disciplines are welcome and members of the USEA receive a $250 scholarship. For more information visit Coach Stewart's website

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