By Blair McKissock
This is the time of year for transition. As the days slowly begin to get longer, and the promise of spring hangs in the air, we emerge from the darkness, and head towards the light. The darkness of winter gives us the chance to confront the shadow aspects of our psyche, revealing those patterns or aspects that we want to work on. Though we have seen them, named them, and confronted them, it takes time to work through them as we apply what we have learned. That can be easier said than done. The ability to consciously change and grow in our self-awareness is the work of the human. It is what separates us from other species. There is something deep within us that motivates us to change; this is your “WHY.”
Why do we want to change? What drives us to want to be better than we are? Horses live a simple life. Their “why” can be related to the simpler motivators including the drive for food, water, shelter, procreation, safety, and connection to the herd. In the human, we have a more complex thought process and language. This muddies the waters a bit. We have the desire to evolve beyond basic needs; we have complex emotions both negative and positive that can lead us to that desire to change. Those are the basic foundations for our “why.” The reason we want to change is equally, if not more important, than the journey of change and attainment of that goal. Life happens. Having a strong motivation is what will see us through the happenings of life that tend to derail us, or push us off the path toward our goal, and back into old patterns. When one works with a horse, it can be very easy to head toward the mastery of a certain skill, yet each day will present a new challenge. Horses, just like humans, are different every day. One day can be a fluid, effortless ride where everything clicks, and the next day, communication can be off, and there is resistance in the horse, leading to frustration and setbacks. That is the path of change. It is not a straight line drawn from where we are to where we want to go. It is filled with twists, turns, U-turns, and roadblocks that life throws our way. If you have a strong “why,” navigating that road, and arriving at where you want to be will be easier.
How do we discover our “why?” There are three levels of motivation for a person. There are the surface level motivators that are usually tied to the thoughts that we tell ourselves every day. For example, when we look in the mirror, we might think about how we want to be thinner, or look like someone else; when we talk to someone, we might think about how the next time we will say things differently, or do a better job on the next project. These motivators will lead us to the gate of change, yet will not carry us over the first obstacle. They are easily overcome by the thoughts “I can’t do this,” or “I’m not strong enough.” The second layer of motivating factors is much stronger, and will carry us a bit further down the path, getting us over a couple of obstacles, yet they can become more worn down over time. An example would be when a doctor tells us to change our diet and lifestyle, because we are on the verge of being diabetic, or even more extreme, when they tell us that we had better change our lifestyle or die. These can shotgun us into change, yet we have all seen examples of someone getting that message and doing great for a while, yet eventually go back to the same habits that will lead them back to where they started. The third layer of motivation is much deeper. These are much more emotional, and are tied to our individual core values and principles. It can take a bit of digging to find them. Even if it is a surface motivator that brings us to the path of change, it will be these that see us through to our goal. We have all heard of inspiring people who made significant life-long changes in their lives, and overcame addictions or great adversity. We hear stories of those who achieved a goal similar to ours, and doubt our ability, thinking that they must be different than us, or have something that we do not. They all had one thing in common; they knew their “why.” They discovered something deep within that was so important to them that they were resolute in their commitment. It doesn’t mean that change was easier for those who met their goals. Their roads are just as up, down, and twisted as anyone’s. Their “why” had carried them through.
Discovering your “why” may be right there for some, and may be more below the surface for others. It takes some time to think through why we want to change, and connect with the strongest motivator. The best way to start is to write down all of the reasons you want to change. Don’t censor any idea that comes to mind, just keep writing. When you have to pause and think about it for a while to come up with another one, keep going. Sometimes the ones we have to think about the most are the ones that are the strongest. Your “why” will be emotionally charged. When thinking about your “why,” you can feel it in your body. The thoughts associated with it will create an emotion that will create a physical response in the body. You will know it when you feel it.
Just like the horses, humans show up differently every day. There is so much coming at us from outside, and from within at every moment. Go back to your list of motivators; circle the top five of the first and second level motivators, then circle two or three that have that stronger emotional connection. Write them down on index cards, or something that you can keep with you, or post somewhere that you will see often. That list that contains your “why” will help keep you on the path, regardless of how you show up that day. It will get you through the roadblocks and setbacks that life throws at you. Humans also have a great propensity for self-sabotage. These can be the biggest roadblocks on any journey; the ones we put up ourselves. Keeping your list in front of you, reading it before you go to bed, and when you get up in the morning will support you through the gate, and down the path to your goal. Even though horses may not have the complex emotions or motivators that humans have, there is a sense of wisdom when you look in their eyes. What a gift it would be to be able to listen to their thoughts, and understand their point of view. To understand their “why” would bring such insight, simple and unclouded. They would find it easy to just jump over the obstacles to the greener side of the fence.
Blair McKissock, MSEd, RYT is a speaker and author on experiential and nature-based learning. She loves sharing the amazing world of equine-assisted learning and therapies through her work at Strides to Success in Plainfield, Indiana. You can learn more about coaching, OmHorse mounted yoga sessions, and upcoming equine-assisted workshops at stridestosuccess.org.