The Language Of Goal-Setting

When setting goals, it’s really important that your language is very precise.

Three of the most common mistakes that people make when they set goals are that:
• They make them vague.
• They say them in a negative way.
• They say them in the future tense.

For example, a vague goal is to say something like, “I want to be a better rider.” Instead, be really specific. Say something like, “I sit straight and centered.” Or “I give subtle but
effective aids.” Or, “I have an independent and elegant seat.”

Another vague goal is something like; “I want to move my horse up a level.” Be specific. Give yourself a long-range deadline.

Instead, say something like, “For the fall competition in Millbrook, NY on September 18, my horse and I make our debut at Second Level, Test 1.” So you’re designating a specific show, a specific date, a specific place, and a specific level.

The second thing is to be sure to state your goals in a positive way. You’re going to sabotage yourself if you use negative words, such as, “I won’t stiffen when I ride a shoulder in.” Or, “I will not get nervous at shows.” Or, “I don’t get distracted by what other riders do.”

The reason that you don’t want to use negative language is because there is no picture in your mind for the word “not.” So when you use a negative word in your goal-setting process, your brain skips right over the word “not” and all it hears is stiffen, nervous, or distracted. That becomes your goal.

Your brain registers, “I will stiffen when I ride shoulder-in,” rather than “I won’t stiffen when I ride shoulder-in.” Or, “I will get nervous at shows.” Or, “I do get distracted by what other riders do.”

Instead, replace negatively phrased goals with positive ones. Such as, “When I ride shoulder in, I am supple and loose.” Or, “I am calm and confident in competition.” Or, “I stay totally focused when I ride.”

The third thing you want to be sure to do is say your goal in the present tense as if you’ve already achieved it. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t actually achieved it yet. By saying your goal as if you’ve already reached it, you bring yourself closer and closer to creating it as your reality.

Remember, your mind always moves you toward what you focus on, toward your dominant thought. That’s why it’s important to imagine your destination “as if” you’ve already reached it.

It’s not enough to replace, “I won’t be nervous at shows” with “I will be relaxed at shows.” You need to phrase it in the present tense by saying, “I am relaxed at shows.”


I want to give you some examples on how to re-word your goals so that they’re precise rather than vague, positive rather than negative, and in the present tense “as if” you’ve already achieved your goal.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be your reality now. But if you keep saying it, it’s going to become your reality.

So, for example, rather than saying, “I won’t get stressed in competition.” It’s better to say, “I’m calm and relaxed in competition.”

“I will not be distracted by physical discomfort.” Becomes, “I easily block out physical discomfort.”

“I will not be influenced by what I see other riders do.” Becomes, “I stay focused and stick to my own plan.”

“I won’t lose my focus because of all of the chaos at the show.” Becomes, “I stay in my own little cocoon of concentration at the show.”

“My horse doesn’t flip out when he has to leave the other horses.” Becomes, “My horse is secure and always on the aids.”

“I don’t get exhausted.” Becomes, “I’m incredibly fit and strong.”

“I’m not panicked by drop jumps.” Becomes, “I love jumping drops.”

“I don’t find my balance in my horse’s mouth.” Becomes, “I have a balanced and independent seat.”

“My goal is to not try so hard.” Becomes, “I let things flow.”

“I’ll do fabulous sliding stops.” That sounds like a positive goal, but it’s a hidden future tense with the word “I’ll.” That becomes, “I do fabulous sliding stops.”

So talk about your sliding stops in the present tense “as if” you’ve already achieved them.

“I won’t let triple combinations freak me out.” Becomes, “Triple combinations are my favorite jumps.”

By changing your language so that your goals are precise, positive, and in the present tense, you can program your subconscious mind to help you achieve your goals.

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