Self-confidence and belief, a topic I find fascinating…

The Eventing Dentist, Jodie Neill, describes herself as Amateur eventer, full-time cosmetic dentist and blagging it Eventing!

She shares her thoughts on self-confidence and belief (or lack of it sometimes).

I’m not a person who struggles with their self-esteem, I have been raised in a very loving, very supportive family where I’m aware of my self-worth and have always been prioritised.

But what I do struggle with is this age-old concept of ‘perfect’. I remember speaking to a Sports Psychologist years ago, when I was playing hockey to a high level, and she told me that the perfectionism trait in my personality can come from something as small as a teacher saying ‘It’s good, but it’s not perfect’.

This constant striving for the unachievable goal of ‘perfect’ can, in turn, affect your self-confidence. I love the phrase “Confidence comes not from always being right, but from not worrying about being wrong” and that is what I have to continually work on.

Self-confidence is contagious. When you’re running on confidence you almost feel bullet proof, like nothing can stop you. On the flip side, a poor mindset can spiral into further negative thoughts and behaviours, almost becoming cyclical.

When we started eventing six years ago I was in this blissful naivety of a horse and rider with zero expectations, but as I get older I become aware of my ability to control a situation through the strength of my mindset – both negatively and positively.

How many of us have said ‘Oh god, I hate that jump’ or ‘That oxer has a filler she doesn’t like’? And lo and behold, the jump we have an issue with is that exact one when the horse has probably seen that fence a thousand times! The power of our minds is extraordinary and where I see the huge benefit of Sports Psychology and Hypnosis.

One of the main issues I have found as a full-time Dentist, who almost fumbled into Eventing, is “imposter syndrome”. The definition of imposter syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’"

As my top horse and I have worked our way up the grades, I have always struggled with justifying to myself why we are up there with the big guns. “What on earth are we doing warming up beside Laura Collett on Mr Bass as they prepare for Badminton?!” was something I said to myself in the OI at Lincoln last year.

This negative, down-playing of our abilities, feeds into poor self-belief, when really what I need to be saying to myself is “Damn right we’re here, we’ve worked hard and we’ll give it our best shot!”.

So what tools do I use to correct these behaviours?

The first step to correcting any sort of negative behaviours is to identify them. I am quite a self-analytical person so I have achieved this with the help of my incredible sponsor Jane Brindley of Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland.

Together we have established what the pitfalls of my personality are, and how best to counteract my natural habits of self-criticism and demanding perfection.

Jane taught me a wonderful phrase which is “Strive for excellence, enjoy moments of perfection” and that’s honestly what I try to do everyday with my horses. Don’t expect perfect; you’ve probably had a long day at work, and your head is full of a thousand things – we’ll aim for excellence and if we don’t achieve that, good is enough.

We have also done many sessions of Hypnosis targeting she subconscious mind, the area where almost all brain activity occurs, which can control the majority of your conscious behaviours and perceptions.

Jane talks about the sessions being like a ‘massage for your mind’ and she’s 100% correct! For someone like me with a busy brain, like a computer screen with eight tabs open simultaneously, it’s a chance for my brain to rest and recharge – and it’s gratefully received!

  Mental rehearsal and imagery are very powerful tools in my armamentarium, which I will use for most competitions, particularly when I’m lacking in confidence or feeling anxious about a certain situation.

Watching videos of previous round also helps, reminding myself that we are capable, and we deserve to be at this level, thus reinforcing my self-belief.

In the end I can’t change my personality; I am who I am. The perfectionism traits have allowed me to be driven, ambitious, hard working and determined, but they must be kept under control.

When the traits become associated with negative emotions – self-criticism and self-doubt resulting in poor performance - then I must use the skills and tools I have learned to turns those feelings around. We are so very focussed on the physical preparation of both ourselves, and our horses, but we must also appreciate the importance of mental preparation.

“Self-confidence is a super power; once you start to believe in yourself, magic happens” 

Pooja Singh

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Image with kind thanks to Dave Cameron Photography