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The Emotions You Practise


One of the things that working with horses has taught us at HorseBack is being aware of our emotions. If we go down to the field carrying a whole load of unresolved anger or anxiety, our horses will pick up on that. So learning to recognise our emotions and process them is a huge part of our daily routine. And in all this, one of the most important lessons we have learnt is that you will get best at the emotions you practise the most.

This sounds a bit nuts, but bear with us. Think about your default emotions. Maybe you are a worrier; maybe you get cross or frustrated easily. In fact, those are just names you give yourself, but the familiar emotions are the ones you practise the most. You are really working on those, every single day. No wonder you get brilliantly good at them. Plus, the brain loves what is familiar, so it’s going to hold on to those old friends for dear life.

Anger can be a useful, cleansing emotion, and some things in life almost certainly do require a bit of worry, but if you’ve gone into a low-level default of crossness or anxiety, it’s time to give yourself a break. And you can do that by deciding you are simply not going to go on practising those emotions.

It’s important to say that we are talking about the knee-jerk, everyday emotions here. The technique we are about to describe won’t apply if you have just suffered a great loss or something life-changing. But we see so many people whose lives are marred by a whole raft of completely unnecessary negative emotions which can be banished with a little daily dedication.

The dedication starts with awareness. (We often think that everything starts with awareness.) You concentration on becoming aware of your emotions from the moment you wake up. There are people who start worrying from the second they open their eyes. So, if you have worry going round in your head on a loop, call it by its name and stop and ask yourself whether that is useful. Is it going to make your day better? Will you be nicer to your dog, your other half, yourself? Will you be delighted when you are old to know you spent so much of your time fretting? If not, simply decide that you might not practise that one today after all. You might like to get really good at something else, like gratitude or joy or calm.

The worry will come back, because it’s become wired in your brain. It will keep asking you to let it in. It’s what you are used to, after all. And each time, you go through your checklist. Is this useful? Will it make me feel better? Could I practise something else instead? In this way, you can rewire that brain so that worry – or whatever non-useful, uncomfortable emotion it is – is not your old familiar but something rare.

And that’s it, really. It’s magnificently simple, and quite hard at the same time. You do need to do this every day. We have learned that at HorseBack, working with our horses and with our veterans: the good stuff has to be done every day, over and over. There is no progress without good mental habits, and those habits have to be built over time and cherished daily and practised forever.

But if you do commit to this, you will take a load off your shoulders, a load you absolutely do not need to carry.

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We do not rely on government funding so any donations will greatly assist with the running of our charity.

We do not rely on government funding so any donations will greatly assist with the running of our charity.