Trust the process. This statement seems to be gaining popularity with memes posted on social media, declarations from top competitors and well-meaning wishes from family and friends. While it can feel encouraging, it can also be quite frustrating because it leaves many questions. “Trust the process,” taken at face value, is elusive as to what it actually means and how to put it into effect in your own life.
Since roping is inherently a humbling sport, almost every competitor can relate to difficulties in trusting yourself, your horses and, especially, the process of putting it all together. It is easy to trust when things are going your way, but it becomes more elusive when the inevitable hard times circle around.
Two-time World Champion Patrick Smith explained, “When I look back at my career, there were times I felt like I was on top of the world and that I couldn’t mess up. But this game doesn’t care what your name is. It can flip like a light switch.”
The first step in trusting the process is developing realistic expectations about what the process looks like. So many of us believe the process is linear, where we just keep improving as long as we are working hard.
Instead, the real process often looks something more like the following:
Matching Expectation & Reality
> Take social media posts with a grain of salt
The persona anyone shows on social media does not match reality. It is easy to believe that the top ropers never have a bad day if they never post their flubbed throws or broken barriers. This contributes to the illusion of a linear process.
> Look at full results
If you are only tracking the results of ropers who make it to the pay window, seeing the same names frequently can make it seem as if they are always winning. This adds to the linear misconception, similar to social media portrayals. If you track any top roper in all the events he or she is entered in, you will have a much better idea of the real process that includes missed catches, barrier speeding tickets and long times.
> Plot your process
Create a numerical system to rank your performance and create a line graph similar to those depicted in this article so that you can visually assess overall trends in your process. Remember that this should not be based on times or catches only because they are not a completely true reflection of overall performance.
> Expect some setbacks
Keep a notecard behind your truck visor, in your tack room or at some other handy location that says, “Stumbling blocks happen on your way to the top,” “You can go over obstacles instead of making a new road,” “Setbacks help you get back,” or some other phrase to help you remember that difficulties are part of the process and are not, by themselves, indicative of a path to utter failure.
Finding Wise Mind
> Imagine that you are walking down a staircase into a sea of tranquility. When you are submerged and floating in the calm, now is the time to consider the facts about your situation. Being calm while considering the evidence allows the best integration of Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind.
> Picture a scale where you put items on each side to balance it. Mentally assess how “doing” and “being” would be represented on either side. “Doing” is actual actions you are taking, such as getting lessons, going to vets, etc., while “being” is staying in the present moment and considering options without taking action. If your scale is predominantly heavy on the “doing” side, give yourself some space to consider the situation without acting. Conversely, if your scale is heavy in contemplation and waiting, start implementing something new.
> If you are religious, pray. The key is allowing the answer to come to you instead of from you. For example, for Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells within a person and offers divine guidance that results in the same sensations and outcomes associated with the non-spiritual conceptualization of Wise Mind. In other words, there is a feeling of leadership, comfort and acceptance with a clear path in a given situation, including what to do with our roping performances.
Accepting dry spells on the way to the top is important for nine-time Wrangler NFR header Charly Crawford.
“You need to trust that failures are part of the process in getting where you want to go,” Crawford said.
Smith reported that he has an approximately 75- to 90-percent catch rate in “up” years and 50- to 60-percent catch rate in “down” years. All of those years have been important in his career. His goal is to keep putting himself in a position to win and keep doing what it takes to finish the job.
“If you are winning 40 percent of the time, you’re doing great. That means that you are losing 60 percent of the time,” Smith explained. “The greatest attribute of being a true winner is being a good loser. You better be willing to miss if you are willing to take that winning shot. There are no secrets. If you haven’t lost, then you haven’t played the game.”
It would be simple if harder work always equals better performance. We are prone to fall into this trap because it would give us a magical equation to the top. However, we leave ourselves open to insecurity if we believe this false expectation. Because input is not always linearly tied to output, we are prone to doubt what we are doing and change plans before the benefits of our work have time to catch up when we are on the right track.
Crawford and Smith both believe in having a plan in place to trust the process, and they focus on how winning the short round starts with preparations in the practice pen.
Crawford always remembers the metaphor of a child starting to walk when he is honing a new skill.
“If a kid falls down over and over while attempting to learn to walk, no parent ever says, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just let him crawl.’ Learning how to not do something is acquired. Children don’t give up trying to learn to walk. They might cry when they fall down, but they keep trying it. Pretty soon, they’re walking and then running,” Crawford explained.
“We spend so much time nailing down every detail, but reaction has to take over in a performance,” Smith said. “Have I done my due diligence in the practice pen so I can trust my performance? Confidence without preparation is arrogance. Mental toughness comes from what you put into developing it.”
When evaluating your own process, look for an overall general trend and trajectory in the right direction to show you that you are accomplishing your goal instead of expecting linear improvements.
“If I start out trying to do something new, and I rope one out of five or one out of three, I’ve got to take the little victories and keep building on it,” Crawford stated. “Guys that keep beating on it will figure it out. If somebody’s done it, it can be done.”
When we change our expectations to match reality, we are already more equipped to trust what is happening when we have setbacks, big or small. By assuming that rising to the top includes some failures along the way, we are more immune to needlessly questioning ourselves, our horses or our choice of lifestyle or hobby when the inevitable difficulties rear their ugly faces. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Once we have a handle on what the real process looks like, we can start to develop trust in it. However, it is still difficult to keep the faith when we are in the midst of overcoming performance difficulties. When we enter these periods, we also tend to enter problem-solving mode, where we seek the right thing to correct it.
Unfortunately, we are not always great at delineating the exact nature of the difficulty. When a problem arises, is it because your horse is sore? Because your horse needs different training? Is it your mental strategy that needs work? Do you need to change your swing? Your horsemanship? Your timing? The list can seemingly go on forever. When this occurs, there is a natural propensity to feel frantic and even desperate to find the solution. We start looking for advice.
While seeking guidance and suggestions from others is a fantastic way to enhance our skill sets and trouble-shoot our difficulties, it can be taken to an extreme. We begin to try a million different things from one competition round to the next without allowing time for the changes to actually be beneficial. We are also vulnerable to listening to bad advice and doing things that we would never do in other situations. Essentially, we start haphazardly throwing anything at the problem, frenziedly trying to find something that will stick.
Smith admits that during low times he has sometimes sought advice from less-than-credible sources simply because they were around. However, he recognizes that he was searching for someone to confirm what he already knew: namely, how to get back to the blueprint of fundamentals he knows will work.
“Don’t get by yourself and away from people. When I’ve stayed away from the heat of battle, I’ve stayed off track,” Smith said. “I surround myself with good mentors. Confide in someone who you trust and has the battle scars of competing.”
For Crawford, his answer is to invest in himself by finding reputable sources for specific help.
“It’s hard to do it all on your own without banging your head against the wall,” Crawford said. “I spend the money to find the guy who is good at where my weakness is.”
An important consideration is to recognize that when push comes to shove, YOU are the one who knows you and your horse best. You are the one who gets to decide whether you use advice you sought or throw it in the trashcan. Even if you feel disconnected from it during difficult times, there is a part of you that truly knows what will and will not work.
In the book, DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, published in 2015, Marsha Linehan describes this part of a person as Wise Mind.
Wise Mind is a state of thinking where Reasonable Mind and Emotion Mind overlap.
Reasonable Mind is associated with the frontal lobe and left hemisphere of the brain and is the logical, calculated part of us that uses reasoning and logic to understand life. Emotion Mind is tuned into what is truly important to us, motivates us and is reactive to circumstances; it is associated with the limbic system and right hemisphere of the brain. Wise Mind synthesizes these aspects to have a thinking style that is intuitive, balanced and grounded.
In essence, by using Wise Mind, you are activating more areas of your brain at the same time to evaluate a situation. You draw the most appropriate conclusions and feel settled about your decisions, even without immediate improvement (although positive development will occur along the trajectory of the real process discussed before).
Crawford finds Wise Mind through knowing who he is aside from how he is performing in the arena and making an effort to not take defeat personally.
Smith described how he seeks to feel settled, focused, relieved and back in the groove, which demonstrates the Wise Mind state.
“When I back into the box and I feel like I’m in an arm-wrestling match between trusting in myself and the process and the doubts and fears, I settle in by picking one fundamental I’ve been working on during the week and focus on executing that correctly,” Smith explained. “It’s like a weight has been lifted off of me. That one fundamental helps me to focus and triggers a reaction like dominoes for the rest of it to go right.”
When trying to find Wise Mind, start by taking a step back and taking a deep breath. We almost never make our best decisions from a place of desperation (which is a state associated with Emotion Mind only). You may still feel distraught, but you do not need to allow feelings to call the shots.
When you arrive at the Wise Mind answer, it will feel solid, intuitive and free from conflict. It may not be the ultimate and immediate “end” of your difficulty, but it will certainly be a step in the right direction instead of flailing around hoping that someone, somewhere holds the key. Rather, YOU will have the answer to moving in the right direction, even though the course is sure to have the ups and downs of those reasonable expectations discussed earlier.
“It’s hard when you get done missing,” Crawford stated. “But failures have created more creativity and drive for me than successes. There is no instant gratification. I’m going to get better and I’m not going to quit.”
“Sometimes getting better looks like hitting a wall and you’ve got to go grind it out,” Smith echoed. “True growth in anything, mentally or physically, comes from continuing to pound on the wall to climb the ladder.”
Learning to have realistic expectations and use Wise Mind to make tough decisions takes time and training. Be patient with yourself and the process. Remember that the best ropers in the business are working at it every day, too.
Disclaimer: This information should not be considered a therapeutic intervention and no client-therapist relationship is established by reading this article.
Dr. Kathy Korell-Rach is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Life Coach and owns Country Counseling, LLC. For more information, see her website at countrycounselingllc.com. She competes for Bar Three Stables by running homegrown horses sired by nationally-ranked barrel horse sire Smoke N Sparks. See more at smokensparks.com.