Praise without conditions

I notice something interesting when I teach people, especially women. When I pay attention to improvements and make a big deal of them, many people are often immediately suspicious.
The conversation might go something like this:
Me: “you rode that circle very nicely!”
Student: “well I still didn’t get a good rythm, my right leg is still too tight and my horse didn’t bend well.”
Me: “ok but it still is a really nice improvement”
Student : “well it could be better”

It sometimes seems that our brains are committed to focusing on the negative aspects of our work, that we aren’t allowed to be proud of our improvements. When I ask my students to tell me something they did well, they often look visibly uncomfortable, and if they can come up with something, they add conditions to it. “I got better at x, BUT I still didn’t do y and z.” I tell them often that a successful moment doesn’t need to be described with conditions. You can be aware of what needs improvement without needing to beat yourself over the head with it.

I also think people can get accustomed to the authoritarian type teacher who just hollers your every failure at you, until you accept you are never going to be as good as them. So a teacher who compliments their improvement and draws on their strengths draws suspicion – maybe the teacher doesn’t know anything if they think I’m good.

The thing is, I would never in a million years teach a horse the way some people have become used to being taught. Hanging your failures over your head puts too much emphasis on your shortcomings. Yes I can see what your leg is doing, but we’ll get to that. One thing at a time. When you ride with a laundry list of your own faults, you don’t reward yourself, or notice your accomplishments – and you don’t notice the horse’s either. You can’t help it. You think you’re being hard on yourself but you’re hard on the horse too.

You are allowed to be proud of your improvements. In fact, I highly recommend it.

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