In the Race of Life Are You Playing the Horse, Jockey, or Trainer?
A new way of looking at self-motivation.
On race day millions of people will watch the jockey and the horse triumphantly cross the finish line and both become well know. However, horse racing is a lot like most things in life. It’s not exactly what it appears to be. Behind the scenes, there is a trainer who brought all the pieces together to make this victory possible.
Horse racing has three major players: the horse, the jockey, and the trainer. The horse runs because that’s what he does, the jockey rides and keeps the horse on the track, and the trainer brings it all together through proper planning and discipline.
When reflecting on myself and my life thus far I’m often amazed by the drastic swings in motivation. I think back to some periods when it seemed like I could accomplish anything. No task too big, no obstacle to difficult. In seasons like this, I can pursue my potential with endless energy and vigor. While at other times I can barely motivate myself to get out of bed in the morning.
Why is it that we have these drastic swings in motivation? Some seasons we can do anything. Some, we just want to huddle under the blankets and stay warm.
Certainly, the ability of a horse to win a race is partially dependent on genes, but if it was only based on genes then why doesn’t the long list of Kentucky Derby winners correspond with the family tree of the first champion? Likewise, our motivation is sometimes based on things out of our control. Part of these motivational swings is simply a part of being a human, an inherent flaw, a bug in our system, it's in our genes. But this is only a small piece of the puzzle. Our internal motivation is something that can be learned, practiced, and trained.
Although your well of motivation is not always overflowing. You can control how efficiently you use the motivation that you do have, but you must first be aware of what race you are running.
A racehorse is incapable of self-awareness. He doesn’t know the purpose of the race he’s running. He doesn’t know where the finish line is, or how many laps to run. He has no idea what the other horses and jockeys around him are doing. And I’m sure he’s quite surprised that millions of people show up to watch him do what he was born to do; to run.
All the horse knows is he’s feeling a tug on his bridle to go somewhere. If he does nothing he feels spurs painfully digging into his sides. If he runs the wrong way the spurs dig even deeper. However, if he runs in the correct direction he feels pretty good. He has no idea why he has to run towards this arbitrary finish line he just knows it feels better than spurs digging into his side.
Most of us live our days as a horse. We feel a tug on our bridle to do something. We feel lots of different pains in our sides that make us react. Yet, we have no idea where our finish line is or why we are running.
Our second player, the jockey, knows the end destination. The jockey is trying to get the horse on the right track to success. The horse doesn’t know why he feels pain but he knows if he doesn’t correct his course he’s going to continue to feel pain in his side and the jockey is there to give him those painful reminders.
The jockey is the real you, your subconscious, your soul. Your jockey knows where you really want to be in life. And your jockey will continue kicking you in the side with spurs until you get on the right track.
The horse only wants to avoid the pain of the spurs and experience the pleasure of running swiftly with the wind in his face.
The reason so many of us feel so much pain day-to-day is because we are only aware of our horse’s thinking. Too often our horse and our jockey are not on the same page. The jockey wants to go one direction and the horse wants to go another.
Your jockey wants to live near mountains, paint in the morning, do social work in the afternoon and dine with friends in the evening, but your horse is living by the beach, working 80 hours a week at a dead-end job, and drinking at home alone every night. This is painful.
The horse must keep moving, it's what he was born to do. Life must always keep moving. But it's a lot less painful if the horse and the jockey are on the same page.
Who gets the horse and the jockey on the same page? I don’t know much about horse racing but I know it's the trainer, and he’s our third player. The trainer knows where the jockey wants to go and knows how to get the horse ready for it. The jockey's job is simply to sit on the horse and let the horse do its thing, occasionally inflicting a little pain to remind the horse what to do. It is the trainer's job to see the big picture.
The trainer must understand the rules of the race being run. He must have a feel for the natural talents of the horse and how to get the most out of those talents. It is the trainer's responsibility to whip the horse into shape, to discipline the horse, and get it moving on the same page as the jockey.
Are you running through life without grasping the rules of the race you are running? No thought about where the finish line lies? No idea about the best method of running the race? Constantly feeling the pain of the spurs without knowing why?
The spurs are only there to get you on the right track. The jockey that is your soul is just trying to help you reach your potential, but to only feel the pain of the spurs in your side and not understand why is a terribly painful experience.
The pain comes in many forms some of which we call: stress, anxiety, or depression. This is because you, as the horse are quite unaware of the message this pain is trying to send you. It’s a miserable thing to lay in bed depressed with no motivation. It’s equally challenging to feel the anxiety of forcing yourself to do something every day your soul has no desire to do.
The jockey’s job is to ride the horse from the gates to the finish. He doesn’t fully understand the talents of the horse or why the horse isn’t cooperating. The jockey only knows to inflict pain when your acting contrary to your desires. Your soul just wants to fulfill its potential, but he can’t do it alone. He needs the horse to get him there. The animal is the one who does the hard work.
If you are able to zoom out and see your life in the macro view, you can find what that inner-you really wants. You can be honest with yourself, brutally honest, and realize that the direction the horse has been running is not in alignment with the jockey that is your soul.
As the trainer, you can then decide which direction the horse needs to go. You can use your powers of goal setting and discipline to get the horse on the right track and train him to stay there. You can use visualization journaling to communicate to your jockey how to get the most of your natural inclinations. And as you go through your journey your jockey will notice when the horse is veering off course. He’ll give a little dig in your side. You can feel that pain and respond.
There is immense power in being able to step out of the movie that is your life and analyze what is actually going on. Without being able to play the role of trainer, you are just the combination of a jockey who wants one thing and a horse who wants another. The horse constantly has spurs in his side and the jockey never gets to where he’s trying to go. And in that story, no one wins.
It is the trainer, the mastermind behind the scenes that brings it all together. Likewise, it is your conscious rational thought which no one else sees, that brings all the pieces together so you can perform well on race day. The challenge is to get out of the horse mindset of pleasure and pain and into the trainer mindset of the big picture.
The best way I’ve found to do this is to pick a day. Schedule it or you won’t do it. Leave your technology at home, take a pen and paper, go to a spot that inspires you (a beautiful spot in nature, or a cool coffee shop, etc..), and start writing. Your goal is to put your mind on paper. To find out what the jockey is thinking and what the horse has been doing wrong to cause this pain.
At first, you won’t know where to take it but start dumping your brain on paper. Ask yourself things like “what do I want to accomplish this year?” “what I’m I proud of in my life so far?” “What’s most important to me?” “When in my life have I felt the most motivated?” “When have I felt the least motivated?”
Soon patterns will start to emerge and you’ll start to see which route your jockey wants to take. Then it will become painfully obvious where your horse has been making his mistakes, what habits have been killing your success, what relationships and responsibilities need to be dropped, what new skills, relationships, and habits you need to foster.
Once it is obvious where your jockey is trying to go and what your horse brings to the table you need to do what trainers of all kinds do. Make a daily action plan. Your instructions for training your horse.
Remember this, when you get back to your life, your responsibilities, and your cellphone you’re no longer seeing things through the eyes of the trainer. You’ve lost your ability to see the big picture. You’re going to be the horse again. And the horse doesn’t know anything. He only wants to avoid the spurs in his side and run with the wind in his face.
While you have this brief moment of clarity, this short time to see things as the trainer does, you must make changes to your environment, structure your habits, audit your relationships, and look at your schedule in a way that will get your horse and jockey on the same page running swiftly towards the desires you have.
So you make the plan and you train the horse, and you keep moving towards your finish line. A few months later, when you feel the slightly uncomfortable dig of the spurs again, you realize you need to make a few changes. And you go back to the drawing board. It’s an endless cycle. It’s life. It's the process of forging yourself from nothing into something. You cannot do an exercise like this just once.
You may think that every single month, you can’t afford to spend a whole day writing and thinking about these kinds of things. I’m telling you that you cannot afford not to.
The horse and jockey you see in front of the cameras and flashing lights on race day are only successful because of the mastermind of the trainer behind the scenes. Who saw the big picture, made a plan, executed, and repeated.