Setting Goals: Authenticity, Vulnerability and Your “Deep Why”

Equestrian culture places a strong emphasis on skill and style. While we seek feedback from the professionals that we engage and sometimes receive scrutiny from our peers - riders are often their own worst critic. When the influence of internal and external pressures create a unique combination of athletic and social competitiveness, it can be easy to get entangled in a cycle of seeking validation. We can end up losing focus on our goals or worse, compromising our connection with our horse.

The path to achieving our goals is to embrace authenticity and vulnerability. This is as simple as accepting where you are now, even though it may not be where you want to be. Looking deep and being unapologetically honest with ourselves can be uncomfortable, but that’s okay! When we are aware of the reasons behind it, discomfort is what inspires us to grow. This is the starting point from which we can begin to look forward.

Acknowledging that where we are “now” is simply the beginning of the route to our goal. This sets us up to take our next step from a place of intention. The key to growth is finding the knowledge and support required to develop a path that builds success upon success. From here we can set goals and reverse engineer a successful course forward.

World renowned psychologist Dr. Albert Bandura’s Theory of Agency provides a map towards understanding how to own and create our path to success. It takes a social-cognitive approach towards the human ability to direct one's own life rather than simply being reactive to outside influences. Dr. Bandura’s belief is that “the capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one's life is the essence of humanness.”

There are four core features of human agency1.

  • Intentionality- Choosing to take action with an expected outcome, rather than reacting to outside influence on a situation by situation basis.

  • Forethought- Looking ahead to the future and setting distal or long term goals based on future projection.

  • Self-Reactiveness- Taking account of your behaviors and patterns in relation to distal goals and setting shorter term, proximal goals to ensure progressive success towards long term goals.

  • Self-Reflectiveness- Evaluating your motivation, values, and meaning in relation to your goals.

When we set our goals, to give them weight and meaning, it is important not only to address the “What”, but the also the “Why.” The “What” is usually a pretty easy question to answer. It could be something as small as mastering lead changes, or something as big as competing in a national or international competition. The hard and really important question is, “Why?” Answers like “because my trainer says so,” or “because I want to win” are simply not good enough reasons. A goal is sustainable when our “Why,” comes from a much deeper place. It must become a “Deep Why”.

Our “Deep Why” can only be found reflecting deeply and honestly about the passion that carries us as equestrians. When we define our “Deep Why”, our “What” has powerful intrinsic meaning. When we can tap into that passion, we can zero in on our goal and move forward, confident that we have purpose in what we do. Our “Deep Why” becomes our compass, keeping us on track when the terrain gets tough.

1 Bandura, Albert. "Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective." Annual review of psychology 52.1 (2001): 1-26.

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