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That Damn Chimp! Charlotte Cundall's April Blog

The Chimp Paradox book
TwentyTwenty diary

How can life change so much so quickly? Normal life seems so long ago, come to think of it what even is normal? Suddenly the world we are living in now seems normal. What it does show though is just how able we are to adapt to change, even if we don’t like it to start with. When we were first told we had to queue for hours outside a supermarket we thought it was a ‘nightmare’, now we go there expecting it. We are far, far more rational about the situation as it has become normal.

Right now I would like to have been telling you how my 2020 competition season was in full swing and we had been getting higher and higher percentages each time we went out, but I can’t! I can instead reminisce about days gone by – in February!

After what seemed like a winter of more rain, more wind, more rain, more wind, oh and the odd storm in the mix too we headed to the Winter Regional Championships with LJT Simply Red. At this point I could choose not to tell you that I did two classes and make it all sound like everything is always rosy but I’m not going to because that simply is not real life….so here goes.

First test, Advanced Medium silver, it was ‘nice’, no major blips, but just a bit nice not wow. I knew I had a second test just over an hour later and I think I subconsciously just didn’t push enough, I was saving him and with that I just didn’t squeeze everything out of the test that I could, and more importantly, should have done. I mean, it was not dreadful; we finished 4th. That is not horrendous at a regionals BUT I know it could have been so much better. So cue the sense of inadequacy, an overwhelming feeling of ‘I’m obviously useless’, and a crushing fixation of ‘why did I just let that happen’. In response to this I calmly locked myself away in the lorry for a quiet 15 minutes and had a strong word with myself. Out I came for the second test, the Advanced Medium Freestyle, with a completely different hat on, (metaphorically obviously). I went into that test positively and can honestly say I rode every stride and Red gave me his all. We were both committed to showing what we can do, and we wanted it. I came out of the test happy, I was satisfied that we’d given it our all, I had no regrets and at that point it didn’t matter where we finished as I felt calm in my mind that I’d done all that I could. With that in mind I just hoped the result would hopefully look after itself, which it did…We were Advanced Medium Freestyle Regional Champions and had booked our golden ticket to the Nationals at Hartpury.

I just hope that this shows how important mindset is. Within the space of two hours I had a HUGE range of emotions and it was important that I took control of them to aid my performance. I learnt a lot that day. Days like that cannot be bought, they aid our development as competitors so much. If it always goes perfectly how do you learn to deal with these kinds of situations? We all train in the arena, so why not train the mind too?

‘ I don’t need a psychologist’, ‘I’m fine’, ‘I can cope’, ‘I don’t get nervous’, ‘I don’t need help’; these are all things you hear when you mention to people about looking after their mind. The stigma surrounding mental health is still far too strong. In the horse world it is apparently not OK to admit that maybe you are not as strong as everyone thinks you are. Well it is OK, and far more people out there will be ‘caring for their mind’ in someway even if they are not publicising it. I know for me it is a hugely important part of my training, and life. I enjoy training my mind just as much as I do the horses, its addictive, the more you learn about why people behave the way they do the more you want to learn! At that moment between the two tests at the regionals I delved into my ‘toolbox’ and put systems in place to sort out the problem. If I had not done the training, I would not have had the tools.

So, what do I use...The Chimp model from Professor Steve Peters…If I can advise one book you should read during lockdown it is The Chimp Paradox.

I am not going to go into detail but essentially there are three parts of our brain, the Human, the Chimp and the Computer and it is about learning how these three elements work and interact together.

The Chimp is irrational, black and white, and catastrophic, the Human is rational, has perspective and is evidence based and the Computer is the go-to for guidance in dealing with situations. Think of it as your hard drive.

Now here is another scenario I had to deal with this winter when contemplating driving the lorry…

Setting the scene IT WAS VERY WINDY!!!!! I was absolutely convinced that we were obviously going to get blown over. My chimp was going crazy telling me that if we drove the lorry we were undoubtably going to get blown over, probably into a ditch, how would I get the horses out, I mean my chimp had predicted it to be as bad as it possibly could be. I was nearly beside myself! Then the human kicked in and looked at the road, evidence showed that lots of other lorries were driving quite safely and I had not, and still have not seen a lorry blow over. Please do not see this as me saying it is safe to drive in dangerous conditions, I absolutely would not do it, I am just using this as an example of how strong the mind is and how that damn chimp can take over a situation very quickly!

Now it makes sense, why we all felt as we did when we were ‘locked down’ and when we had to queue at the supermarket for the first time, the chimp was going mad! It was irrational and catastrophic, it did not like the change. But now, even for those who did not know how their mind was working, the human has kicked in, we have perspective, we are rational about queuing and we know why we are doing it. I can genuinely say that the model has been so useful to me during these changing times, (not just in the supermarket scenario I assure you, that was just a simple example) – so get on to Amazon and get the book ordered!

Happy reading and stay safe.

Charlotte xx

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