I almost died recently in a horse-riding accident!
Ok, I didn’t almost die. But I was as freaked out as I have been in a long time!
And the whole thing taught me a whole lot about habits.
Let me quickly share with you how I ended up on a horse in the first place, how I almost died (yes, slight exaggeration) and what it teaches all of us about why we do things, even and especially when we don’t want to.
How I was on the back of a horse is a story of charity from a local friend of mine.
My 8-year-old daughter loves horses and has been begging me to ride horses for a few months.
I’ve been waiting and texting a friend of mine who has horses and is willing to let us come over and ride.
Last Saturday it all worked out and we got to go riding!
Now, my expectation was that he might lead my daughter round the chorale a few times at a nice easy walk. My daughter would think that was the most fun thing possible and we would be on our way.
He had something totally different in mind!
When my daughter and I got there, he was saddling up three horses! One for each of us and let me know that we would be going on about an hour-long, 4-mile horseback ride through some nearby trails in the Idaho desert!
This is all fun except for the fact that I haven’t been on a horse in probably close to 30 years (I was about 10-12 the last time!).
But, ready or not, willing or not, we helped my daughter up on an old, tame horse, I pulled myself up into the saddle, and we hit the trail!
Next thing I know, we are in public land on some beautiful Idaho trails
It is important to know that he takes his horses on these same trails quite often. He uses his horses for hunting, and this is their training ground for trail riding when they are out hunting.
We had a wonderful time riding the trails, my daughter loved it, I was having a great time, all was fantastic, right up until the moment I almost died!
We came around a bend in the trail and my friend saw some other people he knew and stopped to talk with them.
My daughter’s horse was not interested in stopping! 😊 Her horse has been on this path hundreds of times and knows exactly where he is going. No need to stop. No need to worry about the efforts of the very small rider on his back!
So, as my friend and I stop my daughter just keeps on going. Now, she is freaking out a bit as her horse pulls further and further away.
Never fear! Dad to the rescue. I’m going to go help my daughter out.
I learned when I was a kid how to get a horse going. I give a small click and a little click and expect him to start at a little walk, maybe speed up into a little trot and I’ll catch up in no time.
So, little click. Small kick.
Suddenly my horse goes from standing still to running as quickly as possible in about 3 steps!
This is not what I had in mind!
The next problem is that I have let my reins get slack. They are too slack for me to pull back strongly and get the horse to stop.
My horse is running at full speed. I have no way to stop her. I’m freaking out. I’m out of control on top of a 900-pound animal galloping straight at my daughter!
In a rare moment of clarity, I grab onto the saddle horn with one hand, tighten the reins in my other hand and am able to pull the horse to a stop right next to my daughter.
To keep it light and cool, I look at my daughter and muster, “Wow, that was fun!”
Inside I’m screaming at the top of my freaked-out lungs!
My friend comes galloping up a minute later calm and full in control. He stops his horse, looks at me and asks, “Did you mean to do that?”
All I can do is laugh!
My friend points out that when he goes on this same trail with the horses, he usually comes around that bend, gives a little click, a soft kick and let the horses really run through this area.
NOW I UNDERSTAND!
My horse has come around that bend dozens of times. Nearly every time he gets a little kick and a click from his rider. That is the sign to really push it!
Today, he simply did what he always does. We got around the bend, he stopped for a minute, then got his usual click and kick and BOOM, he was off!
Only this time, he had a rider on his back that had no idea what to do!
The habits this horse had developed had nearly killed me! 😊 No big deal to him. VERY big deal to me.
I was immediately reminded of something I read about habits and large animals. It was first introduced by Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis and made popular by Chip and Dan Heath in Switch.
There is an analogy to our mind being like a rider on an elephant. An elephant that sometimes gets out of control!
“Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.”
“Most of us are all too familiar with situations in which our Elephant overpowers our Rider. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up your ex at midnight, procrastinated, tried to quit smoking and failed, skipped the gym, gotten angry and said something you regretted, abandoned your Spanish or piano lessons, refused to speak up in a meeting because you were scared, and so on.”
I had just lived this in real life!
I thought I was in control, until the horse decided it wanted to take over!
And for the horse, it was just doing the same thing it had done over and over. It was just living out it’s habits.
Do you ever feel that way in your life? You want to live a certain way, do certain things, avoid bad habits, and yet, the horse comes around the bend and just takes over!
Look at that list from the Heath brothers in the second paragraph above. I think I’ve done all of those things!
Just like you, I’ve lived the horse and rider in my life, too.
I did it just the other night.
I came home from basketball practice for the team I coach. I was ready to hit the exercise bike.
I stopped in the kitchen for some water.
And the horse took over!
Halloween candy. Frozen chocolate chips. A drink of chocolate milk.
Next thing I know, I’m at least 100 calories into straight sugar!
WHY?! I didn’t want to do that!
It was like my mind came around the bend of the kitchen. Got a small kick and a little click and was off to the eating races.
Even though I didn’t want it to.
So, what is to be done?
Well, the challenge is, that just like the horse, we almost always act out of habit. The horse went running because that is what it is used to doing. It had developed a habit of running when it comes around that bend.
We have developed habits, some we want, others we don’t.
The only way to get rid of the old habit is to start a new one.
New habits are most easily formed when we follow the 3 Simple Rules of Habit Formation.
The first key is to realize what the horse of your mind is trying to do. Your horse wants to run. You are the rider that has to be as in control as possible.
When the horse gets out of control:
Grab the reins.
Get back on track.
The worst thing you can do it give up and fall off!
Freak out. Then get yourself back in control.