Sports Psychology with Dr. Darby Bonomi: Frustration — A Guide Out of the Cloud

Sports and performance psychologist Dr. Darby Bonomi is back to address a common issue: Frustration.  This post originally appeared on our sister site, Eventing Nation.  Words by Dr. Bonomi.

Frustration. It’s a cloud of dark energy that hovers over us. Under it, we feel stuck and irritated, unable to see our way out of a situation. We all hate that helpless, overwhelmed feeling—especially us riders who thrive on action plans.

As you know, nothing gets worked out in a state of frustration. Certainly nothing in the saddle gets fixed. My feeling is that if you’re overcome with frustration on the back of a horse, you’d better get off and sort it out before you bring your horse back into it. So, what if you find yourself in that yucky frustration cloud? Maybe you can’t figure out a problem horse, or you can’t seem to find a distance to a jump, or you have a client who is driving you nuts. Here are steps to lead you out of your storm.

Olympian Lauren Billys, a client of Dr. Darby Bonomi, on Castle Larchfield Purdy at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Photo by Jenni Autry.

First and foremost, remember:

Frustration means you FEEL stuck. It doesn’t mean you ARE stuck.

Step 1. Lean in to the frustrating situation. Yes, I want you to feel whatever it is. In order to get out of the cloud, you first have to accept it, and then sit with it. Paradoxically, once you accept whatever it is, you will feel relief. You have already begun to let go of the resistance.

Frustration is resistance to accepting what IS.

Step 2. Now approach the situation from a more neutral head space. In order to move forward, you need to look at the problem more objectively and less emotionally. This may be challenging because you may not like what you see. There will be things that you can’t change. It won’t feel good. That’s OK. That’s not the issue here. Your job is to embrace and accept what is.

There may be things you can’t change, but there are other things you CAN change.

Step 3. From your neutral, full-acceptance state of being, you will now see options and be able to make choices. Now you’re in the driver’s seat again: it’s a place that most of us riders feel comfortable. Remember, we don’t mind challenges. We are great with tough, sticky situations. After all, we deal with horses on a daily basis! It’s when we resist what is in front of us that we get stuck in the frustration muck.

Here is an example from a client this week. She is very frustrated with a horse she has had for a long time. Hers is a familiar story of chronic injury, recovery, bad behavior, re-injury, and so on. She continually bangs her head against the proverbial barn wall about what to do. The frustration, in my view, stems from the fact that she wants this horse to be something other than he is. She continues to throw time, money, and energy into him, resisting the signs that he’s not the horse she hoped he was going be. Yes, it’s very painful to see and feel, but it’s only if she allows herself to stop resisting and see the situation clearly that she will be able to start thinking about options and find a way to move forward.

Sound familiar? This is a complicated example of frustration, but we all encounter smaller versions on a daily basis. Challenge yourself to lean into your own frustration, accept the situation as it is, and evaluate it from more neutral ground. I bet you’ll feel lighter and more empowered to take next steps, even if they aren’t what you hoped for.

Relief from the frustration cloud resides first and foremost in giving up the resistance to what is and then moving forward with acceptance and clarity.

Have questions? Need a hand out of the muck? Reach out!

About Dr. Bonomi

Darby Bonomi, PhDis a Sport and Performance Psychologist. She works with equestrians of all disciplines, and other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the saddle. For more information or to contact Dr. Bonomi, click here.