Episode 158: An inside-out thankfulness assignment
“Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”-Robert Brault
I see a dance between the words; thankful, grateful and compassion. When you make your ’I’m thankful for…’ list, do you make it on the list?
There is a good chance you don’t because many people are worried about feeling vain or narcissistic. What if you could practice thankfulness and self compassion and it improved your relationship with your horse?
In this podcast I discuss thankfulness, self compassion, failure and I share an inside-out thankfulness assignment to increase awareness.
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Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. It is Thanksgiving week when I am recording this and where I’m at and I’m thinking about the theme of thanks. In this podcast, I want to share the dance of three different words that I’ve been looking at this week, and then I’m going to give you one assignment that you may or may not have resistance to. But first, I’d like to open with this quote, “Enjoy the little things for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” When I came across that, I just had to share it because I think it opens really well into the first word, which is thankful. When I looked up thankful in the dictionary it has three different phrases with it, “conscious of benefit,” “received expressive of thanks,” and “well pleased.” And this kind of kicked off my, you know, wild goose chase of looking at different words and articles, and I’m going to read some different things, different article sections here, and all of them will be linked in the show notes to this episode. Over on my website, if you want to read the full articles, but one of the first little blurbs that I read that really impacted me was this: “It’s easy for us to look around the Thanksgiving dinner table and say that we are thankful. Some are surrounded by family and friends and food and in that moment in time, we’re currently experiencing that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with a holiday gathering. We’re thankful. And we may feel thankful for their presence in our lives and happy that everyone is well since the last gathering. However, gratitude goes much deeper than this. It is a state of being where you feel a sense of appreciation that comes from deep within. You were at peace with the world and appreciate that state of affairs deep within. The feeling of calm these thoughts and emotions bring to mind we find fulfilling. Gratitude is more than just the feeling of thankfulness. Being thankful is the first step and we have to have that initial feeling to build upon.”
Stacy Westfall: This was the article on thankfulness that actually led me to the second word, which was gratitude. And it’s interesting because if you look up gratitude, it’s a feeling of appreciation or thanks. So it makes sense that these two words are dancing back and forth. They’re very related. And I also thought it was interesting that gratitude is looked at in two different ways. Gratitude is actually regarded as a trait and or a state of being. And this is just, I don’t know, interesting to me because if you look at it as a trait, it means that you can practice it and you can develop it with practice. When you actually experience it as a state, that is when somebody is expressing gratitude towards you and you are in the state of receiving that. So I thought it was really interesting that it can actually be broken down from kind of two different angles. Gratitude is a trait you can practice, and it’s a state you can be in. That was just a really interesting thing, which kept me searching around. What I liked when I found the word gratitude versus thanks or thanksgiving or thankfulness was that there’s been more research done on it being this deeper thing that affects your body. It was really interesting, I came across an article on gratitude and neurotransmitters. So it’s interesting, it says when we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel good. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. It goes on to say by consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways and strengthen them, ultimately creating a permanent, grateful and positive nature within ourselves. And it was interesting because this same article, you know, listed just a bunch of different things. Gratitude brings happiness, improves health, builds commitment, reduces pain, improves sleep quality, and reduces anxiety and depression. It just kind of went on and on and again, I’ll link to this in the show notes. But to me, it was interesting because it became this process of looking at something as simple as the idea of thanksgiving and giving thanks and taking it another level deeper into gratitude. But to me, this is where my next step was actually kind of what I was looking for all along because I was looking for the depth that I think you can really mine this time for if you start looking for it. And–and here’s how I want to open with this idea. One thing I notice a lot when I am around the horse people that I interact with, so whether it’s people coming here to a clinic or whether it’s people that I’m coaching online, or whether it’s people I’m interacting with on webinars or whatever way I’m interacting with people, out of an expo, wherever that is. I’m around a lot of people that love horses. And I notice a lot of them are in a pretty thankful and even grateful state. Probably one of the words that comes to mind really often for me, when I’m around the people that are attracted to like this podcast and a lot of my work is that they’re very compassionate. And when I say that they’re very compassionate, it’s like I see a lot of people who are willing to do whatever is best for their horses. And it’s interesting. So when I look at this list of like being thankful and being grateful, I don’t have a lot of trouble imagining my listeners going there. And when I look back at like the earlier paragraph that I read that was talking about thankfulness, it was listing family and friends and food and in the moment that warm, fuzzy feeling. And what strikes me in that is that it’s this very, this very external thing. And I think these external reasons for being thankful, I think they’re very valid.
Stacy Westfall: I also wonder sometimes if you guys experience any of this. There’s times and I’m laughing now because I’m thinking about, you know, going to that recent event that I was at and thinking about how the horses were going to the spa and the horses had all these, you know, special blankets and special things that were being done to them so that they could be pampered and well taken care of and I remember laughing at the fact that like we, the riders who were doing this for our horses were not doing a fraction of that for ourselves. And so this was one of my main points here when I started down this rabbit hole, researching this podcast is that I think there’s some kind of a dance going on here between thankful, grateful, and another word that I’m about to introduce to you in just a minute. But the reason why this came to my mind is because I think that there’s this importance in starting to really recognize you in the equation of you and your horse. And you know, on one level, I can be, are you thankful for you? Are you thankful for things that you have done? And what’s interesting is that I see how easy it is for people, myself included to be compassionate with our horses. But I’m often more questioning whether or not those same people can be compassionate with themselves, thankful for themselves, grateful for the things that they’ve done to get where they are and to get where they’re going. And I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be possible for us to explore around this Thanksgiving time and this season of the year to kind of explore the ideas of when we’re around–if you’re around a Thanksgiving table or if you’re, you know, just thinking about this, no matter what time of year you listen to this podcast because I know a lot of you aren’t caught up when you’re–when you’re listening to this. Is it interesting to find, is it easy to give thanks to these external things, but more challenging to kind of be thankful for your participation? Can you use this as a way to study your thoughts? Can you use this as a way to study your emotions? And then if you’ve been listening to me for very long like, say, more than a year, you know, I’m approaching the time of year when I’m going to talk about goal setting. And I have to admit that a lot of my notes for today got scratched and put into another episode because I really wanted to try to tie together for you the idea of using the emotions that you can feel around a time like this Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas, whatever that is for you, that that brings up some of these feelings that maybe get more easily generated because maybe you’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark movies or something like that. But when you’re feeling these emotions, I think it’s interesting to examine how they then fit in with the rest of life. For me, I’m just telling you, this is going to come up again when I talk about goal setting. But right now, just to stay on this topic, Stacy, I want to know about this dance between thankfulness, gratefulness, and even looking at yourself. Now, I think this sentence is what trips most people up, and I haven’t read this book yet, but I did just put it on like my Amazon list. So maybe I’m going to have to buy it. I did consider buying the audio and speed reading it, but it was eight hours and I thought, better record the podcast first. This is the reason why I don’t think people look at thankful and grateful and apply it to themselves.
Stacy Westfall: “It is oftentimes easier to give praise and gratitude to others than ourselves. Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind Yourself, has written that many people are worried about feeling vain or narcissistic.” I think that I think the worry of feeling vain or narcissistic is what stops a lot of people for thinking about applying words like thankful and grateful to themselves. Because one of my questions for you that’s going to come up in the assignment at the end of this podcast is can you be thankful for the things you’ve done that have led you to where you are? Can you be grateful? Can you have these feelings that you can express that you can actually take credit for without feeling vain or narcissistic? And this author, Dr. Christine Neff, has some really cool excerpts I’m going to read right now because here’s what I think is going to help some of us break free from that feeling of vanity if we think about being thankful for the work we’ve done to get here. So a lot of her work is around self-compassion. And listen to this, she wrote, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?” That right there is so helpful because I think so many of us when we are confronted with personal failings are jumping to judging and criticizing. Now jumping down to another excerpt. “The number one reason people give for why they aren’t more self-compassionate is the fear that they will be too easy on themselves. Without constant self-criticism to spur myself on, people worry, won’t I just skip work, eat three tubs of ice cream and watch Oprah reruns all day? In other words, isn’t self-compassion really the same thing as self-indulgent?”
Stacy Westfall: This is what I’m thinking people are thinking when you’re thinking about being compassionate, but I think there’s a tie together with being thankful for what you have done, as well as compassionate for when you fail. This is what I’m saying I’m seeing as a dance. I’m going to read some more. “There is an ever-increasing body of research that attests to the motivational power of self-compassion. Self-compassionate people set high standards for themselves, but they aren’t as upset when they don’t meet their goals. Instead, research shows that they are more likely to set new goals for themselves after failure, rather than wallowing in feelings of frustration and disappointment. Self-compassionate people have more intrinsic motivation in life trying hard because they want to learn and grow, not because they need to impress themselves or others. Self-compassionate people are more likely to take responsibility for their past mistakes while acknowledging them with a greater emotional equanimity. Research also shows this self-compassion helps people engage in healthier behaviors like sticking to their weight loss goals, exercising, quitting smoking and seeking medical care when needed. So self-compassion is not the same as being easy on ourselves. It’s a way of nurturing ourselves so we can reach our full potential.”
Stacy Westfall: Now that I’ve read that, can you hear even more clearly how that dance that I’m sensing between goal setting and thankfulness and self-compassion? Can you see how these to me feel like they’re all woven together? And I’ll throw in a couple more. I think that when you can learn how to practice this self-compassion, I think it’s going to improve your results with your horse because it’s going to improve your relationship with yourself and therefore your relationship with your horse. I’ve said it so many times when people are here and they’re riding. I see it over and over and over again on the videos people send in when I’m watching them. When they switch into frustration aimed towards themselves, their horse can’t tell the difference. The horse just feels the frustration. So as you learn to be more self-compassionate, when you’re with your horse and you make a mistake and you experience self-compassion, it’s a different experience for your horse. So not only are you more likely to stick with it, I actually think in the role of training your own horse, it is very useful if you are not muddying up the waters by expressing some of those things that you could actually deal with around the Thanksgiving table. You could practice self-compassion. You could practice being thankful. You could practice these feelings of how you want to treat yourself when things don’t go quite right because, you know, in the long run, it’s actually going to help you not only in your life, but with your horses. That was said in that order on purpose. Horses then life.
Stacy Westfall: Ok, so here’s your Thanksgiving assignment if you choose to accept it. I want you to make a list. Now before you tune me out and think this is your regular Thanksgiving list. It is not your regular positive Thanksgiving list. I’m actually going to challenge you to do the opposite. I want to challenge you to look for five things that you set out to do in the last year that you tried to do that you wrote down a list that you did not accomplish. I want you to write down five things you did not accomplish. Maybe you want to say you failed, maybe you want to say you came close. Maybe you even think you partly reached it, but mostly didn’t. I want you to write down something that you had as a goal and it did not have the outcome you desired. I want you to look for those five things that you set out to do. The very bare minimum is that you wrote it down or you told someone else about it. Maybe you didn’t even make it to step two of taking some action. Maybe you made it to step 102 and you took a lot of action and you still didn’t reach it or you partially reached it. I want to write five of these things down, and then I want you to carry this list around you for the next few days while you go through Thanksgiving here. Or if it’s not Thanksgiving where you are or when you listen to this, I want to carry this list around with you for a week and I want you to look for the ways that these things you didn’t achieve can dance with these three words. Thankful, grateful, self-compassion. I want you to consider how those words could interact with those failed goals. I don’t want you looking for the good ones. You’re already going to do that. I want you looking for the failed ones. And as a reminder, failure is simply the omission of an occurrence or a performance. That’s the dictionary translation. Failure, you didn’t get the outcome you desired. I’m going to share one with you here of mine. So I publicly stated here on the podcast that one of my goals for this year was to earn my silver medal in traditional dressage with Willow this year. And I didn’t do that. And some of you want to say the year is not over. Go for it. I thought about that. But when I thought about it, I realized that there are not enough shows in this state, in Ohio for me to still try for it this year. And I realized that when I started Googling, driving thousands of miles to do this, that it was actually coming from a grasp-y, desperate kind of a feeling instead of an acceptance or a calm moving towards the goal. And that was me processing the idea that I have failed at this goal. I am accepting it now in November because I’m also not willing to change the way I was going to get it by driving all over the country to try to squeeze this in because that’s not the energy I want to go for it. But when I look back at this goal and I want to look at the dance of these words, I look at the goal and I think, here in November, I can see things now that I didn’t know when I set up the goal. When I made the goal back in January, I made some mistakes in my calculations. What that means, for example, is that when I wrote down all the shows that I could go to this year in order to give myself a chance to–to not even achieve it in the first rides like that–I could even allow for some mistakes to happen and not get the scores I needed. When I wrote down all those shows I did that work but I didn’t realize that not all the dressage shows I wrote down offered the classes that I needed to show in for the silver. So I didn’t realize because I’m not that experienced in traditional dressage to realize that not all of the shows were going to offer all of those classes. So by the time I got to the part of the year, because the first part of my year was spent reaching one of my other goals, which was earning some reining money, NRHA reining money with Willow, I wanted to do that and I had that penciled in for the beginning of the year. And then when I got to the part of the year where I was going to transition into showing dressage from showing reining, that’s when I started to realize what was going on here. So I then did have the chance to do some showing in traditional dressage, but not enough and not the right classes to be able to go for my silver medal. So now in November, I accept the fact that I’m not going to reach that goal, and it doesn’t take away that there’s some disappointment that I didn’t reach that goal and it doesn’t take away that there was a moment in there that I felt–when I felt that disappointment when I recognized my mistake in the calendaring it. I had that temptation to be very self-critical and like judge myself, but it was pretty easy to catch because it’s like I’m going to judge myself for not knowing what I didn’t know. Come on, it doesn’t even make sense. Sometimes when you set big goals, when they’re stretch goals, they’re not repeats, you don’t actually know what you’re missing. It’s the whole unconsciously incompetent. You know, I now looking back and think, well, I guess I could have talked to my dressage trainer. I guess I could have talked to some people that show local, I just didn’t–there weren’t enough other steps that I just didn’t know. But when I look at this and I start thinking about thankful and grateful and self-compassion, I can see that it’s actually that ability to get to that self-compassion and not be stuck in wallowing that actually was made me able in that time frame to actually pivot from the goal of earning my silver medal in traditional dressage and pivot to going to the AQHA World Show. So when I, you know, just talked not too long ago about–about going out to the American Quarter Horse Association World Show, doing that was actually my pivot away from a failed goal. And I think that the ability to dance with being thankful for challenging myself and allowing myself to process that disappointment but also having that compassion and then seeing that even though I failed–and it’s OK to say the word failed. It’s OK to say it and not feel bad. I didn’t reach my desired outcome of having my silver medal or really going for my silver medal. I didn’t get as far along that path that I wanted to. But that’s OK, because I know how to be thankful and grateful for all the work that was done and all the learning that was done, and I was able to then take that and pivot it. And that’s kind of some of the work I want to know if you’re interested in doing this inside-out Thanksgiving assignment. I want you to go back and look for those failures because I’m telling you the better you get at looking at failures and realizing that it’s just an omission of an outcome that you wanted, you just didn’t get it done yet. So I think there’s some workaround here that could really set you up for success in the coming year. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.
Announcer: If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.
Links mentioned in podcast:
It’s easy for us to look around the Thanksgiving dinner table and say that we are thankful. Some are surrounded by family, friends, and food and in that moment in time, we’re currently experiencing that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with a holiday gathering; we’re thankful. We may feel thankful for their presence in our lives, and happy that everyone is well since the last gathering.
However, gratitude goes much deeper than this. It is a state of being, where you feel a sense of appreciation that comes from deep within. You are at peace with the world, and appreciate that state of affairs deep within. The feeling of calm these thoughts and emotions bring to mind we find fulfilling.
Gratitude is more than just the feeling of thankfulness. Being thankful is the first step, and we have to have that initial feeling to build upon.[https://www.psychmc.com/articles/difference-between-gratitude-and-thankfulness]
Gratitude And Neurotransmitters
When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.[https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/]
It is often times easier to give praise and gratitude to others than ourselves. Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has written that many people are worried about feeling vain or narcissistic…
The number-one reason people give for why they aren’t more self-compassionate is the fear that they will be too easy on themselves. Without constant self-criticism to spur myself on, people worry, won’t I just skip work, eat three tubs of ice cream and watch Oprah reruns all day? In others words, isn’t self-compassion really the same thing as self-indulgence?
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An interesting exercise indeed! I listened to this episode before chores the day after Thanksgiving. Chore-time is my opportunity for walking meditation as I scoop poop out of the horse pen. Perhaps cleaning the horse pen has become synonymous with cleaning up my mind and emotions.
I found myself realizing something I didn’t accomplish this year and immediately defending that with, “Yeah but…” and therein discovered an entirely new layer for this exploration.
Thank you for all you offer us Stacy!
Róisín, Hot Rod, Wily & Captain
Very thankful for you!!!
Just being able to hear your podcasts, and see your approach to the spiritual aspect of horses, has brought enormous joy to my life!!
Judith and Curly