Episode 161: The power of “I don’t know how…”

The phrase “I don’t know how” is often said with a sense of defeat but it can also be freeing. ‘I don’t know how…but I’m going for it anyway.’
What if it means you are ready to learn?
If you do decide to go for it…you’ll likely experience ‘want’, as in wanting it.
‘Want’ can be uncomfortable and is often tangled together with disappointment, failure, and self criticism.
Have you ever practiced ‘wanting’? I’ll share an example of a way to develop the strength to sit with pure WANT…


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I help riders become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. This episode is all about the phrase, “I don’t know how.” It’s going to be about the discomfort of wanting, the discomfort of possible failure. And these four words dream. How want and discomfort? First, let’s start with this idea, the phrase, “I don’t know how.” If I say it, I can actually say it a couple of different ways. I can say, “I don’t know how” in a very defeated kind of way. I don’t know how. I don’t know. I don’t know how. Or I could actually say it with freedom. Can you imagine that? Can you say it out loud right now with a feeling of freedom? I don’t know how. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I’ve never done it before. I don’t know how. Of course, I’m going to make mistakes, I don’t know how, I’m learning. It’s really fascinating to me that the phrase, “I don’t know how,” can actually be freeing. Because I think that for me, the phrase, “I don’t know how,” has come to mean, I’m set up to learn. I don’t know how, but I’m going to figure it out. I want to give you an example of this. So one of the things that I’m considering, one of the things that I’m working into my 2022 goals is bridleless riding. So I want to bring bridleless riding back into the work that I’m doing with my horses. And I’m not exactly clear yet on what that means, but I am clear that I want to do it. I also, when I’m thinking about setting my goals for 2022, I also want to earn my silver medal with Willow in traditional dressage. And immediately, especially when both of those phrases come out of my mouth, immediately, my brain goes to what? Wait. Ok, no. Look 2021 one goal was silver medal. You didn’t achieve it. And all of these thoughts will pop into my mind, even if I don’t let them be clear enough to to be phrased as I can feel them in my body. I can feel this reaction to the idea that I’m going to repeat a goal from 2021 in 2022, and especially when I think about mixing bridleless riding in to my goals for 2022. One phrase that is kind of clear from my brain is, don’t you remember mixing reining in dressage last year? How’d that work? Because the answer is it didn’t work. If you want to count it as, did I earn money in reining and earn my silver medal in traditional dressage? The answer to that is no. So on one hand, my brain is correct that it didn’t work, but it’s not playing nice in the spirit of things because in the spirit of things, it didn’t work if you measure–one of my goals was to earn reining money and my silver medal. And although I didn’t do that, so on one hand, I can say it didn’t work, I did earn reining money, and I did show in traditional dressage at a higher level. And so on another hand, it did work. Basically, I want to just tell you this right now, because if your brain is offering you similar thoughts of, yeah, you shouldn’t be having these thoughts. You shouldn’t be combining these. What do you thinking when you’re when you’re thinking about your dreams and your goals and 2022? If your brain is saying some of this stuff, I just want to tell you it’s totally normal. They’ve done all these different studies and they’ll say that your brain has like 60000 thoughts a day. Just pop it in your mind nonstop and you just don’t control that many of them. Even if you practice, you can learn to control a lot of them, but you can’t learn to control all of them. Or I haven’t found the study yet that says you can.

Stacy Westfall: So your brain is going to offer you all kinds of different thoughts. And when I was thinking about recording this episode and I’m in the middle of, you know, thinking about what I want to set for goals and how I want to measure those, and then last week’s episode about yearly themes, I’m weaving all this together because I’m in the middle of doing it. So the next layer down for me here is why am I setting these goals? Especially things that look conflicting on the surface. You know, bridleless riding, traditional dressage goals. So here’s what I’m thinking. I go back to my why. I go back to like, why do I want to do all of these things with horses? What is my why? My why is even bigger than my yearly goal. My why goes even above my yearly theme. You should see my hands. I’m like going higher and higher, like a rainbow arc here. And so it’s like my why is the biggest overarching thing. And then my–my yearly theme is kind of below that and then my goals are below that. And so every time something like this idea of a goal is–is challenged by my brain or challenging, I want to go up to those bigger levels and I want to know like, what’s my why for doing this? And–and for me, the interesting thing about exploring that is similar to what I talked about in last week’s with the idea of yearly themes is it’s like when I get up to the bigger why, this is where a lot of those more vague words for me live. Because it’s a little bit more like these dream-like things like I want to learn all I can about horses. That’s not super measurable. I want to know. I just want to continue learning. I want to learn more. And so that’s a lot like when people say they want confidence or different things like that. Some of those feel like they’re this more hard-to-measure thing, and that’s because they’re up in that upper layer, that more dream-like layer. And then for me, what I do is I take those down into the more measurable goals. Like for this year, something’s going to–it’s going to be something like showing for my silver medal in traditional dressage and practicing bridleless riding. I haven’t decided how I’m going to measure the bridleless riding yet, but the why is because I want to learn all I can about horses. And then when I think about my current goals, even when they–especially when they look mixed like bridleless riding and traditional dressage, I really want to make sure that those goals are actually going to help me achieve my why. Now my why is that I want to learn all I can and my why, my personal why, is also about really seeing how all of these different disciplines within the horse world, how do they complement each other? How do they challenge each other? Are there places that they contradict each other? I want to know that because that really fits into my biggest why. And if it fits into my biggest why then that means those goals of aiming for bridleless riding and traditional dressage silver medal in the same year seems really contradictory on the surface. But if you go all the way to my why, which is that I actually want to learn how the disciplines complement each other, challenge each other, maybe contradict each other, then all of a sudden you go like, Oh, well, yeah, now it totally makes sense that you’d be doing that. Here’s where it doesn’t make sense. If I purely wanted the awards, if I wanted to just say I want to do the very best, you know, I want to–I want to secure the odds on this straight path towards my silver medal, then I wouldn’t be mixing in the bridleless riding. And last year, I wouldn’t have mixed in–or 2021, this year, I wouldn’t have mixed in the reining. Mixing those in does not create the straighter path to winning the award. I might win the award. I might not win the award. It does not create the straighter path. In case you are confused, in case you’re sitting there trying to make your, you know, plans and yours look a little bit more straight-line than mine, there’s nothing wrong with straight-line when you’re going for those goals. And in fact, I 100 percent encourage you to especially do that when you are practicing goal-setting in the beginning, because you can see with more clarity the path that you are on and how it may be, you know, maybe is, you know, if there’s–if you’re doing something that could be contradictory. Because on the surface, somebody could look at mine and think, Well, you failed to get your silver medal last year and you’re going on a very crooked path again this year. But if you remember that my bigger why is to actually really understand the dance between the disciplines now it doesn’t look like a crooked path. Now it actually looks like a straight path. But if you were just aiming for the award, the silver medal or the bridleless riding or neck reining or riding down the trail, feeling like you had, you know, safe, secure steering, stopping, whatever you’re aiming for there when you’re aiming for it, you really want this clarity of the why. Because that clarity of the why is actually going to help in that goal-setting. Because if my clarity of my why doesn’t, if my goals don’t point me to actually really understanding that why even deeper, then I’m kind of in trouble.

Stacy Westfall: So–commonly I see people that will be setting kind of a goal of like confidence, but then they’re not putting a real, measurable thing behind that. And I get it because confidence doesn’t seem like you’d be able to put measurable things. But if you’re–if you’re thinking at the end of the year, I would know that I had confidence if I could go out and ride my horse on this specific trail with another horse or alone or in a group, whatever the challenge is, because each one of those is a different challenge for a different horse and rider. But if you were actually taking it to like, I want to know that I feel confident in this situation now. All of a sudden you have a measurable situation and you have it pointing towards, you know, this bigger goal of this confidence. And, you know, enjoying your horse, enjoying time with your horse, whatever that means to you. And so you’ve got to keep going up and down through these things and making sure they all line up because, for example, somebody could be listening to this podcast. They could be wanting more confidence in the trail riding and they could hear me setting goals in the show pen and they could say, Well, maybe if I set the show pen goals, that’ll somehow help. That’s not a lot of clarity. And now don’t get me wrong, like I see with clarity how those dance together, and maybe your goal is to explore how those dance together for a year. Explore how the arena work could help you with your trail riding. Now, that’s really an interesting thing, because you can start to see how it’s like, Oh, OK. My ultimate goal is confidence. My way I would love to measure it is confidence on the trail. I’m willing to do this work to get to that bigger. Why? Because I want to enjoy this horse I have like I did a horse that I had in the past or like I’ve seen other people do. And so this is why I’m so interested in explaining to you guys the difference and that that dance up and down through those bigger concepts that feel a little bit more dreamlike or they feel a little bit harder to measure, but then also bringing home the importance of being able to have these measurable goals. Because the interesting piece here with the phrase, “I don’t know how,” and the idea that I’m proposing about “I don’t know how” can actually be kind of freeing is that I think it’s interesting that I don’t know how bridleless riding and working on my silver medal in dressage–I don’t know how that’s going to work out together. But interesting, I don’t know how it’s going to positively work, but I do immediately know some of the problems. Can you hear–can you hear why your brain would be like, this is all a bad idea because I don’t know how it’s going to work out in the end? I don’t know how in December of 2022, I will be able to…I’ll have so much more clarity, I do know that. I know in December of 2022 after exploring bridleless riding and my silver medal in traditional dressage, I don’t know what that path will look like, but I do know I will have learned a lot. Right now in December 2021, I already know some of the problems. So I know that because I’m mixing different ideas, bridleless riding is a completely different concept idea than traditional dressage. There’s overlap, I know that already. But because I’m mixing techniques and I know this because I have–I have experience with bridleless riding and I know the techniques over there and I have some experience with traditional dressage, so I have some ideas there. What I know is that my muscle memory, because of the path I’ve been on in my life of riding, I know that my muscle memory for the way I’ve been doing bridleless riding is different than my muscle memory for showing in traditional dressage. That could be seen as a–a pro or a con or a–I don’t know, let’s see what that looks like at the end of 2022 and what my–what I’ve learned. Anyway, just an interesting line of thinking I thought I would share with you because I am challenging my horses to learn both, and I’m challenging myself to learn both. So it is more challenging and I’m accepting that up front.

Stacy Westfall: I really want to earn my silver medal with a horse that I trained, which is why I’ve been saying I want to earn it with Willow. I really want to do it with a horse that knows multiple things because I want to feel any of those contradictions that are there. The interesting thing about wanting is that wanting is a little bit uncomfortable. It’s especially uncomfortable if you tell other people that you want something because when I tell you here on the podcast that I want something, there is a different feeling of–of accountability or realness that comes when–when I tell somebody about it and I just had someone email me last week and they said, I’m–I’m just going to tell you what my goal is because I’m going to just put it out there. And I emailed back, Thanks for sharing it, because it is, it changes it when you actually share it with someone. And I think the want, it’s just it’s a really interesting feeling to explore, because a lot of times there’s a discomfort in wanting. And I think right now around the holidays is a great time to remember how it feels to want because I think it’s really easy to see little kids who are perfectly demonstrating this. I remember wanting something for Christmas. I remember that feeling of anticipation, that build-up, that wanting, that longing. And I remember the getting it, and I remember the not getting it. I remember the disappointment of not getting something. I remember the–the wanting and then my brain wants to remember the disappointment even more than it does the fulfillment. And what I think is really interesting, if you slow down during this holiday season, maybe you’re watching one too many holiday Netflix movies like I’ve been doing some. I think what’s interesting is when you’ve got that want, I want you to explore it from the thoughts of a child and then the thoughts of an adult. And what’s really interesting is when I do that work, I think that as an adult, it’s even more common to experience both levels, meaning there’s the level of wanting in a child-like kind of a way. But then adults tend to, from my observation and definitely from my own life, adults tend to be much more self-critical of the failure or the not getting. So the wanting I’m talking about when we’re setting goals feels like you have more control over it than the wanting that you did when you were a kid and you were wanting to have something under the–under the Christmas tree. So there’s an interesting dance here of feeling want, but then also don’t blame want. Don’t–don’t say like the wanting is that hard when it’s really like you being self-critical of failure. Because that’s actually a different feeling than wanting. Wanting–you might have the two tied together–you might have wanting and failure and critical all tied together. If you can separate them out, then you can actually get a little bit more OK with the discomfort of wanting, and maybe you can untangle to where you can get the discomfort of possible failure isn’t as bad, and I purposely use the word failure on purpose because I’m OK with it. Like I want to be OK with taking risks, I want to be OK with saying, I don’t know, but I’m willing to try. I don’t know, but I’m going to keep going. I don’t know for sure if this will be the year that I’ll get my silver medal, but I do know I’ll learn a lot and I do know that if I really decide that that particular goal is hard and fast, I do know a straighter line to get there. But I’m OK with the idea that I could fail again and I’m OK with going for it and I’m OK with mixing it. I’m OK with failure because I’ve gotten OK with the discomfort. And when you get comfortable with discomfort, a lot of things open up. There’s a quote from Brooke Castillo that I love, and it says, “discomfort is the currency of your dreams.” And I think it’s so true. I told you guys about my 10k adventure, you know, this year and there was discomfort in learning to run a 10k, and there’s discomfort in, you know, trying a new discipline and there’s discomfort in telling you guys my goals and not reaching them. And I’m OK with that because I’ve seen what I can buy with discomfort. I can see how many of my dreams come true because I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Stacy Westfall: So here’s how this applies to you. Let me make this like kind of wandering episode. Let me make it a little bit more clear. Here’s how it can apply. Number one, take a look at your goal, your dream, and your why. Make sure you kind of know how they’re different. Like the dream can be kind of big, and maybe it’s got this airy kind of a feel, and a lot of times to me, that’s where my why lives. And then the goal for this year is what you’re going to aim for. That, if you achieved it, would actually lead you closer to that dream and that why. And then take a look at what it would be like to allow the how to reveal itself. You don’t know how. Of course, you don’t know how. You’ve never done it before. If you’ve done it before, then you know how. But even if you’ve done pieces of it before like I have, I still don’t know how it’s all going to come together. I’m going to allow it to reveal itself. And then I’m giving you one final, actionable thing for practicing wanting. So I’m not sure that you’re totally sold on the idea that wanting is a good thing because I think we’ve associated wanting with some other things. So here’s a positive way to practice wanting. I learned this last year on accident, and it’s been a crazy, powerful way for me to really feel wanting. Last year I bought a present for someone and I bought it really early because I was afraid it was going to sell out. So I had this amazing gift in my possession for over a month. I–I thought, this is an unbelievable gift. They’re going to be so excited and it came and I had it for over a month and I really, really wanted to give the gift. Have you ever been in this situation? You get something that you’re going to give to someone and you really want to give that gift. I could feel the want so bad. And it’s funny, even as I talk about it right now, I can start to feel it again. I can feel like in my chest, I can feel this like excitement but pressure. I wanted to give this. And now this is where it gets a little bit interesting because I’ve done that before, in the past, and when I felt that pressure of wanting to tell or give the gift, I’ve actually told other people about it before. Last year, I told no one. Because I was kind of onto to myself with the feeling of want, and I could feel that I wanted to give it and I could feel where telling someone, let’s just use my mom as an example. Let’s say that I told my mom about it, even though it wasn’t for her. If I had told her, it would have relieved some of the pressure of the wanting. This, a lot of times falls under a phrase like, I’m going to share the excitement I want. I’m so excited. I just want to share it with somebody else. And then five of us can all–can all kind of be excited about it now. It started out that I didn’t want to say anything because I was trying to keep that whole like, you know, reducing my chances of–of them finding out what the gift was. But I could really early on, because of all this awareness work that I’ve done, I could really feel that desire that was–that was actually really–although I wanted to share the excitement and tell people I could actually feel how that was going to relieve a certain pressure I was feeling. And that’s when I got really curious about what it would be like just to sit with that pressure, so I didn’t tell a single person. From the time I ordered it, until the time I gave it, it was so interesting. Two weeks into this, I thought I was going to explode with the idea of wanting to tell someone. But I could also feel the muscle that I was developing, which was a strength to sit with the feeling of want, and I’m going to call this pure want. I think sometimes the idea of wanting something feels selfish. So when I tell you to practice wanting, especially if it’s a goal of something you want to achieve, I think sometimes people wrestle with the idea of a feeling worthy to want that. This is why this idea of buying something or making something–you could totally hand make something for someone–and then waiting to give them something that you are totally sure they’re going to be super excited about and you’re going to wait. That is a really beautiful way to feel pure want because you’re just wanting and it was so much harder than I ever would have guessed it would have been. I wanted so badly to give the gift. I wanted to share my excitement with people around me. I really wanted to relieve the discomfort of wanting so much. And you know what happened? I enjoyed that present so much way before they ever got it. I enjoyed that present, unbelievably, when they got it. And I’m still enjoying that present that I gave a year ago today, all because I practiced and I sat with wanting. Discomfort is the currency of your dreams. 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:

Episode 160: Yearly theme instead of goal?


  1. Kaye Delaibau on December 15, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Stacey, I’ve listened to all of your podcasts multiple times and I’m learning so much! Thank you!! I’m 67 years on this planet and started working with horses at 59. I have a Navajo Pony (16 hands high ?) and a BLM mustang from Nevada, both were ‘gift horses’ (read problem horses). As you can imagine I’ve bitten off a LOT. But we are coming along…it’s an amazing adventure in every way.
    Anyway, I am loving this season. You can’t imagine how timely it is for me. Every new episode hits another nail on the head. This is actually in response to 161 and I created this picture for my online vision board. I thought I would share it with you. Pass it on if you want to ??❣️
    Kaye in Flagstaff Az

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