By Riesa Lakin
December 2, 2020
Anyone who rides horses knows just how mental of a sport it can be. Yet, it can also be one of the most ignored aspects of our ride—which is understandable given that we’re constantly assessing our body position, where our horse is going, what type of stride they have, if there are any distractions inside or outside of the ring, along with about a million other concerns both related and unrelated to riding. So, it’s easy to see how staying in check with our thoughts can get away from us. However, our mindset can really make or break our ride and overall experience around these amazing creatures.
The power of the mindset is not a new concept. Athletes and sports organizations are recognizing more and more how the right mindset can help give athletes an edge that leads to better performance. A key asset to many athletes’ game and competitive edge is Peter Crone.
Also known as the Mind Architect, Peter has worked with equestrians, MLB and NBA players, PGA golf professionals, Olympic athletes and many other to better understand their thoughts, limiting beliefs, and patterns to set them free of what holds them back. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Peter with the intention of looking at all of the ways, consciously or subconsciously, we may be sabotaging our results—from top-level competition to just being able to show up for that lesson or ride without any fear and anxiety of what may or may not go wrong. What I gained from our conversation is that mastering your mindset for sports is just one tiny benefit of doing his work. In actuality, his work can allow you to completely transform your life the minute you get out of your own way by identifying your limiting beliefs and moving past them to live your best life.
Check out the full interview below for Peter’s wise words on how to take control of our mindset, which allows us to not only improve your athletic performances with horses, but also improve how we show up in our daily lives.
Peter Crone works with athletes, executives, and more to help them better understand their thoughts, limiting beliefs, and patterns to set them free of what holds them back. Image courtesy of Peter Crone.
Thanks for speaking with me today. Can you share a little about how you work with athletes? What is it that brings them to work with you?
The overall intention with anyone I work with is at the most fundamental level to create a unique perspective, a different mindset—basically a different lens to look through. That is independent of anything that anyone is doing, regardless of whether you are an equestrian rider or I’m working with an Olympic sailor, an MLB baseball player, a PGA tour golfer, an NBA basketball player, or a high-end, billionaire executive, or VIP, etc. Regardless of whoI'm working with, what they’re doing is secondary. I’m not so interested in that initially; obviously, it relates, but what I'm helping people discover is a new set of eyes.
There’s one quote on my website that people tend to really relate to and like, which is by Marcel Proust where he says, “The journey of true discovery lies not in finding new lands, but in looking through new eyes.”You see, if you find new land, you're finding something in the current context.So, you're looking from the same perspective and you found something else within that perspective. I'm helping people discover a new perspective; therefore, everything becomes new.
What I'm helping people discover is a new set of eyes.
Does that mean that when an athlete comes to see you, the work they seek help with isn’t actually about the sport itself, but maybe something bigger or more personal that may be limiting their ability in life, in work, or within that sport?
Correct. I would say our external circumstances are just an excuse. They’re purely the catalyst to reveal some internal constraints. When people really get that, it's very profound because most people are doing it the other way around. They want to control their external world in order to try and elicit an internal experience. That’s a very logical human approach, right? “If only…” fill in the blank… “I was competing better,” or “If I'd won that class,” or “If I made it to the U.S. team, then I would be okay, or I'd feel fulfilled…I would feel sufficient or worthy.” But no, it's actually the long way around. I invite people to see what’s happening outside of them that is eliciting some internal experience of limitation? That's where the treasure lies. We want to use the external world to reveal what the narrative is that you have about yourself that makes you feel somehow inadequate insecure or have a perception of limitation.
So, let’s take baseball for example. We know that when a pitcher is on the mound, there’s a mental dance taking place between the pitcher and the batter to try and strike them out. But that pressure, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, seems to be less about the actual pitch, and more about what happens if that pitch is a “success” or “failure.” Similarly, horseback riding can be extremely mental, but again, is that mental pressure we feel actually about the task at hand or the mindset we have around that task and what it means to either accomplish that task or not—like riding a certain horse, competing, learning to jump, or learning anything new?
Yes, because if you look at the cascade of events, what we're doing is the byproduct of what we're thinking and feeling. Action or behavior is driven by thoughts and feelings. There's a hierarchy in terms of performance. The results that we get in life are always an inextricable extension of what we're doing—action is the precursor to outcomes.
What I do is I reverse engineer it. Using the pitcher is a perfect example. I had a New York Yankees pitcher that was a client of mine. He had a very rough season a few years ago, meaning that he gave up a lot of runs. His ERA (earned run average) was around 11. Not great, right? The best in the business have ERAs around two to four. So, he came to me [for help].
Now what happens is the brain—based on past failings or past disappointments, and therefore past hurt—is designed to predict and protect. So, he’s standing on the mound and his brain, the thoughts and feelings he has, are concerned about giving up more runs. This then creates internal anxiety and resistance. Because he's thinking and feeling that way, it influences his actions, meaning the way he throws, which is not going to be as smooth, or as confident, or as in a flow state as it’d be if he didn't have those thoughts, concerns, or feelings. With him, it's one of my favorite stories because the transformation was so powerful. He went from an ERA of 11, and from the day we worked together in 2018, for the rest of the season he had an ERA of less than two, which is massive!
Image courtesy of Jose Francisco via Unsplash.
“What happened, happened, and couldn't have happened any other way because it didn't..." It's the degree to which you're okay with that, the degree to which you can accept that is what brings freedom.
I helped him recognize what was happening. I helped him see that he was fighting a history that he can't do anything about. The brain is trying to avoid repeating past hurt. It’s very logical. Say as a kid you put your hand on a stove and burn it, so obviously you don’t want to do it again. The next time you see a stove, you get scared. So, with horses, say for example that someone had a bad fall because of a certain type of jump. I’ve helped a few people who’ve had very serious falls. For this example, let’s say this person had a bad fall over an oxer. Now, subconsciously they are concerned because they got hurt, which is totally natural because it was scary. At the end of the day, as human beings, we want to survive. So, you get this flood of emotions and these feelings about what could happen, like you could have broken your wrist or have even been paralyzed. There’s all this, “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” which adds to the significance of the event, so next time you face an oxer it’s like “ugh.” Similarly, to the Yankees pitcher, it's about recognizing that your history has got nothing to do with the present time. Nothing. What's done is done. First of all, it’s the awareness of that, because all you're actually fighting is your memory of something. It's not an actual experience to be concerned about in real-time. It's a recollection of something that has already finished. One of my quotes that I say is, “What happened, happened, and couldn't have happened any other way because it didn't.” There’s so much humility and profound acceptance in that because we realize that we all make mistakes from time-to-time. That’s part of being human. It's unavoidable. It's the degree to which you're okay with that, the degree to which you can accept that is what brings freedom.
There’s a quote I like by Winston Churchill. He said, “Success is marching from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” And that's what my athletes do really well. They learn the mechanics of the mind because I'm teaching them that—similar to that Yankees pitcher who all of a sudden became super confident because he realized that history has got nothing to do with today. It's literally a clean slate every time he went out to pitch on the mound. He’s never pitched in that moment because it’s a new moment in time. So, it's like having that blank canvas to be able to just perform without any resistance or concern.
Image courtesy of Lindsay Douglass.
Now, there are certain steps in terms of progress. Let's say someone did have an accident. They had a bad fall in the sport of jumping and it’s associated particularly with an oxer. First of all, we’ve got to get them to a place where it's okay. They've got to be able to allow the concern. It’s ok, we’re all human. You’re not supposed to just suddenly be bulletproof. But we want to recognize that what you're concerned about is something that's already happened, and now the mind is superimposing history into the future. We're trying to avoid something, and that’s how the brain works as part of its protection mechanism—we got hurt. And it’s not just with jumping—it can be with relationships, health, or finances.
For example, “I put some money in the stock market once and I lost it all. I'm not going to do that again!” Or, “I really opened up with that last boyfriend and gave him my heart, and then he left me. I got my heartbroken and now I’m going to make sure I protect myself moving forward.” These are very logical human approaches to self-preservation, but they’re also the precursor to resignation and isolation because we shut ourselves down. It's about constantly opening up even in the face of some sense of disappointment. That takes a lot of courage. So, awareness is the first part of recognizing that what happened, happened, as I said earlier, couldn’t have happened any other way because it didn't. You get this profound acceptance, and then there may be a process of progression.
Going back to the example of the rider who had the bad fall at the oxer, let’s say it was a 1.50-meter jump in a five-star class. They may need to start with a 1.20-meter oxer to see that style of jump again, but at a place where their brain can remember that this is easy, and then build up again just like anybody who started as a junior and worked their way up. That would be a simple behavioral adaptation to get back to a place of confidence.
The same with this basketball player that I worked with, he was the worst free throw shooter in the league at 37%. The league average was75%, so you can imagine the embarrassment, frustration, and anxiety when he was put on the free throw line. I went to his house around the first month of the season, and I said to him, “If I told you that you shot the league average for the rest of the season, how would you feel?” His face lit up like a little boy. He said, “Oh my God! That would be f—ing amazing!” I told him what I just proposed is as real as the future that you’re worried about. They’re both made up. We’re still sitting in your kitchen. But him feeling amazing as an athlete with an immense amount of talent is the emotional precursor to better performance. Conversely, regardless of how much talent, him feeling anticipation and anxiety is the precursor to compromised performance. That's where you start to see that our minds are ultimately the most powerful tool that we have in terms of how we're creating our life and particularly how we relate to our future.
Peter Crone teaches clients that our minds are the most powerful tool that we have in terms of how we're creating our life and particularly how we relate to our future. Image courtesy of Peter Crone.
The power of the mindset is really incredible. And like anything else in life, even with a positive mindset, we’re not going to “win”or “succeed” every time. And, sometimes when we least expect it, we run into triggers that can easily set us back to old fears. How do we stop ourselves when we feel like we’re back in situations that didn’t previously provide the results we were looking for? How do we sit with the result and look at it as a lesson, instead of seeing it as another failure?
I like to say, “We're all masterpieces and simultaneously a work in progress.” The masterpiece is we’re all extraordinary and we are the only us on the planet. We’re the only version of us, and that’s pretty amazing. I mean that’s rare! But to what degree do people treat themselves with that sense of self-worth and value? That's where there's a huge disparity between perceived worth, as an expression of life versus self-perceived worth based on ego, which is usually “I'm an idiot, I’m a loser, I’m a failure” (Peter says jokingly).
We’ve got to recognize the beauty and the exquisiteness of what it is to be human, period. It's not something I have to do to get value, which is something we’ve become conditioned to believe: I’m only going to get loved by my caregivers, mom, dad, whomever, when I perform. That's when you're screwed, because you're collapsing your internal worth with external validation. The masterpiece is where you recognize that you are the only you on the planet and that warrants reverence. That's the default setting, which is innately that you are a value asset because you're the only you. Simultaneously, we are a work in progress, meaning we get to explore our potential. There's the value of being a unique human. Then, there’s the joy of exploring our potential. We get to see what we can do with the hand we’ve been dealt.
That makes sense, but as humans, we seem to get attached to everything.
Yes, so again our value is inherent—innate, and the exploration part is, “What am I going to do with my life?” Within that process of exploration, there's always going to be “the wrong turn” or “the less than ideal turn,” which in terms of sports is perceived failures, disappointment, and shortcomings. But that's part of exploration, so get over it (Peter says while laughing)!
Look at the medical industry—they call it a practice! A doctor is a well-paid professional, yet they make lots of mistakes, even at times resulting in death. So, with our own pursuits, whether it’s riding, baseball, or golf, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, because you’re always a work in progress.
If every athlete had that mindset, would it be as competitive or do you think we’d all be better athletes, overall?
It's a great question. I think both. I think we would be better athletes because we'd have less internal resistance, internal angst, and internal self-judgment, which is a precursor to someone feeling freer and therefore better able to perform. So, that would make us better athletes, but therefore simultaneously more competitive because we've raised the bar.
You know the expression of all boats rise with the tide? There is going to be more competition because, if we look at the progression of sports over time, the athletes performing in their respective sports always show some form of evolution. Golf courses are getting longer, baseball players are hitting balls further, and sprinters are running faster. There is a natural progression in the direction of becoming enhanced in all sports.
Now a lot of that has to do with a better understanding of technique, biomechanics of the body, better fueling in terms of food, supplements, and nutrition. But I would say one of the biggest components is an improved mindset.
Did you happen to see the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance?
I was wondering what your thoughts are on the “tough love” approach. In the documentary, Jordan talks about how he would push the people around him really hard, but it was in the name of making them better. He also was extremely focused on perfection. What is the balance between putting pressure on yourself and/or others vs. removing pressure so that you can have a clearer mindset? For Jordan, you see that tough love and focus on perfection as something that drove him to improve and be better. Whereas for some athletes, like the Yankees pitcher you helped, the pressure resulted in poor performance. Is there a balance between the two different mindsets?
I think it's sort of that perennial question, and I think ultimately, it could only be answered circumstantially, meaning that it depends on the individual. Did you ever see the movie Whiplash? It's about a kid who's in music school learning the drums. The instructor is a complete a—. And, SPOILER ALERT, you see the benefit over time of that approach.
Personally, I embody love with tough love with my clients. One thing I say that is really a cornerstone of my own life and my approach to living is, “I simply don't have time to feel sorry for myself.” Now if you feel into the energy of that, it would be a tough-love approach, right? I just don't have time to feel sorry for myself. What that speaks to is that I've got a bigger commitment to living an extraordinary life. I'm not going to sit around and mope in some sort of self-pity party. Now, for some people, that’s going to be too hard. So, that’s why I said it’s going to be circumstantial. It’s going to be dependent on who you're talking to.
For example, one of my first showjumping clients responds well to me getting in her face. I’m like, “Pull your head out of your a—. Stop being a child, get out there and kick some a—.” I mean I’m sort of paraphrasing here, but that’s basically my approach with her. Now, sometimes she also needs me to energetically hold her. So, for some riders that I work with, they may respond better to tough love. Then there’s somebody else that maybe my approach has to be a little bit more mollycoddling so they feel held and they feel seen. I always have a foundation of genuine love and compassion for people, which allows them to trust me, so then I can deliver a little bit more potent medicine when required.
Peter Crone with top American Showjumper, Adrienne Sternlicht. Image courtesy of Peter Crone.
That relationship sounds familiar to the relationship equestrians have with their trainers and coaches. There are trainers of all kinds in the horse world. Some are big on tough love, some may even seem borderline abusive and then, conversely, there are others who are on the quiet side and maybe aren’t as vocal with their feedback or feelings. What should equestrians think about when it comes to choosing a trainer or anyone who helps them with their riding?
It's a very difficult question for me to answer without getting to know the individual because it comes down to a customized approach. But what I would say is that the biggest thing with all of my work is context. What does that mean? I can be completely in your face with tough love, not a drill sergeant, but I can deliver the medicine in that form and the deeper context of me doing that is, “I love you.” Now, what that means is I'm being tough, or I'm being straight, or I'm being direct with someone because what I'm saying is, “I believe in you. You’re extraordinary, so let’s not accept anything less.” Can you see that's actually a nurturing context? And that's why my method works, I would assert. Conversely, when you find a trainer who's just in your face and is being a d— but doesn't have the background context of care and love, then that’s someone I would suggest you don't work with. That's just somebody who's got anger issues (Peter says with a laugh).
If the background context of the delivery is somebody who truly believes in your possibility and your expansion, then it's healthy. If somebody is simply belittling you for the sake of belittling you and you don't hear the background context of support and belief in you, then that is an unhealthy situation. Meaning I can be tough on someone but at the same time, I will hold space like a parent, a mother, or a father in terms of love and support if they have a bad day or they get some bad news—independent of their sport. I'm showing that I care. The background foundation has to always be, as far asI'm concerned, love and care. In the absence of love and care, that's incumbent upon the rider to be able to recognize, “Does this person really care about me or they just getting in my face?”
That’s so spot on. On a similar note, I would think that anyone who comes into the horse world comes into it from a place of love for and interest in horses. But, when you’ve been riding horses for a while or work in the industry, I sometimes see or hear about a fatigue or that sometimes we can take it for granted. What are some ways people can get off the “hamster wheel” and come back to their love of horses?
I think it's good to just recognize the tendency of the human being to default to complacency.
Okay, is that a subconscious or conscious choice?
That's subconscious. It’s not a conscious choice. Just the default human narrative of, “Here we go again.” There's an assumption that, for example, there's always going to be a tomorrow. That breeds this degree of complacency, which is like, “Well, if I don't do or if I don't get what I want done today, then don't worry. I'll just do it tomorrow.” Hopefully, for the most part, that does end up being accurate. But as we've seen way too often, that is not an absolute given. So, I think it's about a much bigger context of gratitude for the experience of what it is to be human, to be alive, and to not take anything for granted. Now, I preach this, I practice it, I teach it, and I still at times will succumb to my humanness and forget, procrastinate, or become a little bit lethargic. Now, fortunately for me, it's very far and few between.
What do you do when you get there? Is it an awareness of those moments or do you have practices you do to get out of that place?
So, awareness first—always. You’ve got to notice the habit. Then, secondly, I find you need one of two things. Either you’ve got to get a bit of rest—you need to get some more sleep to recharge—or you need to move your a—, like getting in a good workout and sweat. So, it’s usually one of those, and oftentimes a combination of both. If somebody's feeling a little apathetic and they're feeling a little resigned in life, usually what they need is a kick in the a—, which is going to have a good workout, jumping on a Peloton, going for a ride, or for a hike. And then, you start to move some of the stagnant energy in your circulatory system and your lymph system, and you feel invigorated. If somebody feels apathetic or resign because they're just really tired, that's going to have a slightly different quality to it. Then invariably, it's a case of like, “Be responsible for getting some better sleep.”
Yes, I think a lot of people can agree that they’re tired.
Absolutely, because also their fatigue is being contributed by psychological and emotional stress. That isn't healthy, which is what we started this conversation about the pressure of self-judgment and the pressure of putting attachment on outcome, which is fatiguing their adrenals.
Do you think a lot of equestrians are in “fight or flight”mode most of the time?
Yeah, forget about the equestrian world. I would say every human being! (Peter says laughing)
True! I mean it’s scary how comfortable we get with being in this mode. It’s not that it feels good, but it’s what feels comfortable, so it's easy to go back into that mode.
It's the common survival state to be in. And most people, as human beings, are looking through this lens of perceived threat all the time. So, we're trying to survive, which means it puts us in fight or flight. It's not wrong; it's just exhausting.
What is available to you as a human being is directly, inextricably connected to the way that you view the world. Your view of life gives rise to what you think is possible, period. If we change our view of life, then we have a different sense of what's possible.
So, that’s why changing our mindset is really the only way to get out of it, right? Because if we change the way we see things or the stories we tell ourselves—whether it’s “I don’t have nice enough horses or the means to compete at the level I want,” or “my trainer doesn't think I have what it takes, so I should quit,” or “I don’t have the same opportunities as some of these other people,” whatever it is—it's only going to keep us in that negative mindset. Once we are able to remove what you call that cage or prison, that's the only way we can overturn that fight or flight response?
Yes, by being aware of the underlying pattern, being aware of the tendency, and ideally, you want to be able to cross-correlate it with events in your childhood. Then, we get to recognize the pattern, and inquire what does that actually reveal about the way that we see the world.
Ultimately, to go back to the beginning again, what I'm doing is changing people's perspective. Why is that so profound? Because what is available to you as a human being is directly, inextricably connected to the way that you view the world. Your view of life gives rise to what you think is possible, period. If we change our view of life, then we have a different sense of what's possible. That’s why it's so powerful for me to not try and help someone in their current view, which is what like a lot of experts in the world do. No judgement, but when people go and see a psychiatrist or psychologist, even a spiritual teacher or life coach, invariably they’re trying to help the person with their problems—meaning this expert is going to give that person some different information and maybe some advice and strategies of what to do in their current view, which is not super helpful as it is simply trying to improve the space that someone is already stuck in.
Does it have to be one specific moment, trauma, or event from your childhood that you have to identify in order to fix it?
You don’t have to, but it’s helpful. If you can just see what it correlates to as an experience, as an overarching theme, then it's sufficient. Using an example of a male authority figure raising his voice, what that does is it makes a child scared. That’s the emotional response psychologically that’s triggering their feeling that they’re not enough. And that's the view that they're stuck in. “I'm not enough.” It's not a truth. It's the view. So, in the absence of that constraint, how would you feel? They’d say, “Oh my God! I feel like amazing. I feel free.” You see, that's a new you. What we're working on is the internal conditioning. So, the “I'm not enough” is not over there with their (the outsider’s) judgment. It's within the individual in their internal narrative.
Peter Crone with top American Showjumper Adrienne Sternlicht when she won the team gold medal at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Image courtesy of Peter Crone.
Going back to the idea that if we can control our mindset, we can better control the outcome, I think it’s important to acknowledge that it doesn’t mean we’re now going to win every competition we enter or go to the next Olympic Games (especially if we’re not competing at that top-level), right? Because those include a lot of external factors that you can’t control. But if we can use creativity and play to help us with our mindset, essentially, we can unlock endless opportunities to what is possible.
Exactly. It’s our view of life that gives rise to what becomes possible for us, which is why I’m so passionate about helping shift people’s mindset. When you look through a different mental lens, you think differently, you feel differently, you act differently, and consequently create different results. That to me is why the mind is the most powerful tool that any human being has.
To learn more about Peter Crone and his work, you can visit his website at https://www.petercrone.com/ or follow Peter on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Additionally, Peter offers a digital course, The Free Your Mind Series, that shows you how to break down the subconscious constructs that that bind us.