Boogie has never particularly liked loading on the trailer. He’s nervous about it, hesitant to get in. We’ve always been able to get him to go in eventually, but it’s rarely smooth. I asked around at lessons, and among the horse owners I knew. Most people recommended just continuing to load him as we had been: forcing him to go into the trailer, regardless of what he wanted. People held the prevailing attitude that a horse shouldn’t make decisions, or have preferences. If he didn’t want to do something, tough. He had to do it anyway.
The thing is, when you try to force a horse to do something it’s resisting, over and over, you create a brace. By making him go into the trailer against his will, we were making each time progressively more difficult. He started to anticipate the struggle, and set up his resistance to it before we even started.
Once horses develop a brace, it’s very difficult to undo it. You can’t physically force a half-ton animal to move, in the way you might pick up a squalling toddler. You can’t reason with a creature that doesn’t have language. As much as I’d love to be able to tell Boogie that he’s going in the trailer because we’re headed to lessons – and have him understand me – I can’t. I have to engage him in other ways, ways that are relevant to his experience as a horse. Language and reasoning don’t ground his mind the way they do mine. He can’t get unstuck from his brace through thinking. To work through an issue, Boogie needs movement.
I think of it this way: we can go right at the things that frighten us, right through the things we’re braced against. Or we can see the obstructions in our lives and find ways to step around them. There’s a time for the battering-ram approach, of course – sometimes, things just need to get done. On the other hand, I think we don’t appreciate navigating around obstacles as much as we could. Why step through when you could step around? Why constantly fight through a situation that you could instead solve a different way?
Now, when Boogie hesitates before getting in the trailer, I don’t try to force the issue. Instead, I move his feet. I ask him to walk forwards, backwards, and to the side. We play little games, walking in circles, exploring personal space and relationships. In playing the games, I engage his mind, and remind him that he trusts me. When we’re done, we’ve re-established rapport. Now, when I ask him to walk into the trailer, I’m not just an unknown person asking him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I’m asking him as a partner, as a trusted friend. He doesn’t have to brace against me, because he knows I won’t force him to do something. As a result, we can work together instead of against each other.
We all resist things that make us uncomfortable
We all have things we resist. If you’ve ever had kids – or seen a kid – you know people come by that resistance honestly. It’s totally natural to try to figure out our spaces in the world by deciding what we want to do and when we want to do it. For a toddler, that might mean resisting brushing teeth or putting shoes on. For a teenager, it might mean pushing the boundaries on curfew or groaning about chores. Adults do it too: putting things off again and again, or avoiding situations rather than dealing with them. How many people do you know who wait until the last minute to file their taxes, or make plans with friends only to cancel, or who hate one particular household task?
I can guarantee you also have areas you’ve developed a brace against. Mine is sharing. I live in horror of the moment early in a new conversation when questions about me come up. My instinct is to shut down, or shrug off the question. I want to mask it in small talk or turn it around so I’m no longer the focus of attention. As you can probably imagine, it’s hard for me to get past this and into a more serious conversation, especially with someone I haven’t known for a long time.
The good news, though, is that bracing against these kinds of interactions is a learned behavior. It’s the way I shield myself from tough questions. Growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity for much stability and calm. I became the peacemaker, trying to make myself invisible while also smoothing the way for the people around me. I didn’t want to talk about what was going on with me, because I wasn’t at peace with it. Over time, my avoidance and resistance became so ingrained they felt like part of my personality. They weren’t part of my personality, though. They were just a reaction – a learned one, repeated often enough that I couldn’t easily replace them.
Over the years since I recognized this about myself, I’ve had to learn new behaviors. I might not need to literally move my feet, the way Boogie does when facing his trailer, but I do have to move some metaphorical feet. I have to take a side step, redirecting my thoughts from the brace against sharing and into the joy of meeting someone new. I need to move in a new direction.
Stop bracing and start moving
I’m not here to be a self-help guru and give you ten steps towards overcoming your braces. But I am here with a little of the same honest love I bring to my clients. I’m challenging you to take a little time, sit down with a mug of something comforting and a notebook, and ponder what you brace against. Do you avoid dealing with conflicts among your team to the point where they become long-term issues? Do you clam up when people ask you why your product is worth its price? Do you always think “I should really _____” without taking steps to do it? What have you resolved to change, over and over, without ever really succeeding?
Once you’ve identified your braces, it’s time to change the pattern of thinking around them. If you’re braced against posting to social media regularly, but know it would help your business, can you delegate the task? Can you write out the posts for the month so you only have to think about them once? Can you come up with a few ideas and cycle through variations on them? How can you keep moving without just plowing headlong at the problem?
Write down what you think about. Then, the next time you find yourself bracing, go back and think about the movements you can make. Take a step to the side, or a step back. That first step is both the simplest and the most difficult. When you do it, though, you find your feet again. You find your balance. It’s a good place to be.