Friday, 30 June 2017

A Reflection on Validation: Part 1
Over the years I have audited a variety of clinics with well-known clinicians.  Although I am an avid student of classical dressage, I find it helpful to learn from clinicians in other disciplines too.  Hearing different perspectives forces me to challenge my own ideas, and even if I come away not agreeing with a clinician, I do come away with a more solid understanding of why I hold the perspective that I do. 

I recently attended a clinic with a well-known clinician and witnessed a behavior among riders that I have seen at many clinics. It got me thinking about why people in all disciplines ride in clinics and the concept of validation.

I heard several riders after their ride with the clinician excitedly making comments like “he said I did that really well, isn’t that awesome?”  or “I’m so happy. It was worth coming just to hear him say I used my seat properly!”  Upon hearing a number of these comments, I asked myself once again “Is that why we go to clinics?  To seek validation that we are good? Aren’t we there to learn something new?

External validation is a well-known concept in psychology.  Dr. Jennifer Kromberg explains it this way:

“As humans, once our basic needs are met, much of our conscious and unconscious-behaviors are meant to make us feel loved and valued. But this love and value can come from external or internal sources. Internally, the source of love and value is self-esteem. And externally, this love and value tends to take one of two forms – either the long-term reinforcement of the self that comes from good friends, family or a committed relationship, or the short-term benefits of narcissistic behaviors in which we seek attention, admiration or adoration. If enough of your external validation comes from attention, it can become an addiction – a dependence on the affirmations of others in order to feel a sense of worth.”
So seeking validation is a very normal and natural human behavior. And in riding, especially when we often ride alone, external validation can help us understand when we are on the right track with our training (or not!). 
In answer to my own question posed above, maybe we go to clinics to seek some level of validation AND to learn something new.  Key, I believe, is not try to make ourselves feel good by repeating to others that a famous person gave us compliment.  Rather let’s be reflective about the compliment: “what exactly was it that he or she said I was doing well and how do I build on that foundation?” And then we can tell people “this famous person said this about my riding and from that I learned…”  This is validation that leads to deeper learning.
Ultimately what should be important to us all is not that a famous person said we did a great job, but that we did a great job and now we know how to do even better next time.
And in part two let’s consider external validation coming from somewhere else…
Take Home Message for Equestrian Educators
Your validation is important for your students.  Everyone likes to be told when they have done something well, and in fact it is a key to successful learning.  But only if the validation leads to deeper understanding. When a student beams proudly because you have just complimented their riding, ask them to think about the next step, or to tell you in their own words what they just did that made that portion of the ride go so well.  Help them make the leap from “I am so excited my instructor just said I did a good job” to  “I am so excited my instructor just said I did a good job and now I really understand….”

April 1 2017