Last summer, a few months after starting on an intense new project, I realised I was spending my weeks going to and from work, and then using my weekends to recover. All my time and energy was taken up by throwing myself whole heartedly into this exciting challenge. It took around 3 months of this for me to realise it wasn’t sustainable, and that a source of distraction would be very welcome, if not essential, for me to maintain this level of effort and intensity. I decided to invest in a new hobby – one that was also a challenge, but felt indulgent as it was entirely just to bring me joy – horse riding lessons!
I’m not very good at switching off entirely – I generally need structured support to do this, either in the form of a yoga class, or a guided meditation. So I’m not entirely surprised that I ended up with another structured form of play! But what I didn’t expect from the regular classes was the benefit of switching off from everything else in life and focusing entirely on the matter at hand – staying on the horse! I also didn’t expect to learn so much about myself in the process – particularly around the best ways for me to learn.
Although I was incredibly nervous when I began, my instructor would calmly and patiently describe the initial steps I needed to take, and would explain exactly why I needed to take them – weight distribution, posture, tension in the body all sends clear signals to the horse, so I needed to make sure I sent the right ones. And when I did, the sense of accomplishment was exhilarating – I could see a clear connection of cause and effect: I had made this happen. Combined with the calming effect of simply being near horses, my regular lessons are a source of rejuvenation – giving my brain a chance to process information in a way that works perfectly for me, and experience that rare sensation of pure, unadulterated, childlike joy. Exactly what I needed to maintain my focus at work.
Shonda Rhimes, the “titan” behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, captures the importance of this need for playtime in her Ted Talk – My Year of Saying Yes to Everything