When the horse dies, it's time to get off

2011

I read an article recently in which the author talked about how we can maximize our time. I was struck by the last item on her list; simply, it stated: "and finally, when the horse dies, get off!"

What an interesting piece of advice! Blunt and to the point. So I thought I might tug on your sleeve as well and perhaps suggest taking a minute or two to consider any "dead horses" you may be riding.

Dead horses are all of the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" that drive our lives. Often we're completely unaware of them. These dead horses take the form of self-images that we think we need to live up to, the beliefs, habits and routines that run our lives. They show up as the relentless demands and expectations we make on ourselves.

These dead horses are forever popping up in our jobs, in our lifestyles or in our relationships. And yet, for no apparent reason, we continue to try and ride our dead horses despite the fact that they send us into states of regret, agitation, anger, frustration, resentment and even depression.

Perhaps right now you are spending precious time and energy trying to resuscitate your dead horses, painfully dragging them along into today, tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. We make ourselves believe that if we just try harder, keep on keeping on, these dead horses will come back to life better than ever. Or well tell ourselves that if we are less demanding and more accepting, these dead horses will generate renewed energy and live to ride again.

Or perhaps we are hoping that a miracle will happen and our dead horses will suddenly become healthy so we can ride off into the sunset. Just like TV - fantasies and fairy tales.

Maybe we're rationalizing that our horse really isn't dead; that all it needs is some good old "R&R". So we reject our reality and distract ourselves from the truth of our situation. And after days, weeks, months and years of resisting, rejecting, and distracting ourselves, we're still waiting for the dead horse to show some life, and so we wait, and wait, hope and pray, but to no avail.

Then, too, there are those of us who try to convince ourselves that life will be grand if we just carry the horse - like it will come out of its coma at some point. So, we just haul it around until life comes back into it. We think that if we nurture it, support it, and help it, it will resurrect. It's called denial.

Unfortunately, all the while, we do know, yet resist admitting, carrying a dead horse on our shoulders is very tiring, debilitating, self-sabotaging and counter-productive.

So, as you contemplate your life, this may be a wonderful opportunity to be curious about your dead horses. What are the issues you're facing in your life at home, at work and at play? Are they the same as, or similar to, the dead horses you carried around in this year, or 2010, 2000, 2009, or even earlier?

Some questions for self-reflection

  • In what areas of your life do you feel disengaged?
  • What are you doing at work that does not support your performance, but keep doing it nevertheless?
  • Are you achieving your goals at home or at work? Do you consistently engage in beliefs, and actions that run counter to effective goal achievement?
  • Many folks spend the first half of their life articulating what they're going to do and the second half rationalizing why they couldn't do it? Are you one of them?
  • Are you dying a slow death ¬ lacking a vision, direction, meaning in your life ?
  • What "dead horses" do you keep trying to ride?
  • Are aspects of your life impaired by a "dead horse" that you refuse to resolve?
  • Will the "dead horses" you are currently riding end up taking you where want to go in your life?
  • How much energy do you expend supporting or trying to resuscitate your "dead horses"?

Consider your career, your work, your relationships, your health, your personal or spiritual development, fun, finances, or your personal space.

Consider, perhaps, your lifestyle. Having set out with myriad good intentions, believing in what you thought was your vision or purpose, working hard and sacrificing along the way, becoming who you thought you should be, or perhaps even giving up what you wanted or who you wanted to be, telling yourself there's no going back, no way to extricate yourself from your unhappiness, frustration and discomfort, are you telling yourself a story - that if you just "stick it out" all will be well?

So, staying in denial, and with a false hope, we keep egging our horse(s) on. We dig in our spurs, but move nowhere. Or we're stuck on a plastic horse on a merry-go-round, moving, always engaged in "doing", going around in circles, but in reality, going nowhere.

People who ride "dead horses" every day know what they have to do when they get up. But they have no idea where they're going.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is simply: when the horse dies, get off!

A year from today, your life will be different. Guaranteed, it will be different! Whether it is "good" different or "bad" different, is your choice. Much depends on whether the horses you're riding are healthy, alive, juicy, energetic, purposeful, meaningful and positively supportive - or dead.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.