Simplest Terms

Even the most difficult problems can be overcome if you approach them in the right way. One of the many life lessons I’ve found to be extremely valuable is the fact that you can parlay success in one area of your life into other areas. The translation into application in a new area may not be direct, but the principle behind your success will arm you with useful starting points in any new challenge you face.

In one of my favorite books on horseback riding, Reflections on Riding and Jumping, the author, William Steinkraus, draws an interesting correlation between two loves of his, music and riding. He describes how a systematic and progressive approach to anything – building a sound foundation and then building upon it – can lead to successful outcomes:

Surprisingly, perhaps, my belief in this approach has been reinforced by my musical experience. People who know that I love music and still play the viola or violin almost every day have often asked me if there was any relationship between my musical activities and my riding. They probably expect me to say something about hands or rhythm; but I’ve never found these things to have much direct relevance per se. What has been relevant, however, is the relationship between position and function, and especially, the method of practicing difficult technical material by isolating all the elements involved, reducing them to their simplest terms, and learning to cope with them on that level before putting them back together. To master a very difficult passage on the violin, fiddle players often practice the actions required by the bow arm and the left hand separately, and invent little ad hoc exercises that accentuate the particular patterns involved. Then they go back to the passage and practice it in slow motion, to give the correct neural paths a chance to establish themselves; and when they finally play the passage at the proper tempo, it’s all there – not miraculously, but mechanically.

Difficult riding problems can be dealt with in exactly the same way. The key to a demanding Grand Prix jumper course is often a particular difficult line involving big fences, difficult distances, a combination and a turn that must be executed with great precision. Yet each of these elements can be isolated and mastered in simpler form in schooling long before we face them all together and in a more complex version during competition.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the difficulty or complexity of a large project you face, you can retrain your first flush of feeling. Where there was panic, there can be poise. Where there was fear, there can be wisdom, if not the state of mind and heart that leads to wisdom if you stop and take the time to think, to analyze the situation and to break it down into its simplest terms.

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5 Responses to Simplest Terms

  1. Kelli L. says:


  2. Kolya says:

    Great post, thanks!

  3. Coco says:

    My hobby requires many small techniques be learned in order to produce the final result. As I’m primarily “self taught” I’ve found this process of isolating the small elements not only the easiest way to learn but the most interesting. Understanding, then practicing and mastering the indivudual techniques and machinery has been fascinating and satisfying. My greatest enjoyment has not been in the final result but in the process. Sometimes that’s true in handling a seemly overwhelming task. We look back and it was the character we developed and the experience we gained during the step by step process to success. Excellent counsel, thank you.

  4. Colin says:

    This is a very important point you make today. There is much to be said for breaking something down into its smallest pieces and drilling them individually. Doing things this way enables things to be done that seem miraculous when they are put back together. It is not so much that the person doing the thing is super-human, but that they had the discipline to break something down in this way and to not be intimidated by something that on the surface seemed impossible.

  5. Steve Ventola says:

    Thank you for your posts they break down the living of life into its simplest terms.

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