Monday, June 24, 2013

Productive Paranoia: Are You Zooming In or Out?

I'm still sticking with Collins and Hansen's Great By Choice, noticeably skipping over the "Twenty-Mile March" for a moment to get to a really intriguing concept that applies in oh, so many ways to horse life and "normal" life alike.  How productive is your paranoia?
Hay!  This is a major source of paranoia for me.
Some day I will run out, I just know it, so I
am constantly on the alert for cues.

Don't say you're not paranoid.  We all are to some extent.  It's what you do with it that makes all the difference in your level of success.  What Collins and Hansen refer to as "productive paranoia" is the state of alertness that allows one to make good snap decisions and change directions on a dime as needed.  Combine productive paranoia with a willingness to rewrite your personal story as needed, and you're on a good track. This requires a level of determination and focus rare in the average human and worth cultivating no matter your interests or goals if you hope to meet with success.  Notice the little things that are likely to be game-changing before the game is out of your hands.

Obvious example:  You are working your new dressage prospect and intend to debut at Second Level (*choke*) when you discover that your hopeful is becoming more and more easily distracted and doesn't seem to have any oomph! in his derriere anymore.  You've long been worried about moving up the ranks and whether or not you'll eventually have to make room on your wall for all the photos and awards, and your paranoia to date focused more on your ability to master the cues and get fit enough to wear the white breeches without feeling self-conscious.  You are focused inward on your feelings of inadequacy.  You haven't given much concern to Twinkle Toes' ability level, especially since you paid top dollar for him and he's been nothing but cooperative along the path to his Big Reveal.  If there's going to be a screw-up, it's going to be on your end, you're sure.

There's plenty of paranoia in that scenario, from unexpected illness and injury (his and yours) to a shortage of funds (yours), but none of it was really productive unless you did something to prevent the Bad Thing from happening or figure out a Plan B in case it did.  Preventing the random from happening is a thankless effort.  If it were predictable, it wouldn't be random. But a Plan B is always within reach.  Paranoia for its own sake is just annoying to everyone except the company making your blood pressure meds and your local purveyor of Xanax.

What to do...?  What to do...?  Well, the step the authors recommend is learning to ZOOM.  Like a camera lens, not like an exercise class.

Think about how your camera works.  You want to see the fine details, so you hit the "+" button, and the lens magically makes everything bigger and closer.  You can see the hairs on Twinkle's nose as if they were touching the lens (which they probably are, being that this is a horse and horses do love good press).  But what else can you see?  Snot, dust...not much else.  Many of us spend our lives inspecting pores, then we're surprised when something happens apparently from "out of the blue".  It was coming at you all along; you just didn't see it.  Click the "-".   If you want to see more you have to zoom out.

Zooming your camera lens or your attention in and out are very much alike.  If you want to see the whole picture, zoom out.  You've been busy staring at a tight close-up of Twinkle's lateral movement.  If you zoom out for a moment, you might see (much to your surprise) that you've got a very unhappy horse in front of you.  You might see not just legs and hooves but ears and eyes, and you might begin to tip to the idea that TT is not Second Level material.  His mind just isn't right for it.  His one conformation flaw that you so kindly overlooked when you bought him (wouldn't really call him cow-hocked, but he is just a tad straight behind) makes it so hard for him to move laterally with fluidity that he's sad and frustrated by the endless attempts.  You're losing his mind.

Zip wondering why we can't all just get along

Zoomed out for the big-picture view, you can now see that there may be options.  You'd need to give up the debut as planned, but away from the pressure of that track, you might have time to get to know TT in a more intimate way and find out that he's got talents and abilities you haven't begun to tap into yet.  Zoomed  out you can see your competition plans laid out before you with all the alternative paths you can take just in case your current one is a dead end.  You can easily pick the ones most likely to work for you.  Then you can zoom back in and apply the patches you found in the most effective way.

Zoomed out, I not only see the ample pasture growing well because of our effort in liming, fertilizing, and reseeding, I see half the hay field still uncut and standing tall.  I also see the stats from around the country on hay harvests and I can get prices on chopped, bagged forage and find a reliable source.  I can find all the alternatives and stockpile them in order of efficacy, and should the worst happen, I will have ample backup for a quick turn on the proverbial dime (would that anything horse-related were that cheap!).

Perhaps the hardest part of the horse life is the need to zoom in and out constantly.  There's never a time when we can be 100% sure that nothing random can throw us off track.  We're not really that antifragile that we build our lives to become stronger with each assault.  There's a lot to be said for setting goals, but even more to be said for having a map of escape routes stuffed under the pommel just in case.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reprogram your brain to fix your riding issues

Neuro-linguistic Programming For Dummies Cheat Sheet - For Dummies

If you haven't heard of NLP, you really aren't on top of the whole brain-education game.  The cheat sheet linked above will be very helpful in getting you started.  The big work, however, is all on you.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is not a new concept, but it's one worthy of revisiting as we wend our way through the curly brain hairs that are keeping you from being the best horseman you can be, and in turn keeping your horse from being as happy as he can be.  The basic theory is that if you can identify the ideas you have that are standing in your way--that includes all sorts of belief systems about your own place in the world and the way your horse thinks--and you can identify new ways of thinking that will remove the blockages you're causing, you can change the way your brain handles experiences.

How is this different from any of the other processes I've discussed lately?  Honestly, it's not.  Whether you are meditating your way to success or linking brains with your horse or reprogramming your brain linguistically (using language), you are changing the story you tell yourself and the world about who you are.

Don't you just feel like this some days?  Me too!

Starting at the top of the cheat sheet, you'll need to alter your overall mental state to clear away some of the emotional overlay that's preventing you from thinking clearly.  There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, and the chart lists a few.  The bottom line is that any change to your environment--the parts of it that you control and even the ones you don't, like the atmosphere at your place of employment--will change your mood.  If you plan it right, the change will be for the better.  Rendering yourself more miserable would surely be a change, but you might as well aim to come through this more satisfied rather than less.  If you hate heavy metal music, for example, filling your space with it would not be a positive change and might lead to heightened anxiety in you and fear in your co-workers.  Something as small as changing the way the blinds in your bedroom are turned can set the tone for your whole day.  If you can find something that will lighten your mood, you're off to a rousing start.

Changing personal beliefs is a little harder and requires serious soul-searching.  If you've been a long-standing proponent of a particular style of horsemanship, and employing it is causing you more stress and frustration than it's alleviating, and your horse has stopped responding and is standing glaring at you from the other side of the round pen, you might find that that belief is something that needs to be revisited.  If you're stubbornly clinging to that belief and silently harrumphing at my suggestion that it needs to be changed, think of another belief (Santa comes to mind) that you once held firmly and have since abandoned.  Not everything you believe at any given moment is carved in mental stone.  Beliefs are just that.  They're not necessarily even based in reality.  Do a reality check, and see if you can pinpoint one idea that's not working for you. Then see if there isn't a similarity between that past, long-abandoned belief and the one standing in your way now.  My deadliest belief and the one that most resembled parts of my abandoned thoughts about "respect" was the meme that one must never "let the horse win" or one risks letting the horse take over one's life.  Boy! Was that some wrong-headed interpretation of winning vs losing!  As soon as I replaced the Bad Thought with the new one, that horses don't lie and they only behave like horses (much to our human chagrin), the pieces began to fall into place.  It's a work in progress, but at least it's no longer a work in regression.

Staying on track with your proposed change is tough.  We tend toward mental meandering, and it's very easy to wind up back on the old path without noticing that we've veered.  Making a chart is helpful.  Anything you concretize has a better chance of sticking with you than the more loosely constructed of your plans.  Remember the time you were going to change how you related to your least-favorite relative?  Remember how that worked out?  I rest my case.  Make notes.

Much better atmosphere!

Checking both the conscious and unconscious (or subconscious) levels of your behavior and thought processes really does require a certain amount of introspection.  Meditation helps cut to the chase.  You don't have to become a Yoga Master, but the ability to quiet your conscious thoughts so you can hear the more creative side of your brain will make the process easier and faster.  If you continually return to that loud voice yelling "this is just wrong" in your mental ear, you may find yourself stuck in an endless circuit going nowhere.

The rest of the linked chart will give you guidelines for relieving fear and becoming more flexible in your thinking.  We can all use a little more flexibility.  Think of the most stubborn, least flexible person in your environment and remember that image whenever you start to dig in your mental heels and lose the flow you're aiming to create.  Do you want to be that person?  I didn't think so.

All the changes you are about to make should lead to a better relationship with yourself and with your horse (and anyone else in your immediate vicinity), so have no fear that this tinkering will fall into the "naive intervention" category.  The goal is to become less naive, more tuned in to yourself and the world, ferret out the erroneous drek that's interfering, and not to monkey with what's already working fine on its own.

Let the reprogramming begin!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Shortcut to Brilliance?

Learn Anything in 20 Hours with This Four Step Method

No, I lied.  There are no shortcuts to brilliance.  There are ample shortcuts, however, that can stimulate forward movement in our learning experiences.  I haven't read Josh Kaufman's book, The First 20 Hours, but I will.  There's nothing too off-center when it comes to learning theory and the advancement of personal knowledge.  This isn't at all off-center.  Kaufman, having read that it takes 10,000 hours to master a new activity, was daunted by the prospect of 5 full years of focused learning.  He chose to find a better way.  I spent my life finding ways to help students learn faster, better, more easily, and without bloodshed.  It's a worthy goal.

The key to Kaufman's plan (and the one I discovered worked best in almost every situation) is TASK ANALYSIS.  If you're already tired of hearing me ramble on about this, watch the video and listen to Kaufman do it.  You need to learn this if you're ever going to do any learning or teaching (training) with any level of success.

[Photo courtesy of my daughter, the lovely Jessica Culnan]
Kaitlin's process will begin with her growing taller than the cello.

Task Analysis involves truly looking at the end result first.  Really looking at it and figuring out what it is you want to do.  He calls it "deconstructing the skill".  Same difference.  If you can see clearly the end result and take it apart, you can see some of the steps leading to it that you'll need to master in order to move forward.  Each of those will also required "deconstruction" (analysis) to their smallest components.  At each step, you'll recognize your current level of mastery and begin to build from there.

If you want to learn to ride, what does riding look like?  What is involved with the idiocy of throwing your feeble humanness on top of a not-at-all feeble monster of a critter with a mind of its own?  Well, obviously you need to be able to climb well enough to get there, right?  That takes at least a modicum of lower body strength.  What is like that in your experience?  Climbing stairs comes to mind.  So does riding a bike (which horseback riding is "just like" according to many instructors).  Can you do those?  If not, what do you have to do to get to those skills?  Walking, knee bends, maybe some core exercises like ab crunches would probably do the trick.

That's simplistic, but I'm going to stay here in Simpleville for a bit.  How do you know if you're mastering the stepping-stone skills?  Can you tell whether the ab crunches are working?  Sure!  Do you look and feel stronger through that area of your body?  BINGO!

Time passes, and now you can walk, climb, sit upright, and possibly balance well enough not to fall off when the animal starts moving.  Is that all there is to riding?  No way.  So you watch videos of people doing it, and you analyze them for the minor details.  Where is the rider's leg and what is it doing?  Where are his hands?  How is his back moving?  Can you come up with ways to emulate those without being on a horse?  Find a nice core ball, an upholstered chair arm, a flight of stairs, and you're in business.

Not exactly what I was picturing when I did the analysis, but
there are steps I can take to Make It So.

It's not hard to do a task analysis, as you can see.  Kaufman takes it one step further and says you need to practice each step for 20 hours.  That's a good idea.  In the simple case of getting on a horse's back, you probably already have many of the steps mastered and aren't aware of them.  So what you might need to do 20 hours' work on is actually getting on and off a horse.  That's where a good beginner instructor comes in and I walk out.  You'll need eyes on the ground to tell you when you're messing up and in danger of being on the ground with those eyes.

All of this is easily applicable to higher levels of riding and to training your horse.  Figure out what you want it to look like (not're not going to analyze your 14.3hh Pintabian into a Dutch Warmblood or yourself into Olympic Village) and what it would take to get there.  Figure out which skills and abilities your horse has and which it needs work on.  Start from step one and move forward, making sure not to skip the quizzes and tests along the way that check your progress, and if you give your effort an "F", be sure to redo that part of the course.  No cheating!

The key, however, harking back to last week's post, is ABILITY.  You and your horse have some, not all, of the ability you would like to apply to this project.  Be honest in your assessment and don't get angry if one or the other of you hits a wall.  Do what you can; enjoy what you do; move forward until you can't go any further, then move sideways.  Sideways is good.  Think of the process as a maze.  Sometimes one of those side passages will lead to an even bigger forward movement.  Nothing is ever wasted except the energy you put into whining and complaining and wishing.

Excuses 101: Why You Need That New Horse

Novelty and the Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good

Belle Beth Cooper (like her on Facebook) does a wonderful job of explaining why "Oooo..!  Shiny!" is so much a part of our functioning that we need to make fun of it to make it less painful.  We are all suffering to some degree with Attention Deficit Disorder in that we are quite capable of being equally enthralled by the new USB drive we just bought to backup all our photos as we are by the packaging it came in.  That's especially true if said packaging is unique in any way, like shaped like a frog or requiring tools to open.  I borrowed the illustration from her article because, well, it made me look twice, thus proving her point.

That this applies to horsemen is a no-brainer.  Check my tack room:

Yes, there's only one of me, and that's only one side of the room.
So sue me!

If like most of us you have things stashed away that you bought on a whim after reading an article, taking a lesson, or visiting a tack store, then you are a fellow traveler.  On the other side of this room is a wall hung with saddles, at least two for each of the four horses I'm currently riding and a couple for no reason other than "But if I sell it I'll just want to buy another one".  It's a painful affliction, affecting not only reasoning ability but the ability to put food on the table and shop for clothing at venues other than Wal Mart.

Cooper's research indicated that the distraction needed to fall into the category of completely unique stimuli in order for the SN/VTA (see the illustration in the article) to be enthralled, but I wonder how that result might change if the subjects were horse people who've been so completely indoctrinated in the nuances of novelty between, for instance, shapes of mouthpieces in snaffle bits or knee rolls in jumping saddles.  I have no statistical proof, but I think it is possible to train the brain to be so discerning that "His left hoof angle is .03 degrees off!" is a statement that actually has been made and worried about and obsessed over and screamed into the ear of a long-suffering farrier.

What this has to do with my current theme of mindfulness and using our innate ability to help us in our interactions with our horses is merely that it offers a physiological excuse for our periodic inability to quiet our minds and let our brains take over.  It's our brain's fault!  Like the RTPJ, the SN/VTA region is pre-programmed.  It has a job to do, and that job is to notice when a unique stimulus is passing through our neighborhood and glom onto it like horse hair on corduroy.  Is is worth fighting our natures to gain a more enlightened approach?  Of course it is.  The point here is that we must not waste energy hating ourselves for our brain structure.  We need to be kind, understand that working past the built-ins is a journey, not an end, and let ourselves screw up with abandon as necessary.

We also need to avoid trying to fit every horse into a mold that has no basis in the reality of that particular animal.  We notice the differences between our current horse and our last one because we're programmed to do so.  When we then try to "correct" those differences, misery happens on both sides of the saddle.  Noticing is excellent.   Being unable to accept and adapt is not.  I would be much happier to see FT's ("Famous Trainers") use their forums in the pages of the horse mags to publish examples of different types of horses and not critique them as if there is only one perfect model to which all others must aspire.  Helping horsemen learn to adapt to the horses they work with would be more valuable.

But we also need to always come back to the task at hand, no matter how long the side trip might be.  There's a good place waiting down the road for us to visit, and we will get there, briefly, if we work at it.

Intro to Meditation

I promised in the last post to offer some instruction for beginners who aren't quite sure how to go about quieting their minds to allow their brains to breath.  What follows is a simple relaxation technique with a huge payoff.

1.  Lie down or sit comfortably with both feet on the floor.  Lights off or dim will help tremendously.  Close your eyes.  Shut off the phone.  Yes, really.

2.  Take five deep breaths, filling your lower lungs first and then your entire lungs.  Hold each for a count of five, then release in the same order, breathing out from the bottom first.  Let your belly swell as you breath in.  It's okay.  No one is watching.

3.  Begin with your toes.  Tighten them all as much as you can, hold for a few seconds, then release.  Notice your toes.

4.  Tighten your calf muscles, hold for a few seconds, then release.  Notice your calves.

5.  Repeat with your knees, thighs, hips, pelvis, abdomen.  Notice all of those parts (without judging, just awareness).

6.  Move to your fingers and repeat the process there, with your forearms, upper arms, shoulders.

7.  Move your awareness to your neck, head, scalp.  Repeat the process.  Move to your eyes, lips, chin, forehead.

8.  Breathe deeply again five times.  By this point you should be very relaxed.  If you're not, just enjoy whatever relaxation you have managed to achieve and go on about your day.  Try again tomorrow.  Don't judge yourself.  You're going to have to figure this out as you go along.

Now, when I did this with my classes, I followed it with guided imagery that left them feeling as if they were amazing students.  It worked.  If you want to follow through, you might record for yourself a guided meditation about your connection to your horse.  Better yet, just achieve this meditative state repeatedly until it becomes second nature and you can quiet your mind on command.  Then go mess with your horse.  It will be a different experience.

We'll revisit this in the next post.  You have your assignment.