Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Revolutions

Horse Bound: The View From the Top of Mount Manure

Planning to Make New Year’s Resolutions? Consider These Points | LinkedIn

So, what kind of resolver are you, and how does that impact on your horse life?  I admit to being a negative resolver more often than not.  "I swear I'll stop buying every pair of cute breeches that comes up on Tack of the Day!"  I make that one every year.  And there's one about not getting stuck at the computer doing things like this blog when I could be out riding.  That's habit bordering on OCD that is very hard to change.  At least now that I'm not teaching school anymore, I've lost the "only pee at 10:15 AM" thing, but it took two years.

This year my first resolve will be to make more positive promises to myself.  I've lectured and written endless words about how positive reinforcement works better than negative.  Negative isn't bad with humans, but with animals it's frustrating.  They get thwarted, poked, pushed, and yelled at for exhibiting random natural behaviors without knowing what it is you actually want because they don't speak human language no matter how loudly you yell, "Move over!"  Eventually, if you find a way to show them what you're looking for, they can connect the verbal cue to an action you're expecting and then the positive reinforcement in the form of petting and (more effective) cookies kicks in and the deal is sealed.

The other really important point in the linked article is that one really must start small.  If the goal is huge, then the first step will feel like nothing at all, and lack of a sense of accomplishment is a great way to start on the path to failure.  Cut the goal down to size, and you'll find small successes along the way to keep you going.  Your horse feels the same way.  If you start with the expectation that he's going to bounce happily around in a piaffe after 30 days with a trainer, then all of you are likely to be disappointed and the horse is going to find rewards few and far between.  If you can cut that down to "Okay, today we're going to take three steps in a collected frame without hysteria on either of our parts," then you've got a shot at massive success and a building block for the future.

So in an effort to make my resolutions into a revolution, this is my list:

  1. Add positives instead of deleting negatives.  
  2. Get rid of some of the detritus of former lives that's cluttering my current life, especially those lovely, expensive Ariat Volant half chaps that require about four more inches of lower leg length than I can ever hope to achieve and that can only be worn with the zipper and snap open at the top and flapping in the breeze despite 20 minutes with a pair of pliers and many bad words.
  3. Focus forward, but never hesitate to take a step back when necessary.
  4. Approach everything with a positive attitude, and if that doesn't work, buy  more gin.
That's it.  Only four resolves on my list this year, and only one that I'll probably follow through on.  Might as well start with honesty, huh?

Another important factor is accountability, and with that comes making the outcome measurable.  Generalized fluff like "I'll do better at the next lesson" won't work.  There's no marker for "better" that you can point to and check off on the list.  "I'll go through an entire lesson without crying,"on the other hand, is easily noted and ticked off...or not.  Only one of my resolves has that quality.  Those half chaps will disappear and I'll mark them off and feel good about myself for at least a minute if not the entire year.  I'm easy to please.  

The thing is that making resolutions is a two-edged sword.  On one edge, the act of facing our failures and considering a new approach builds confidence.  Having a plan is always better than not having one.  But on the other edge is the pressure we put on ourselves to meet our own expectations and the depression that sometimes follows when we don't.  

Does that mean it's unhealthy to make a list?  That depends on the individual.  If you're married to the list, spend a lot of time fretting when you screw up, or use the list as some sort of punishment for crimes past or future or to assuage your guilt, then it can be a very bad thing indeed.  Use it wisely as a general guideline, and it's healthy and meaningful.  

Perhaps the most positive thing about this whole New Year's resolution habit is that once a year we--consciously or otherwise--stop to consider our lives.  Even if you aren't buying into resolution selection as a worthy way to spend your time and focus, it still breezes over your brain because the topic is ubiquitous.  That little bit of contact is enough to give each of us a mindful moment, and that's never, never bad.

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