Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sticking to the Plan

How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the "Paper Clip Strategy" | James Clear

There are two concepts here, so I'm going to add another link.

Memory Improvement Tips

Possibly the biggest block to moving forward is moving backward...and sideways...and somewhere completely unexpected.  This applies to most human endeavors.  Trying to lose weight?  Get distracted by a bunch of articles on homeopathics and "Paleo" diets, and see where you wind up.  Trying to be more punctual?  Don't get caught up in cleaning off your desk.  Those post-it notes that fell between the stacks of paper will still be there when desk-clearing is your goal for the moment.

Goal Setting
That day I was so distracted I forgot
to close the stall doors.


There are two keys to making measurable progress towards a goal.  The first, of course, is to make the goal clear, easily identifiable, and within reach in some realistic way.  "I want to be a millionaire by the time I'm 21 is hardly any of those.  I want to make it to work on time four out of five days this week...now there's a goal you can sink your teeth into.  You can measure your progress by the frowns and smiles on your boss's face if not by the clock.  And even a toddler can count to four.

With horses, the task is equally easy if you don't if, and, or but yourself into a path that would put the biggest corn maze to shame.  We do that so often, we horse folks.  We start with something simple and clear--Today I'll work on getting Zip to stop eating the broom--and morph it into something complicated and unrealistic (Today I'll get Zip to stop eating the broom and instead stand by the mounting block while I whistle "It's All About the Bass" in the key of G).   More often still, we go with amorphous goals like "I've got to get Fluff Butt to stop being such a turd."  Nothing there to sink one's teeth into, is there?

So pick a goal and write it down.  I'm a huge fan of writing things down.  That comes from all the years of school, in it and teaching it.  We all have a favored learning modality, but every one of us has more than one that will work in a pinch.  Making notes works for all but the most dyslexic of us. If you're a hard-core auditory learner, instead of just putting the notes down on paper and tacking them to the wall in the barn grooming area, use your smart phone to give yourself oral reminders.  Siri and Okay Google both do that.

There are always ways.

Breaking it Down

There are always multiple steps to any goal.  Work backwards from where you intend to end up, and keep listing steps until you're all the way to where you are now.  That's how teachers do lesson plans, and that's how you can do yours.  You want your horse to stop side-passing every time you touch his left side with your heel?  Start from there.  What's the cue he's getting that you didn't intend to give?  How can you convince him that it's not really meant for him?  Can you make him immune to a touch on his side without making him dead-sided?  How?
Always present in the moment

That list of steps can be applied to the Paper Clip Method from James Clear article above.  You won't use paperclips, necessarily.  They're hard to deal with in the barn and are likely to wind up in a pile behind the feed bin or strewn through the bedding in your horse's stall.  How else can you count coup on your goal?  You could add a horse cookie (my guys are currently infatuated with Blue Seal Hay Stretcher, which makes it easy as the bits are small and easily pocketed and not unhealthy treats) to your pocket or belt bag each time you make a step forward and feed them all to the horse at the end of the session.  Or you can find something that makes more sense in your world.  Whatever.  Something concrete that you can physically count and move will make you feel as if you're accomplishing something while simultaneously keeping track for you of the number of steps you've completed during your session.

I want to highlight one point from "10 Tips for Improving Your Memory" linked above.  It's the most important of all, so it deserves special treatment:

9. Pay Attention
Ultimately you want to shift important facts from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. Science dictates that this process takes about 8 seconds of focused attention on a specific item. So next time you need to encode something important, focus on it while counting to 8 alligators and lock it in.

Lately I've fielded a number of questions on an information site from folks who noticed that their lives are passing them by in a blur of what seems to be pointless activity.  They report feeling dissatisfied, confused, and downtrodden.  The reason in most cases has been that they are multitasking and not giving any single task their undivided attention.  If you want to make progress towards a goal, but you're not paying attention, you won't notice when you've veered off the path you created.  You won't notice when you've passed small milestones along the way.  You might even miss the grand finale when your goal is achieved.  You'll find yourself constantly setting more and more goals only casually related to the original.

Stop that!  Pay attention!  Eight seconds is all you need.  You can do this!

Turn off the music, stop talking to the people around you, and focus!  No cookies move to your pocket if you aren't attentive enough to know you've done something.  All you'll manage is a feeling of disconnection and a sourceless depression from which you can't seem to extricate yourself.  We all feel time-short.  We're always in a hurry.  Horses aren't.  They're very present in every moment (even when their presence is paying attention to the squirrel in the tree or the horse in the next pasture).  And that's why our animals seem to learn things we haven't taught them and come up with behaviors we'd rather they didn't.  We don't notice that we're setting up teachable moments every moment we're around them, so we don't notice what we've taught.  If you can't give your horse eight seconds of  your undivided attention, maybe you need a different hobby.

Today is as good a day as any to start on all of this.  Apply it at work.  Apply it at home.  Apply it to your life with your animals of all species and breeds.  It works, and it won't cost you a minute more of precious time than the fumphing and fussing you're doing now, I promise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Secrets Your Horse Wants You To Know

5 Secrets To Always Making A Good First Impression

[While you're at it, you should read You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney.  It's really good.  There's a link in the article above, but one can never have too many silk blouses or too many links.]


This is a perfect article to read no matter who you are.  Even if you don't have horses.  Even if you hate people and don't give a flying squat what they think of you.  There are always reasons to make a good first impression, and few pluses to making a bad one.

My horse shoer, who shall remain nameless by his command as he's already famous thanks to my first book (I'll call him N), is an absolute A-1 Ace at making first impressions.  I wish I had his talent.  I don't know anyone who isn't taken with him at first meeting, which, considering the considerable chew-spit he produces, is unusual.  He's got the First Impression Gambits down.

Better yet, the same gambits work with horses.  I've been asked often why my farrier is able to literally shoe any horse, no matter how rank.  I've asked him myself and watched carefully over the 14+ years that we've been in our working relationship, and here's what I've learned:

1.   Assume they're all basically okay and don't want to hate you.

N's basic approach to any new horse is to carry on a chatty conversation with the owner in normal tones (I've never heard him get shrill or loud, which is important in the horse mind).  He greets the horse calmly (they're all "Fluffy", "Buddy", or "Spot" or, in the case of my mini, "Little") with a "Hi!  How're you doin' today, huh?  Whaddya say?"  He stands still while he's making initial contact.

As he chats them up, he walks by them and casually rubs the palm and back of  his hand on their shoulder, hip, butt.  When he sets down his tool cart and turns to look them in the eye, he lets them sniff his hand.  Bingo!  He smells like them.  They assume they already know him, he's okay because they have no bad memories springing up, and he means them no harm.
Cautious Curiosity.
Cliff gets a helper for metal detecting.

He genuinely likes horses and believes they're basically all just fine (...and better if the owner isn't prattling in their ears and making jerky movements in front of them).

2.  Drug them with cookies.

He's not a big cookie guy, but if the horse looks like he might want to be friends, N isn't averse to handing over the goods.  A few bits of hay stretcher (Triple Crown--my guys' current absolute, hands down fave), and they're suddenly BFFs.

3.  You can't shake hands with a horse, but that first touch matters.

Never, never, never have I seen this man approach that first physical contact with any hesitation or abruptness whatsoever.  Horses are born with a sense of cautious curiosity about the world and all that's in it.  Kind of like human babies, huh?  We squash that in both species with our incessant manhandling and bullying.  But it's not far below the surface even in an old, been-there kind of animal.  If you always touch the horse with love and in a matter-of-fact way, you won't alarm him or make him suspicious of your motives.  Horses like that feeling of trust.

4.  Spin their inappropriate behavior in your head and react accordingly.

N's never fights a horse for his foot.  You know the scene:  The farrier has your Fuzzbutt's leg up and is about to nail something to it when the foot is yanked away as the horse steps sideways.   I've had shoers totally lose their sh*t over this and wage war to hang onto that foot.  N's deal is to let go.  Unless there's actual danger of a nail being poked into a bad spot, he doesn't fight.  He lets the horse put the foot down, pats him on the rump, and starts again.  His favorite saying is, "Why would I want to piss off something that weighs 1100 pounds and has a good memory?"  He explained to me that his theory is that if he just waits and keeps picking that foot up (allowing adjustments for the horse's position and comfort) no matter how many times the horse puts it back down, eventually the horse will realize that "I ain't goin' away," and he'll quit.  And he does.

He also looks the horse over for injuries or conditions that might make, say, hoisting a back leg really uncomfortable.  It's not the horse's fault, he figures, if he's got a problem that's contributing to his inability to do what's being asked.  "What's'a matter, Fluffy, huh?  Got a fly on you?  Bad night last night?"  The peaceful chatter goes on and the horse pretty much gives in.
Wait!  I was telling you about the squirrels in the tree!

5. Really give the introduction your all.

Focus!  Meeting that horse halfway is what you're all about in that moment.  If you're distracted--busy texting, talking to another rider in the barn, ranting silently in your head about your spouse's latest transgression--and you're not giving the animal your full attention, he can tell that.  He can feel that there's something going on of which he's unaware, and it can make him nervous and even irritate him.  Heck, it irritates me to be in a convo with someone who is alternately yelling at a child and texting while I'm talking.  Your horse is talking to you.  Don't be so rude.  Turn off the music.  Put the phone in your pocket.  Ignore the fellow boarder who just has to tell you right this minute about her date last night.  There's time for all of that later.  You expect this animal to want to give you his undivided attention the minute your wiggly butt hits the saddle.  Give him yours now.

That's it.  Five easy pieces that come together to give your horse the sense that you'e present in the room and worth working with.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Follow the Line, please!

How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using "Bright-Line" Rules | James Clear

James Clear is back with another great aid to keeping our lives under control.  This time he's borrowed from the US legal system to bring us a daily application for the Bright-Line Rule.

In law, the term refers to a strict guideline that is simple, has passed the test of being universally applicable, and can be followed by even the doltiest of us.  The example given in the article is the Miranda Warning.  It's so simple and ubiquitous (breathes there a viewer with soul so dead that never to himself has said, "Did I read there's a new police procedural show on cable?") that we all know it by heart. We know what it is.  We know the words. We know the application.  It brooks no silly frills or add-ons.  The only challenges to the Miranda Warning are from folks who did not receive it.

Taking the Bright-Line Test a step further, what we're really talking about is stating goals in the simplest, most concrete way, with the emphasis on concrete.  A rule that leaves space for interpretation isn't nearly bright enough.

Clear gives several examples to which we can all relate.  Many's the time I "tried" to make a change in my world and failed.  I tried to lose weight (over and over).  I tried to quit smoking (for two solid years).  I tried to take my ego and all the shoulds out of my interactions with my horses.

The evil word, if you haven't figured it out yet, is TRY.
Trick training is nothing but a series
of bright lines followed faultlessly to
their successful conclusion.

The minute you say you will try, you open the door for failure. Try means attempt.  It doesn't mean succeed.  And it also allows far too much leeway in the method used and the definitions of success and failure.  If you're only trying, at what point do you figure you're done?  What's the limit?

Another way to look at this is as a visualization exercise.

When younger teachers would complain that they'd tried everything, but they couldn't get their class under control, the answer was simple.  I told them to picture in their minds' eyes what an "in control" situation would look like.  In detail.  Right down to which students were sitting in which seats and what, exactly, they would do when the planned lesson ran ten minutes short because they were just that good (or bad) at the job.  Then, I said, for every minute of every class, work towards completing that picture.

The visualization creates the Bright Line, the rule or rubric that you're intending to complete.  It needs to be realistic and applicable to every situation within the sphere of the activities in which you're engaged.  It needs to be rock solid, carved in stone, immobile.  You should be able to describe it in a sentence or two that every one around you would understand.

That's a very bright line indeed.

I quite smoking when I stopped the vaguery of trying to quit and told myself "you are not a smoker".  That's as clear as a bell. No questions about what to do in any situation involving cigarettes.

I lost weight and kept it off when I set up an actual, concrete goal of finding out what the word "portion" meant and applying it.  The rule, "Thou Shalt Only Eat One Portion of Anything" was easy, simple, and applicable to every foodstuff on the planet.  Even brownies.  With ice cream.

The last bit about egos and shoulds and horses is an obvious problem.  We all tend to make negative rules.  "I won't yank on Fuzzbutt's mouth anymore" is a negative rule.  It leaves us open to a plethora of other behaviors, some of which are far worse than yanking.  Upgrading to a harsher bit, adding a flash noseband, jabbing his ribs every time he doesn't perform to our specifications all come to mind.

Think about this:  Put a child in a room with a table, a chair, and a pencil and paper.  Don't give any instructions.  Leave the room.  Watch the child.  Every five minutes, if the child hasn't picked up the pencil and written his name on the paper, enter the room and smack him with a rolled-up newspaper (for younger readers, ask your parents what a newspaper was) and leave again.  Don't tell the child what you want him to do, just punish him when he doesn't do it.
Adding a new puppy
to the family requires a
LOT of Bright Lines!

Are you starting to feel stressed just thinking about it?

When we make negative rules for ourselves and other living beings, we leave the behavioral description open to whatever the brain can think of to do.  That's a lot of stuff.  That's a lot of whacks with a newspaper.

By going with the Bright-Line Test concept, you make only positive rules.  Every one starts with "I will..." (or, in Educationese, "The Learner Will...") and follow that with a single command.  "I will stand at the mounting block while Zip dances around me for as long as it takes."  That's a positive.  That's a Bright Line.  Annoying as hell, but it's easy to follow on every occasion there's a mounting block and Zip involved.  Not a great plan, but a great example.

Go forth and draw Bright Lines!

Wait.  But what..?  Right!  What's the definition of success?  We skipped that part.  You have to decide what the end goal is and what constitutes reaching it, and it had better be very concrete, measurable, and as clear as the line that lead there.  My goal with Zip in the ludicrous scenario above is to bore him into stopping the dance.  I'll know I've reached it when at every opportunity for a month of rides, Zip stands still.  I'll know I've followed the line when at every opportunity for a month of rides I have not lapsed into coercion or bribery even once.  Done and done.

Your Lines await you!  Enjoy the process and the successes that are bound to follow.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Finding the Center of Your Frustration

Use the ABCD Method to Deal with Frustration

Linked above is one of those articles I'm going to return to periodically.  Often.  Possibly daily.  I'm not hypersensitive to frustration, but I certainly know it well.  We've met.  Ask Cliff about the sugar jar.
Four feet of snow last year
defied all of our expectations.
Winter rides were suddenly
impossible, and therein
lay the core of frustration.

It's such an important subject that I'm linking here to another article (yes, there's a Wiki citation, but just ignore that), the one on which the first was based, because you can never have too many ideas when it comes to dealing with frustration.  So sure am I of my personal complicity that I just ordered two copies of Albert Ellis's How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Absolutely Anything--Yes, Anything.  Albert Ellis is probably second-most if not the most influential psychotherapeutic voice in history.  If he says it, you can believe it.

What is frustration about? What makes one episode of, say, "happy bucking" in your horse acceptable while another sends you in paroxysms of anger and might even poke you enough to grab you whip and hit something with it?  In a word, Expectations.  Long ago in another lifetime I knew this.  I wrote about it in an article titled "Get the Should Out" that later wound up reprinted in my blog because even then I suspected it was important for people interacting with animals (even if the animals have two legs and wear Crocs to a formal dinner).

We are slaves to our expectations.  We are this way for a good reason. We're human.  That's it.  We're animals (don't even bother to argue that) who live in a social setting where being able to predict everything from who we will encounter during our day to where we'll kill or dig up our next meal is vital to our survival.  We are loaded for bear with social mores and rules and stipulations.  So we're all about prediction.

We take our expectations to a very high level when we're dealing with competitive situations.  The horse life lends itself to that sort of thing far too easily.  "I only trail ride" does not preclude the post-ride postmortem during which every other rider's abilities and every other horse's training are ripped to shreds.  We smile on the outside, but we're grimacing on the inside every time we feel that we (or someone else) haven't met our expectations.
Our late house rooster, Fluffbudget
and the egg he laid....uh...wait.  What?

Again, ask Cliff about the sugar jar.

My most shameful moment was the one during which my lovely gelding, Prince, became unexpectedly balky during a class at a schooling show.  We were given the gate.  Horrors!  The class was full of beginner horses and their novice riders, and we were the only ones given the gate.  So, I managed to get the horse to walk to the warm-up ring, and there I smacked his balky butt so hard that I broke my crop.  I cried.  Granted, crops in the '80's weren't quite as sturdy as they are now, but still...

It took a week before the shoer informed me that my horse had a case of thrush so bad it had gone into the bone (in my defense, we never saw the shoer, and Prince wore pads all the time).  His pain had to be excruciating, and I should have been (and later was) delighted he hadn't just bucked my sorry ass off in the dirt.  I apologized profusely, fed him lots of sugar cubes (again, this was the '80's), and didn't make him wear the despised yellow rain slicker ever again.  And I never forgot how angry I'd been and how little concern I'd shown for the root cause of the behavior, both his and mine.

We start with expectations and we sift them through an inappropriate belief system that says this shouldn't be happening to me.  It can happen to anyone else, but not to me.  Uh...yeah.  About that....

Read the articles.  Buy the book.  Talk to Cliff (and you can also ask him what happened to the Shop Vac hose).  And if you're getting senior, as I am, think for a minute about how you're not going to notice in a few years when everyone seems frustrated with you because your bizarre clothing choices and attempts to turn on the fan with the TV remote are running counter to their expectations.  It'll be their problem, and you'll go forth in your Crocs with flair.

Now do you get it?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Spring Cleaning and Other Evil Drains on Momentum

How to Make the Most of Your Momentum When Getting Things Done

I, for one, have none.  Momentum is hard to come by under the best of circumstances, and this winter has brought mine to an absolute all-time low.  I'm, essentially, motionless.  I was doing fine until I noticed all the things that needed to be done around the farm to make up for a winter in hibernation.  I cleaned one cabinet, and that was the end.

For me, then, the task at hand is to build some momentum, and that means becoming motivated to take a step forward into some arena.  I started last week by making an appointment for a consult prior to scheduling a colonoscopy.  Yeah, me either.  It's my least favorite thing to do, so I started with that, figuring everything else will seem like dessert on my plate by comparison.  My appointment is today, and I admit that knowing that did get me motivated to add a few other items to my calendar.  Before my appointment, I have to order a new washing machine.  Score two for unpleasant tasks.

Motivation = your reason for doing things
Momentum = keeping your doing rolling forward
Motivation + Momentum = Success!

Whining aside, I'll cut to the psychology of motivation courtesy of Abraham Maslow, one of the most famous of all the monkey scientists.  I refer, of course, to the scientists who made huge leaps forward in understanding human behavior by studying behavior in other primates.  Maslow did us a favor by putting our needs into a cool-looking hierarchy pyramid that's almost entirely understandable by anyone who can read.  You'll find it at the link in this paragraph and at the bottom of the post.

Me, at Level 2
Motivaton, at Level 0

Working backwards, I'm going to posit that after the ridiculous winter some of us have had (and are still having, as there's a half-inch of new-fallen snow on my lawn as I type), we're not feeling especially high-minded.  The "Self-Actualization" piece is probably going to have to wait until we've got a firm foothold on spring.  I, for one, don't care if I'm actualized.  I want to be warm, fed, and feel a little better about myself and the world.

So we're at the bottom of the hierarchy today.  Physiological and psychological needs are our number one priority.  Warm, safe, fed, and feeling no specific fear is a good thing, and, for most of us, more easily mastered than being totally actualized.  And BOOM!  We've taken care of the first two steps of the pyramid.

Since we humans are highly motivated to fulfill those needs, it makes sense to find something in that realm to internalize as an immediate goal.  If, like me, you're coming out of winter with muscles aching and spirit dispirited, getting some physical movement into the day would be a great start.  Walk today.  Walk as much as you can given your day's schedule. Walk at home.  Walk at work.  Walk around the farm.  Just move!  But for the sake of the next step on the pyramid--Safety--do not overdo.  Set a small goal and reach it.  Reach it over and over for a few days until it becomes part of your scheduled activities and you are ready to up your game to, say, lifting things.  If you rush, you'll hurt something, and nothing says despair like another ache added to the rest.

On the safety front, this category is relatively easy, so jump on in.  First, don't hurt yourself on step one.  Second, use this time to start a methodical check of everything surrounding your riding life and your life outside the barn.  How's your car running?  Could it use an oil change or brake service?  Appliances all safe and sound?  Heating system in need of servicing?  At the barn, when was the last time you took all of your tack off the rack and out of the trunk and looked over the stitching, screws, bolts, leather condition, buckles....you know, everything.  If there's something awry, this is a great time to add those repairs or replacements to your to-do list.  Then  put them on your calendar so you will make them seem as important as they are.

With all of that done, you are well on your way to Level 3:  Love and Belonging.  Level 4:  Self-esteem, comes along for the ride if we do Level 3 properly  We all feel better in the company of loved ones.  And we feel better in that company if we're not feeding ourselves on a constant stream of negative self-talk about the things we need to do but haven't done.  So go be with your peeps armed with your to-do list and with some of your recent accomplishments in mind, and feel the love.  Love yourself and the world will come a-running.  Really.  Humans are drawn to other humans who project safety and power, and that comes with the self-love/ self-esteem package.

That's your assignment.  Start small; get organized; get moving.

Pushbullet's cute icon
I happen to be a PC/Android person, and I love Google Calendar and Pushbullet as motivational tools.  You know what an online calendar does, and you probably already use one on your phone, tablet, and/or computer.  What Pushbullet does (and there are versions for both my PC/Android people and my Apple die-hards) is "push" notifications to and from your various devices in a very easy-to-manage system of alerts.  Nothing says "Get moving!" like your notification ring-tone blasting through the quiet of your office.   And nothing gets your attention like a pop-up on your computer screen telling you what you should be doing right now instead of trying not to let the boss know you're playing Solitaire.

Schedule your activities as if you were getting paid to do them, and you will.  You'll do them, and you'll be paid in motivation with which you can build more and more momentum until you're a rock star.

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramide