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.

No comments: