Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Optimistic Horse

I started writing this post several days ago, as I started reading the book, "The Optimistic Child" by Martin Seligman, and was overwhelmed by what I read and how it fits into what I'm living & learning right now!

Here are a few excepts from the book (paraphrased by me):

In 1964, Seligman decided to study experimental psych in a lab run by Richard Soloman. The grad students there were trying to find out how fear energized adaptive behavior. To do this, they would pair an electric shock with a signal [neurons that fire together, wire together] and then put them in a chamber in which running to the other side would turn off the shock. To the dismay of the grad students, the dogs just sat passively without moving. This phenomenon has come to be known as "learned helplessness" - the pattern of giving up without trying.

Learned helplessness requires learning the concept that "nothing I do matters" and is evidence that animals can think in abstractions. Learned helplessness looks very much like depression in both animals and humans. It can be cured by teaching animals (people too!) that their actions have direct effects, and can be prevented by providing experience with mastery and success.

The trick is to teach an animal that they could control a situation by taking action, before they have experience with inescapable shock. These "immunized" (against learned helplessness) animals never gave into helplessness, and when they later got inescapable shock, they did NOT become passive.

Masterful action is the crucible in which optimism is forged. The opposite message is "When things don't go as you want, give up and let someone else rescue you." Rather, strive to encourage perseverance and active problem solving.

Marker/reward based training (such as Clicker Training) is especially useful for empowering many types of animals - from chickens to horses to whales!

Two other awesome books that I've recently read that also expound upon these ideas:

The Brain that Changes Itself

Animals Make Us Human

I'm certainly not done with this exploration, but I wanted to go on and post this.

I'm feeling the happiest that I have in years and I'm certain that it is due to the sudden progress in both my horse & work life. Although my house is still a pit, I'm no longer feeling stuck. : -)

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