(This blog was originally posted on June 13, 2016)
Me with Monty Roberts at the Pomona Equine Affaire in 2008Photo courtesy of Sara Fogan
The first time I heard the term “inferential learning” was at a Monty Roberts horse-training seminar at the 2008 Equine Affaire in Pomona, California. To help a horse overcome its fear of obstacles, Mr. Roberts asked some assistants to roll and lay out a blue tarp on the ground for the animal to investigate. Over the course of about 10 minutes or so, the horse sniffed, pawed at and eventually put a hoof on the tarp. With some encouragement and tons of praise, he eventually built up enough confidence to stand on the material. Mr. Roberts explained that this process facilitated the horse’s inferential learning: by allowing it to investigate at its own speed and even make a few mistakes along the way—the horse did balk at the tarp when it was first laid out—he was able to figure out how to negotiate the new stimulus and get the situation to work for him.
I went through a similar process when I started to write this blog.
For some reason, the cursor pad on my laptop stopped working a few weeks ago. The technicians at Staples deduced there was a problem with the computer but I could easily navigate the screen with an external mouse. That was no problem until tonight, when the cursor froze again. This time I was in my office waiting for a client to arrive; there was no time to go back to Staples to get assistance. If I couldn’t use the computer it wouldn’t be the worst thing—I would have to improvise creating the reinforcement track on a different machine at home, was all. However, I had a few minutes to spare so I decided to figure out a way to resolve my problem, a la inferential learning.
I knew that the remote external mouse I use worked off of a USB attachment, so I started moving the attachment back and forth to different ports. I soon discovered that one of the ports was not working at all, but I had no problem using the mouse when it was plugged into one of the other ports. Phew! At least I could get my work done this evening and deal with the defective USB port when I had more time (and no one waiting for me).
Once again, I had to credit my hypnotherapy training for helping me remain calm and using the rational, logical part of my mind to address the unexpected challenge. Ten years ago, I probably (definitely) would have become panicked and frustrated right away. I am sure that it would have taken a lot longer for me to even consider trying possible solutions for this problem. In fact, I felt like I imagine my horse does when he figures out a new movement in his dressage training. When he gets it right, his tail floats merrily from side to side and he even gets a little spring in his step when he trots off again. Whenever Galahad completes a turn on the haunches, a lateral movement he is currently learning, my trainer or I give him a lot of verbal praise and a few pats on his neck or shoulder to acknowledge his success.
Maybe I should give myself a pat on the back for my successful problem-solving with my computer.
Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.