06/10/2014 10:58 am ET | Updated Aug 09, 2014

The Power of 'Yes'

The Power of "Yes"

I have been the mother of three capable boys for the past 19 years. Ever-evolving, they are all works in progress. I also work in the horse industry far from the glamour of competition. I have ridden and rehabilitated horses during 15 of those years. Seeking out dysfunction and remedial behaviors is the job I enjoy most. Did motherhood prepare me for this or is it the other way around? Either way I have found, once unlocked, the thinking brain of the horse reveals it is like any other brain out there when applying a certain methodology. I am not big on confrontation. I'd rather redirect energy than stand in front of it. I prefer the words "yes," "could be,","why not try," and "I hear you." I have found this approach gets me what I want sooner and permanently -- boy or horse. It is not about me making anyone do anything, obeying, doing something habitual or desensitizing; it is about the individual having the confidence in knowing it is the right thing because it has been mapped in their brain courtesy of the word "Yes." In both of my occupations I ask myself, is there permanence in what I have taught or is everything a reaction to what happens to them? Probably both, however I have found the former affects the perspective of the later and that's all I can ask for in a world where the challenges of life are unforeseeable. Once I realized that, I never looked back.

If you come in contact with a behaviorist there are two givens, 1.They are analyzing you, and 2. They know the game of "Yes." It is the defining Positive Reinforcement game. The object is to get someone to do something by only using the word "Yes." No eye rolling, no gestures. The person doesn't know any of this, figuring it out as they go along. One of the most difficult tasks I have seen accomplished is finding a sock and putting it on inside out. Two things this exercise develops is the ability to deconstruct and then shape behavior, and the awareness of the power of "yes." It also shows the brain goes to where it got positive reinforcement last unconsciously, thus demonstrating the mapping process. I have played this game with people and the results are the same as with the horse. Same brain, different access.

The deconstructing of a goal and then shaping behavior so it can be achieved is the cornerstone of any teaching modality but what sets positive reinforcement apart is its ability to motivate the mind to be creative and build confidence. The cue of "yes" pinpoints exactly what the desired action is. The clarity and support this simple word gives translates to a building block that brings us closer to the goal. We naturally seek the next building block using whatever knowledge we have at hand and if we don't we'll make it up! This learning becomes deep-seated in the brain with positive results. This act of doing and getting a reward spurs the flow of endorphins. Humans and horses both seek that feeling. Rather than drill my horse on what the proper trot departure should be I ignore all tries without judgment but when he delivers the beginnings of a seamless balanced transition, I reward. He doesn't forget and he builds. How do I know? That's where he now goes every time. Horses are peaceable, herd bound creatures. Going to where they know it exists is a constant. Even with our eyes positioned on the front of our face, humans inherently are no different.

An exercise that highlights the power of "Yes" is when "No" takes its place in the game. Quickly "No" proves debilitating. Stops the person in their tracks. Causes hesitation and lack of confidence and takes away the will to try. I have seen adults verging on tears because at every turn they are told "no." Every insecurity surfaces and reaching the goal is impossible. I was shocked at the power of just a word delivered with no ill intent, just meant to direct. With horses I don't play with the word "No." Typically the ones I meet have heard "No" in many forms so it's not necessary to go there. They are explosive or even worse their eyes reflect a creature that has given up.

I will leave you with this one parenting tactic demonstrating the staying power of this teaching modality. It can be cleverly applied to any office situation as well. It was born out of my kids turning a deaf ear when I called for them to do chores. After determining what would be my carrot; the act of doing nothing (a precious commodity in the minds of 8-12 year old boys) I had three jobs in mind varying in degree of difficulty and time consumption. Remaining neutral, I called once through the house for them. Unbeknownst to them the first person to arrive got to choose their chore. That job could be as easy as wiping the kitchen counter or writing their name, basically doing nothing. When the other two arrived they got to choose as well, showing my fairness, but the jobs were more time demanding. The next time I employed the same game and the response time was about even. The third time it was like a switch went off. Doors were slamming and feet were scrambling from every corner of the house. To this day at 15,17 and 19, I call and they come. If you ask, do you remember any of this positive reinforcement mapping? they do not. Whether horse or human the brain does not put up barriers or put stress markers on things learned in a positive light. That is the beauty and power of "Yes."