Episode 187: The backward cycle of learning; after, during, before

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just read a book or see a demonstration once…and just do the new thing with ease?
The reality is often quite different. I would even go as far as saying that the process is backward from what we desire.
Take the example of changing a current habit, where you release the rein, to a new habit…a slightly different release point. 
First, you must gain awareness of the new release point. Maybe an instructor or a video suggests this change.
When you go out to practice…you will often realize AFTER you have missed the timing…that you were late. 
Eventually, with practice, you’ll get closer and closer to the timing, maybe you’ll even notice DURING…but you’ll probably still notice you’re a moment late.
Then, with enough practice, you’ll see the proper timing BEFORE the moment approaches…and you’ll release with perfect timing. 
The challenge is that both the ‘after’ and the ‘during’ stages feel like constant mistakes. And you can choose to view them that way, or you can view this as the practice you need to finally achieve your new habit. 


Episode 187_ The backward cycle of learning; after, during, before.mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] That’s how you’re going to finally get to the tipping point that we all wish we started with, which was where we just know how to prevent it before it happens.

Announcer: [00:00:14] Podcasting from a little cabin on a hill, this is the Stacy Westfall podcast. Stacy’s goal is simple: to teach you to understand why horses do what they do, as well as the action steps for creating clear, confident communication with your horses.

Stacy Westfall: [00:00:33] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I help riders become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. This season of the podcast, I’m sharing with you some of the concepts that I teach to my students inside my programs. These are the ideas that are helping students to train their own horses at home, themselves. In this episode, I’m going to talk to you about the backward cycle of learning. This might explain why sometimes learning feels ugh. How closely have you looked at the process of learning something new? Like just pause for a moment and think when you are either learning something new or changing a habit or improving something if you want to even go there. What does that process look like? Let’s go to a super classic one where you picture a child learning to walk. I don’t have to go on and on because you know how this story goes. Lots of falling, lots of trying again. Lots of falling, lots of adjustments, and muscles being built. Or we can look at a teenager learning to drive a car. What does that process look like? Or you can look at yourself learning to change a habit. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just read a book or see a demonstration one time and then just go do the new thing? It would just be easy. It’d be like, Oh yes, I think I’ll take up painting and you go to a painting class and suddenly you’re producing these amazing works of art. But that’s not how it’s worked for me in my experience anyway. It’s been more like, desire to learn something new like drive a car, trying the new thing like actually driving a car in a parking lot, realizing what I don’t know by braking too quickly, throwing everybody else around in the car, turning too sharply, not turning soon enough. All of those are moments where I get information, I assess what happened, and then I repeat. But this is actually the way that I feel this happening is that I realize the mistake after it has happened. Then I realize the mistake as it is happening. And then finally, eventually, someday, I hope to get to where I realize the potential for the mistake before it happens so I can correct it.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:25] Let’s go back to that driving example. Oftentimes learning to drive. You could realize that the mistake has happened after it happened. So you’re driving the car, you turn and run the cone over and it pops out behind the car and you’re just, whoa! That just happened. So that’s realizing it after it happened. Then there is realizing the mistake as it happens. So you’re turning and now you’re aware that you should be looking around and you realize the cone is there and you see in your side view mirror that the rear tire is about to run over the cone, so you stop it. So that is a moment of realizing the mistake as it’s about to happen. Now, if you’ve ever been in a situation like that with a car or a horse trailer, you realize you don’t just drive away from that. You’ve got to back up and wiggle around and do some things because you’re still not exactly where you want to be, which is the next step where you now have driven the car around enough that you realize how to prevent it from happening. You know how to approach the cone and turn a left hand, turn around it without running over the cone. And all of that happened because you went through that backward process of learning. You went from after the mistake to during the mistake to before the mistake. This after, during, before pattern happens in three places when I’m coaching people. One is with awareness. Another one is with muscle memory. And another one is with mental habits or default thinking. So the way that I see this with awareness is that oftentimes when somebody is trying to learn something new, they are in the process of trying to recognize a moment that they’ve never recognized before. And so a lot of times that awareness is first brought up when I’m reviewing a video with them and I point something out and they become aware. Because we’re both watching the video after the fact, this is very after the moment. And I think it’s normal human behavior that we want to think that the first time somebody points that out, you know, when you were over here on your horse and you did this, this is what happened, so here’s what you could do differently, I think it’s the normal human thinking that we’re like, Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Got it. And we think we’re going to go out there and it’s just going to happen before because now we know. But typically that’s not what happens. Typically what happens is it still happens after. Like you realize you did that thing that Stacy pointed out on the video and you realize after you did it that you did it and the stage lasts for quite a while. Then eventually that awareness gets dialed up enough that you begin to notice it during, which at some point, instead of it being 5 hours afterwards, it might be 5 minutes afterwards, and then it might be 5 seconds afterwards. And then you’re now at the during phase. Your awareness is now during that moment of decision. Both of these phases. Are not fun for students because often when I’m pointing this out and I’m pointing things out over and over again, and we’re discussing the habits, the muscle memory habits, the awareness, like the lack of awareness, the building awareness, the muscle memory habits that are there, and then the mental habits, the default thinking of how they’re even taking the coaching at the moment, all of those different things, they all have this after, during, before pattern. And when I’m coaching people and I see that we haven’t quite reached that tipping point yet every time I pointed out, you know, there it is again. Here’s the spot where you’re releasing while the horse is doing this and that’s what’s causing this to happen. Every time I point it out, it can feel like to the student that they are behind. It feels like after is a problem. It feels like after is making the mistake 500 more times. And once you see it as a mistake or something that could at least be cleaned up or corrected, it feels like you’re really, really, really doing something wrong. And what I want to tell you in this podcast is it’s normal that when you’re in that after phase that it almost feels worse when you know what you’re trying to change than when you are oblivious to the problem. So you come in and I start showing you things, and now you realize what you want to do differently. But it feels like you’re always late or you continue to make the same mistake. But what I would challenge you to actually see is that every time you recognize that mistake, let’s just pretend it takes 500 more times. Every time you make it, you’re probably actually catching it a fraction sooner. And so 500 more times means you’re probably getting more and more aware. And so what’s happening is you’re shortening that time. Maybe it’s not five days after you made the video and you review it with me. Maybe now it’s an hour after you made the video and you haven’t even watched the video yet, but you’re starting to remember your rides more clearly and you realize it. And then maybe it is after you’ve made the mistake three times, but it’s actually during the ride. Yes, you go when you watch the video afterwards and you and you double-check and this is where you’ve also got to be aware you could beat yourself up as you watch yourself make the mistake. But remember, this is a normal phase. Becoming aware of it after it happened is normal. That’s what’s going to help us move to the during phase. And if you’re anything like me, the during phase is not much more fun than the after phase. If anything, it feels like you’re so close you should be able to do it by now. But that is not the phrasing that you want to have, because when you’re saying I should have it now, you’re just gently beating yourself up. Maybe not so gently. Be aware that the after is a normal phase. The very close to after as you’re slowly moving to during is that’s all a phase. During like right at that moment right when you release the ra\ein and you realize that if you would held for two more seconds, it would have had a completely different outcome even in that during phase, if you can slightly celebrate the fact that you’re aware of it that much sooner. That’s how you’re going to finally get to the tipping point that we all wish we started with, which was where we just know how to prevent it before it happens.

Stacy Westfall: [00:11:07] So if you are one of the people that has taken my advice, whether you’re a student and you’ve taken my advice of videotaping or whether you are a podcast listener and you’ve taken the advice of videotaping. When you watch the video and you see the problem happen after you didn’t realize it during or you’re double-checking it because you realized it, but it was kind of late. Can you celebrate that? This is progress. And if you can’t celebrate that this is progress, then you might want to take a look at the mental habits you have. Do you believe that beating yourself up is the way to get faster progress? Do you believe that if you shame yourself and say that you should know better by now because you’ve been doing it for X number of months or years? Do you believe that that process of the way you’re treating yourself right there, is that even a healthy habit? Or is that an after, during, before habit that you need to look at also? Because the game is to move from recognizing it after to recognizing it during to recognizing it before. This is what I didn’t really want but there it is. That’s where I want to be. And here’s the gap in between as my awareness gets quicker and quicker. Let’s put this into a horse example just to make sure I haven’t been talking in too much theory. You’ve made that video of you riding the horse and you notice when you’re watching the video that you turned wider than you wanted to on that particular pattern. You start thinking, why is this happening? Am I being unclear? Or is it the horse that’s not responding? That’s what you go out in the next ride and you play with you are now more aware that you were turning wider than you wanted to. You now are more aware of where you want to be. Now the odds of you being more clear with your request are higher as you’re more clear with your request in that next ride. You can then realize whether that immediately fixed it or whether the horse has a little habit hangover from the way you’ve been riding. And so maybe the horse isn’t responding because you haven’t been consistent. And now you go back in your reviewing again and you’re thinking, What do I want to do instead? How can I help this horse? I’m now realizing I’ve been unclear. I’ve now realizing that my habits with my horse, my habits and my horse’s habits, both need polished up. I know I want to be five feet closer right there. How can I get five feet closer in my next ride so when I’m watching my video, I know I’m five feet closer because I can see it on the video? Can you see now how you’re planning ahead? And now with that plan, you’re more aware of your body, you’re more aware of your horse’s body, you’re probably more aware of your cues and you’re probably more aware of when the horse is responding. And then you can soften up a little bit to say, yes, good job, that’s more of what I want. Or if the horse isn’t responding and you can start to be like, How am I being unclear here? What’s happening? Do I need a more simple thing? How am I confusing this horse? What’s going on? And then you go do it again. And you keep doing this over and over and over again.

Stacy Westfall: [00:14:51] So the process of recognizing it after is the process of how you move to during. And then that is how all of those steps where you take 500 steps to get to during and then the magic is everything you learned from doing those 500 attempts actually makes the during phase go faster because you didn’t realize that everything that felt like it was after was moving you in this new direction and now you’re seeing things faster and faster. You’re recognizing the pattern faster and faster. So the during phase doesn’t last as long as the after phase did. And the after phase lasted the perfect amount of time to inform you of how to get to the during phase, which is great because that’s exactly how you’re going to get to the before phase. And then when you’re in the before phase, now you’re driving the car and you see the cone and you know exactly where you need to begin turning so that you can turn close to it but not run it over. And a lot of this stuff when we’re doing it with the horses is a dance of awareness and muscle memory, because oftentimes when you’re changing your awareness of where you want to be, you have to recognize your muscle memory. That was also stepping in, where you were looking, what your old habit of where you were looking was, and what your new habit needs to be. So there’s some muscle memory thing. And then again, there’s that pure thought also. Think about–I’m thinking back to me when I wanted to stop eating so much sugar. Anyone who knew me ten years ago going to horse expos, people would actually come up and they would give me hats, like baseball caps that would say, Eat Dessert First because I ate sugar first, always. So pass the donut. Give me the Oreo. Outback Steakhouse lava cake appetizer. That was my appetizer. So, sugar. Yes, that was my habit. So when I wanted to start to break the habit of sugar, what was really interesting was that there were times that I was very clear that’s what I wanted. But I actually wouldn’t realize I’d eaten the sugar until an hour afterwards. You would not think that’s possible, right? You would think that you would have to be totally conscious of eating the sugar in the moment. But let’s say I was a mom and I’m cleaning up the table and there’s a pack of Oreos and I’m going to put them away. And you pop a couple in your mouth and you put them away. I’m here to tell you that could happen without a thought. And that is literally where it’s like, wait a minute. That’s not what I want to do, but I’m literally living in the after. And then it’s the moment I’m sitting at the Outback Steakhouse getting ready to order, and I usually order the lava cake for an appetizer and I’m not going to. That is that during phase and that during phase again is often very challenging because you feel the pull of both the old habit and the new one you’re trying to build. And then eventually you get to the point where it’s not the struggle to pass on the sugar. So now it’s not a struggle for me to do this. It’s not a struggle for me if everybody else orders lava cake and I just don’t want any. It’s not a struggle. I literally didn’t believe that was possible. But even if you go down to something as–as non-muscle memory, you know, as you can be like this where it’s like grabbing sugar. You can start to realize that that after, during, before process is alive and well in the way that you’re viewing things like me and the sugar or in the way that you are recognizing. You’re donning awareness as you’re learning something new and trying to change that habit, whether that’s an awareness habit of realizing what you want to be doing or a muscle memory habit of changing what automatically seems to happen when you’re riding your horse. These are all just real stages, and one of the most simple things you can do is just take these three words, after, during, before, and just identify what just happened with that phrasing. And know that you’re on your way as long as you keep taking action. Thank you for joining me today. If you want help taking any of the concepts that you’ve been learning here on the podcast and you want help applying them to your own riding your own horse. Jump on over to my website and learn more about my private coaching and my online course. Thanks again for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:20:15] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

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  1. Jan McDougald on August 2, 2022 at 5:56 am

    Thank you for this podcast as you brought to my attention that the “after, during and before” is part of the process and beating myself up only adds to frustration and is not conducive to moving forward through the phases. For years I thought I had the proper alignment in my riding posture until I rode with a group that liked to take lots of pictures. I was appalled to see I had a bad case of chair seat. I had been reinforcing the chair seat muscle memory for years. Without the benefit of an instructor, pictures and/or video a rider can sure go down the wrong rabbit hole. As you pointed out, awareness is a prerequisite for moving through the three stages. Once my new Pivo gets set up I hope to move through the “after” phase a bit more expeditiously. Your explanations are so well thought out and with your different examples such as the baby learning to stand; learning how to drive and “Dessert First” all help to bring an understanding to the subject. Thank you for your dedication.

  2. Lorrie Morgan on July 14, 2022 at 8:55 am

    This really calmed me down. I was so frustrated that I am not making faster progress but your advice allowed me to be gentle with myself.

  3. Diane Fox on June 15, 2022 at 10:48 pm

    Thank you! I am working with a filly right now on feel. This will sure help my confidence!

  4. Suzanne Morisse on June 15, 2022 at 7:33 am

    Thanks I need this one .

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