Creating discomfort

My friend Elena works with horses, and the other day she described to me how you get a horse to change a certain behavior. It’s called “creating discomfort.” Let’s say you’ve tied a horse to a fence in order to clean it. The horse knows that you usually clean it right before you ask it to work, so if the horse is lazy that day, it will keep moving around, trying to make it as difficult as possible for you to clean it. The idea is that you will soon throw in the towel.

(The same thing happened with my 9-year old son and homework, and I’m sorry to say that he won that round.)

To “create discomfort”, she will put a board, bucket, or broom on the ground next to the horse, so that if the horse does decide to move around it will have to look down, carefully plan where to put its hooves, find itself in an uncomfortable position, etc. This is not fun for the horse, so it soon gives up trying to move around and just lets itself be cleaned.

After two or three times, the unwanted behavior actually changes. Could it not also be so in our own, everyday lives, where maybe we are lazy and some divine power sends us difficulties to make us change our minds, or behavior?

Could it not also be so in our own, everyday lives, where maybe we are lazy and some divine power sends us difficulties to make us change our minds, or behavior?

(Only in our case, it might not take two or three, but hundreds of times!)

It makes me think of the Spielberg movie, “The Terminal,” in which Tom Hanks’ character keeps finding ways to game the airport system in order to survive. All along, his character is continually thwarted by the airport supervisor, played with sadistic pleasure by Stanley Tucci.

We watch as Viktor (Tom Hanks) must move from lower “caste” levels of subsistance, living off of found change in vending machines, gradually to higher levels, finding coupons for free food, trading with friends for favors, bartering with lost luggage and finally, as he reaches the highest caste levels, falling in love and creating a more beautiful airport from the overflowing generosity of his own heart.

Alls well that ends well, right? But let’s not forget to thank that pesky airport supervisor, who kept moving Viktor along… by creating discomfort!

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