the power of soak time - katie navarra on her horse, winstonHorse trainers often talk about giving horses “soak time” or “dwell time.”

The pause offers the horse an opportunity to process the lesson and usually the horse licks and chews.”

For years, much of the evidence was based on trainers’ anecdotal observations experimenting with when and how long to let the horse sit and think.

It turns out extensive research in humans substantiates why “soak” time is crucial to learning both in horses and humans.

Why soak time?

The brain needs time to consolidate and integrate what we’ve learned. I recently heard Dr. Stephen Peters, a neuroscientist who applies his knowledge of the human brain to horses, explain the science behind “soak time.”

A functional MRI can distinguish which brain area is used during a task. For example, if you write something or read a book during an MRI, the scan picks up the activated area in your brain.

After the task, if you’re not disrupted that area of the brain continues to light up because the brain is replaying what has occurred.

Think of all the times you’ve caught your brain replaying a skill you’re learning—that allows your brain to pick up where you left off and progress the skill the next time you use it.

But even a light tap on your leg or a simple question like, ‘How are you doing,’ breaks the circuit.

So what?

Swap “horses” for “humans” in what Dr. Peters shares below and consider this:

“If you pat a horse to say, ‘good boy,’ you interrupt the neuro network just like in the MRI. The information sticks better if we get out of the horse’s space and allow them to consolidate the information, we are teaching them. But we get greedy, and we want to do it over and over again, so they experience rote learning and don’t have same neuro network because we don’t wait.”

How often do we ask those we lead—our team and clients—to speed up the process of what we’re sharing with them so we can forge ahead?

What I’m doing differently

  1. Licking & Chewing: Horse trainers look for licking and chewing to signal the horse is mulling over what they’ve just learned.
    I’ve started licking my lips to force myself to take a pause to process the moment after reading or learning something new, or I am thinking on a project with a client.
  2. Slowing Down, Way Down: I’m always on a mission going 80 mph. One thing I’ve learned from Winston—while horses (and people) look for a leader to take charge, you have to slow down to go fast.
    I’ve started using Box Breathing in between tasks to give myself and those I’m working with time to reflect.
  3. Looking for Deeper Understanding: “Learner” falls in my Clifton Strengths Top 5 and my curiosity to find out more about brain science and how it connects to leadership, entrepreneurship and training horses is now in overdrive.

I’m re-reading Your Body Is Your Brain by Amanda Blake and I’ve landed a few new writing assignments that dig into understanding the horse’s brain.

I’d love to hear your thoughts….how might you integrate soak time into your work?