The Five Sources of Ch'i at ClickerExpo Denmark

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Editor's note: This article was originally published 12/03/2015.

Ch'i is the Chinese word for the concept of life force or energy. Words for similar concepts appear in many cultures. For example, it’s mana in Hawaiian culture, ruah in Hebrew and “the force” in Star Wars (couldn’t resist). ClickerExpo, too, has an energy all of its own, a kind of ClickerExpo Ch’i.

We don’t have our own unique word to describe this energy (suggestions welcome!) but I know it exists. I can feel it, and just about everyone at ClickerExpo feels it as well. What is it like? I’ve tried to describe the source elements of it (I think there are five) using both my own experience and the experiences of our attendees as they describe the Ch’i of ClickerExpo.

ClickerExpo 2016
Billund, DK, 28-30 October
  1. Self- Reinforcement
  2. Too often in life, we hesitate to give ourselves the gifts we will treasure the most. While most of us are pretty good at self-criticism, we are less practiced at self-recognition, and even worse at rewarding ourselves. A habit of rewarding ourselves for the good things we do ALLOWS us to be more generous with others. And that manifests itself at ClickerExpo in a culture that is warm, open, and welcoming because everyone who is there chose to be there.

    “An atmosphere of sharing and creativity that is unrivaled by any other professional conference I have been to.” - ClickerExpo Attendee

    The only person who can put ClickerExpo on your wish list and make sure you receive that gift is you. Don’t you deserve it?

    Yes, I do!

  3. Experience and Purpose
  4. There are two parts to this source of Ch’i.

    First, a wealth of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than possessions do. “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Cornell professor of psychology Thomas Gilovich. Gilovich is a leader in this field. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” (Atlantic Monthly, October 2014, Buy Experiences Not Things)

    Second, while happiness is powerful and important, it’s not the same as, nor as powerful as, having purpose. People whose lives have purpose experience an elevated sense of well-being and resiliency, and are more likely to be people who contribute more to society than they give. (Atlantic Monthly, January 2013, There’s More to Life Than Being Happy). There are plenty of times when people make choices that bring no happiness, but there is often a great sense of well-being derived from transcending one's owns needs. Think of soldiers and their bond through a common purpose. Or Mr. Spock’s death in Star Trek. Art imitates life.

    ClickerExpo is powerful because it bundles happiness with purpose. The experience itself is imbued with all the factors that drive happiness: self-expansion, new-skill acquisition, new sights, sounds, social interactions, and learning opportunities. But it is also filled with purposeful activity: helping others learn, finding ways to learn from and communicate with animals, and being part of the larger purpose to “make the world a better place, one click at a time.” (Karen Pryor) In fact, empathy for, and giving to, the learner is intrinsic to excellent clicker training. I’ll let you think about why.

    The net effect on attendees of experience combined with purpose is awesome.

    "It lights me up on every level, intellectually and emotionally!" - ClickerExpo Attendee

    Come to ClickerExpo for your own one-, two-, or three-day dose of happiness with purpose.

    I want that!

  5. Fear-Free Learning
  6. Psychological literature makes clear that building competency helps build self-esteem. What the literature misses most of the time, and what we are proving, is that learning without fear (of embarrassment, punishment, etc.), leads to the highest levels of self-esteem and skill competency. Let me emphasize that we don’t have as much published research to support this conclusion as we would like, but it is coming. Karen Pryor was one author on a just-finished study that taught medical residents surgical skills using operant conditioning. (Volume 473 Number 10, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research) The results? Let me just say that, if you could, you would have your surgical knots tied by a resident trained clicker-style.

    You can see the joy of learning fear-free at ClickerExpo reflected in comments like this.

    “Great seminars and Labs! People were so complimentary to me and my dog, even when I thought we might have to leave early because he was so over-stimulated. (He did calm down. Whew!)”- ClickerExpo Attendee

    I know—it’s so cool!

    Here are four Expo courses related to this topic of fear-free learning that I want to highlight (because with 80 courses at Expo you might just miss them!):

    The Rat is Never Wrong: Understanding Errorless Learning (Susan Friedman)

    Animals in Control: The Choice Is Theirs (Emelie Johnson-Vegh, Eva Bertilsson, Peggy Hogan)

    Blind Trust: The Next Level of Partnership with Your Dog (Michele Pouliot)

    Stranger Danger! Dogs That Are Reactive to People (Emma Parsons)

    I want that, too!

  7. Tribe
  8. No matter where we are in the world, we need “our kind of people” for connection, our tribe. ClickerExpo is filled with people who are true clicker trainers, not people who just use a clicker. Every year at ClickerExpo our attendees express a common sentiment. “I feel at home.”

    This feeling seems to be true whether you come alone or come with a group, whether you are highly experienced or less experienced, whether you are from the city or a small rural town.

    “I found a community existed that I didn't know existed, and would not know where else to find.” - ClickerExpo Attendee

    Come home and settle in. It’s ClickerExpo

    Join my tribe

  9. Rejuvenation
  10. I know, listing rejuvenation seems like tautology (re-energizing energy?), but stay with me. EVERYONE feels re-energized from ClickerExpo. Maybe your teaching has been in a rut. ClickerExpo will lift you up. If your training is stuck, ClickerExpo will get you unstuck.

    “It is exciting, invigorating, and rejuvenating.” - ClickerExpo Attendee

    Bottom line? Yes, you will be tired by conference end, but it’s that good tired. You will leave ClickerExpo feeling uber-motivated to work with your dog, your horse, your cat, your student, your child, and maybe your spouse!

    Energize me!

    Experience your own unique ClickerExpo mana, ruah, Ch’i, or force at ClickerExpo 2016 in Billund, Denmark.

About the author
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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.