When an animal trainer is working with a group of animals, a great method for handling all of them at once is “stationing”. Without station training many animals I worked with, my work life would have been a lot more frustrating.
When I worked with dolphins, my team and I were in charge of twenty animals all in one gigantic community habitat. There were no separate pools and the dominant animals swam right along with subordinate dolphins. When feeding time came around, several times a day, it would cause a frenzy of excitement among the large group.
The trainers needed some sort of organization during these times. Otherwise, the more assertive, dominant animals would get all the food, and leave nothing for the submissive, younger ones. Stationing allowed all the dolphins to get their food, and special attention.
Each dolphin was assigned a separate training group, usually with three to four individuals in each training group. My group consisted of Thor, the dominant male dolphin, his BFF, Buddy, and a youngster named Gage. Each group had a specific spot they would be fed along the main exhibit wall. The wall was about three feet high and allowed visitors to lean over and interact with the dolphins throughout the day. It also provided perfect spots to set up a small group of dolphins so they could focus on their trainer.
In my training spot, Thor, Buddy, and Gage knew they received all my attention, treats, and fun learning opportunities. But only in that specific spot. If they went to another group’s spot, they got nothing.
Coming Back to Station
It took a little time, and patience to get all the dolphins in their right spot, even some of the more experienced animals. Because, well, they’re animals. Perhaps they were simply curious about what was going on with the other groups. Or they wanted to see if another group was getting better fish. Who knows? The point is even when they were station trained, the dolphins didn’t always stay in their station.
It never took long for the dolphins to come back to their rightful spot. Throughout a training session, a dolphin might stray once or twice. Another dolphin might try to join my group or a female would distract Thor with her wiles. It was never a big deal. They always came back to focus.
I realized, the point of stationing wasn’t to keep the dolphins in one spot. It was to teach them to come back to that spot when their mind wandered.
Station Training for the Brain
Many years later, I came to another realization. All my life I heard the benefits of meditation, but never got into it. Meditation was way too hard. How on earth was I supposed to think of nothing for ten, thirty, or good god, sixty minutes?
It never hit me that keeping my mind on “nothing” isn’t the point of meditation. Meditation is literally station training for the brain.
Our brains are made for thinking. We cannot keep it from thinking anymore than I could make the dolphins stay next to me for the entire session without wandering off. The point of meditation is to train our brain to come back to focus quicker and easier. It’s to train our brain to recognize it’s wandering and return to station.
Focus Better in Real Life with Practice
The point of training is to practice a behavior until it becomes habit. This goes for animal training as well as training ourselves. The only way we get better at something is to deliberately practice at it.
By practicing station training our brains, we get naturally better at it in real life. We focus on conversations and comprehend more information. We are more present with our loved ones. When we feel we’re pulled in different directions, meditation practice helps us focus on what’s important now, and we can make a clear decision.
How can you start working on station training your brain today? Little by little, let’s learn to refocus and recenter, by meditating- today, tomorrow, and forever.