I feel keeping a promise to yourself is a direct reflection of the love you have for yourself. I used to make promises to myself and find them easy to break. Today, I love myself enough to not only make a promise to myself, but I love myself enough to keep that promise ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
So often around the New Year we make promises and resolutions for ourselves that we never seem to keep. Did you know that less than 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept? I’ll admit that I usually set pretty high stakes for myself and then I fall into that 8 percent. This year I thought that maybe I could keep my new year’s intentions if I made them about something greater than myself. I started to ask myself these questions:
What if I set the intention to be a little kinder and more patient with myself? Would this carry over to my family members and our animal companions?
What if I focused more on what I saw was possible in myself, instead of only what I see now? Would this help me to do the same with my animal companions and the people in my life?
What if I listened more, and observed more, and reacted less? What would happen?
The answers were clear to me; What I give to (or withhold from) myself will parallel how I treat others. What I practice in life will parallel life with others, including my animal companions. As I reflected on this before and after New Year’s, I was inspired to share some of the things that I have learned over the years, and what I have set the intention to focus on, and improve upon in 2015:
Daily Does It.
“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” ― John Mayer
Setting your mind up to start a new habit, a new way of thinking, or anything that you want to do with your animal companion takes daily determination. You have to choose to do it over and over. However, it doesn’t have to take an hour. Set aside 5 minutes each day. Make a point to repeat your new behavior, or the behavior you are working on with your companion animal every day. Aim high! Shoot for 40-days straight! Science has shown us that doing a quick but daily repetition changes the neural pathways in our brains and helps to create long-lasting change. I have tried this and it really works! Be dedicated to it. Daily repetition creates permanent change.
Have Fun or Let It Go.
When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED. ― Dr. Seuss
I love to laugh, and I live to have fun. Ever since I was a kid I felt that if it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t worth it doing. Don’t you think our animals want this too? Ask yourself: Are you having fun with them? Are they having fun when you are training or working with them? The best way to make any resolution stick is to have fun with it. Do you dread doing something? Find a way to make it exciting and something you look forward to doing! Get creative! Be playful! Add music into it! Make it a game or a challenge with an awesome reward! Use some of that positive reinforcement on yourself! Animals and people learn so much faster when they are having FUN!
Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system. ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
I cannot even begin to tell you all of the myths and nonsense that I have been taught since childhood, even up to today! Teachers, friends, family, doctors, nutritionists, veterinarians, and even other animal trainers and educators have shared some real whoppers with me. None of them were trying to deceive me. They had been taught a particular belief so they were just passing it onto me. It was up to me to either digest the fact or barf it up, so to speak.
Everyone has an opinion on something they are passionate about, but it doesn’t make it a fact. I used to teach my interns and volunteers at the zoo to question everything they heard, even if it came from me, or another highly respected staff member. You may be wondering why. Well, think about the “facts” that you were once taught, only to find out later on that a fact turned out to be a myth or a popular misconception that merely spread like wildfire from passionate, well meaning friends or colleagues. When you hear a fact, a suggestion, opinion, or something about an animal, especially yours at home, question what you’re told. Do your own research about it. Read as much as you can on that subject. Become an expert on it, or find an expert with credentials. And remember that just because it’s on the internet or T.V., that doesn’t make it true. You get to decide what’s true for you and your animal family members. Go with what resonates with you.
Easy Now. Be Like The Duck.
The best way is not to fight it, just go. Don’t be trying all the time to fix things. What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Be easy with yourself, your partner, your kids, and your animal companions. Let mistakes happen and forgive them. Don’t hold onto the mistakes and mishaps of anyone, including yourself. Let yourself, your partner, family member, coworker, boss, and your animal off the hook! Release the judgments, guilt and blame – especially the ones about yourself! We are all doing the best we can with where we are. Animals don’t waste a single ounce of energy on any of those and that’s a powerful life lesson that we can all learn from them. Let it roll off your back like water on a duck!
Embrace the “Inner Ding”.
Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of my biggest deterrents is doubt. I used to always look outside myself for answers. I never believed that I had the knowledge or experience to do something out of my comfort zone, or share something personal with others without the fear of criticism. But over the years I have learned how to better rely on my (as Louise Hay says) “inner ding” to validate my thoughts and feelings instead of doubting them. Spoiler Alert: The Answers Are Inside YOU. They are not “out there”! If we can learn to slow down, step away from the situation, remove the emotion, and tune into our own built-in, inner guidance system, we will live life as mother nature and animals know how to do naturally; they flourish without doubt or worry, and they don’t look for answers outside of themselves. Sure we can read books to learn more, we can go to educational conferences, and we can ask others we respect for their opinions and get their advice, but remember to ask yourself those same questions first and last. When we strengthen our inner awareness, our outer experience becomes miraculous.
Oh, and about the criticism issue: the only one really criticizing and judging you is yourself. One way that I started to overcome this fear was by asking myself this question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. You’ll find that when you ask yourself this question, the answer you receive is pretty cool every time. Try it the next time you are afraid or intimidated to do something. Your “Inner Ding” won’t fail you. And you never know how much of a difference you might be making in other’s lives!
Trust the Process
Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see. ― Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal
Patience has never been my strongest quality but working with animals has certainly helped that. Giant tortoises were the first to teach me how to just chill out, slow down, keep it simple, and celebrate the heck out of every little success, no matter how small it seems. Change within ourselves, and our animals doesn’t happen overnight. So be patient with yourself and with them. We are all trying to better ourselves, but let’s face it; it’s a lifelong process for us stubborn, thick-headed humans. Animals don’t measure things as successes or failures, so why should we? It’s ok when things don’t happen right away. Remember that every little success adds up! “Each subtle shift creates a new experience of positive change.” Then, before we realize it, new behaviors are created! You’ll look back and those small successes will turn out to be huge leaps. Keep it simple. Miracles are in the subtle details of life. All good things will grow with time.
Observe More. React Less
To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. ― Marilyn Vos Savant
I admit it; I can be sassy as heck when I am tired or stressed, and in general I tend to talk more than I listen. Just ask my family; I have been mouthy ever since my mother can remember, and my husband must have the patience of an oak tree to deal with me some days. Sometimes I find myself reacting to comments or behavior instead of observing quietly, without judging or taking things personally. Interestingly, our dog is reactive sometimes when she is stressed or tired. I now know that her canine peace of mind can only come when she learns how to observe things (from a safe distance) instead of overreacting to them. We work on this daily with her. When she is calm and feeling safe and secure, the world and all of its normal chaos does not affect her negatively. She watches instead of reacts. I see this in myself as well. We are both a work in progress in many ways, but with a lot of patience and a lot of daily practice, I know that I can become a conscious observer every minute of the day, and she can too. “Be Passersby”. You don’t have to react to everything you see and hear. Communicate clearly, but listen and watch more.
Flaws and All
Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her. ― Laozi
Here are the Cliff notes: You’re good enough, for whatever it is. In fact, you are perfect, and so is every one of your animal companions -just the way they are. Sure, they may have a few (or a lot of) behavioral issues that can be modified so they can function better in our human world, but so do we. It’s a constant challenge for me to embrace all of my many flaws. Loving and accepting ourselves exactly as we are is the first step in accepting others – including our animals – for exactly as they are. If we are hard on ourselves, or judge and criticize the flaws, we are bound to view others this way too, including our animal companions. I don’t believe that animals have “flaws”. They are products of their genetics and their environment. So are we. But we are not our past, and neither are they. We are who we decide we are going to become. When we are able to look past the “flaws” and “imperfections”, and instead, consciously choose to focus on what’s possible, and what he or she can become, miracles occur. Fear, judgement, and criticism are limitations. They only hold you and your animal companions back. Instead of constantly reliving or talking about your animal companion’s hard or tough past, focus on where they are headed and what they are capable of becoming. Believe in the impossible. Embrace the flaws and all.
Your Presence Is Needed.
The greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else is just being present. ― Rasheed Ogunlaru
My mind is always racing, and I am easily distracted. (Anyone that knows me well is probably laughing out loud at that statement.) Thankfully I’ve found many ways to quiet my mind over the years, but I still find myself not being fully present when I’m with a friend, a family member, or my animal companions. I catch myself thinking of what I need to do next, or a conversation that happened earlier. A year ago I decided to remove all of my social media apps off of my phone because I found myself mindlessly checking them instead of just being aware of what was going on around me! It has made a huge difference in helping me to be fully present.
One of the things that I admire about animals is that they are always fully present in the moment; they aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday, or what is going to happen tomorrow. They are always here, now. I’d like to suggest that you try this: when you come home from your busy or stressful day, make a conscious effort to spend a few minutes of your “decompressing” time with your animal family members. Pet them. Throw the ball. Play tug. Brush them. Look at them in the eye. Be fully present with them. I promise that doing this will turn your day around and uplift you. Their presence is a gift to us. Your presence is also a gift to them.
Be In Gratitude.
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Even in the crappiest moments in life I can find something to be grateful for. I am not a Saint by any means, but I have learned to do this. This technique has changed my life in more ways than I can explain. I now know that my moods directly affect everyone around me, especially my animal companions. Whether you know it or not, our animal companions are sponges for our emotions and moods. They are soaking up all that we are sending out. Now I can catch myself when I start to send out negative energy. This is how I do it: If I am feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, (insert any emotion), I choose one thing that I am grateful for. I say it out loud or to myself. When I do this my mood will start to shift. I can feel myself lighten up and feel better. I start to focus on more things that I am grateful for, and whatever I was so upset about starts to fade. Try it. The next time you are upset, reach for a thought that helps you to feel better; find one thing to be thankful for. More will follow.
Last year before New Year’s Eve I asked a few friends, colleagues, and close acquaintances what their resolutions and intentions were for their animal companions and themselves. This is what they graciously shared with me. (If you don’t have Adobe PDF reader, click here to read Promises from around the world.)
I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone what intentions they have set for this New Year, but I would LOVE to hear yours! Did you make any promises to yourself or your animal companions for 2015? Please share them with us in the comment section below!
Go for it, while you can. I know you have it in you. And I can’t promise you’ll get everything you want, but I can promise nothing will change if you don’t try. ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre