False Evidence Appearing Real

Last Thursday was haircut day… we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff.  (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes… I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy – it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)

For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement.  Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing…  Theo, however, is horrified.  After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left… under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice.  If he can’t see us, he reasons, there’s no way we’ll be able to see him.

Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table.  Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he’s ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.

Our worries and stresses are subjective – it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation.  When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be.  If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement.  But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.

Theo’s Teachings:

  • What we are focusing on has a direct effect on our state of mind.  If you are paying attention to negative things, try opening your mind to the possibility of the positive.  If you look for it, you will find it.
  • Our fears are often just False Evidence Appearing Real.  When you are worried or anxious, ask yourself what other possible outcomes might there be?
  • If you are facing something disagreeable, give yourself something to look forward to after the event, then imagine yourself out there in the future, looking back at the event.  From this perspective, there is no anxiety.
  • If you don’t want to be found, choosing the same place to hide each time is probably not the best strategy.




Dogs will be Dogs…

So Luna caught a mole yesterday evening… I’ve no idea where she found it, as there are no evident mole hills in the garden, but she was exceptionally pleased with herself.  She refused to relinquish her prize in the garden, and carried it triumphantly into the house, where she was eventually persuaded to part with it in exchange for three biscuits – a deal which she subsequently regretted, if her disappointed searching was anything to go by…

The mole was, sadly, deceased by this point and was decently interred under the hedgerow across the lane.  Cat families will often be distressingly familiar with this scenario, but with our dogs it is not so frequent (although certainly not unheard of!).

We somehow forget, when we are throwing the fluffy, squeaky toy in a fun game of chase, fetch and throw-in-the-air before chasing again, that in addition to the joyful interaction we are both having, we are also assisting our little hairy friends to hone their hunting skills…

Dogs are natural predators – it is their essential nature to hunt small, squeaky, furry or feathered things.  Why should we expect them to be less dog, and more human, just because we choose to share our lives, our homes and our sofas with them?

Luna’s Teachings:

  • Accept others for who they are, rather than expecting them to be whom you think they ought to be.
  • Everyone is entitled to perceive the world in their own, unique way.  Others will do whatever they will do – what you do with that is all yours.
  • When you’ve just caught your first mole, hold out for the fourth biscuit before handing it over.


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The Teachings of Dog: No 26 – What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

From time to time, we allow all three of the canine members of staff to have a sleep-over in our bedroom…  Daisy and Lily like to sleep in the middle of the bed (although I have occasionally woken in the night with Daisy lying across my neck like a scarf) and Theo sleeps in his bed in the corner of the room… or at least he is supposed to.  In practice, he will wait until we are asleep and then climb stealthily onto the bottom of the bed, hoping that we won’t notice.

Daisy is usually the first to awaken (generally before the alarm goes off), and likes to start her day with her morning exercises of upside down rolling, accompanied by tiny growls of pleasure.  If we make the slightest movement to demonstrate that we are awake, however, this will then send Lily and Theo into ecstatic transports of delight, involving much leaping around and general joyousness at our appearance from the realms of sleep.

What are your first thoughts when you awaken in the morning?  The thoughts you choose to have in your head will colour your entire day…. If you start off believing you will have a bad day, then your unconscious mind will obligingly provide you with evidence throughout the day to support this belief – and you will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What if, instead, you decide to start your day with enthusiasm, gratitude and curiosity…?

The Teachings of Dog – No 25: What if everything really is alright in the end?

At about 5pm every afternoon, the canine members of staff begin to anticipate their supper… I don’t know how they know it’s 5pm (because they seem to know it even if the clocks have just changed!) but within five minutes of the hour they will waken, stretch and look at me with liquid, expectant eyes.  If I’m working in the sitting room they will sometimes attempt to claim my attention by trying to climb on my head. I also don’t know why 5pm is their chosen time – they have never had an absolutely fixed supper time – but 5pm always signals the beginning of the suppertime anticipation…  They don’t just believe that supper will arrive – they absolutely know it.

What if we were to apply this philosophy to our own lives?  We know that we tend to get what we focus on, so if you have a firm and unshaken belief that everything will be alright in the end, despite what challenges and opportunities for learning that the universe offers you along the way, then where do you think that belief will take you?

When you set your life goals, focus on them and believe in them with the passion of dog suppertime – you might not know exactly when it’s going to happen (although you can feel when it’s getting close!), and you absolutely know that it will.

At the end of the day – if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.

The Teachings of Dog – No 24: Why we believe weird stuff

One of Daisy’s self-imposed missions in life is to chase visiting birds from her premises.  In our garden, she has plenty of opportunity to indulge this desire as it is the haunt of woodpigeon, pheasant and partridge, to say nothing of a host of sparrows who reside in the cyprus tree, from where they can tease her from the safety of its impenetrable branches.  Of all of the canine members of staff, Daisy is the only one who watches birds flying, or sitting out of reach on the top of the garden wall (which, as far as Daisy is concerned, is clearly trespassing and therefore not permitted).  Earlier this week, this created a small problem…

Being of a very diminutive stature, Daisy likes to stand on the small wall next to the pond when she is addressing the birds who sit on the top of the high garden wall – being 18 inches higher off the ground is not inconsiderable when one is less than a foot high to start with.  An unusually prolonged episode of barking alerted us to the fact that something was amiss – generally the birds will stand only so much abuse before taking offence and departing.  This time, however, there was nobody sitting on the garden wall at all, yet Daisy continued to bark.  Bringing her back inside didn’t help – she simply waited to go back outside, returned to her station by the pond and continued her vigil, staring up at the top of the empty garden wall and barking with increasing vexation at a trespassing bird whom she could see quite clearly, even if we could not.

Eventually we worked out what it was… behind the garden wall, a large laurel bush has grown up and this year’s new growth had just reached the point where the topmost leaves had become visible to a small Lhasa Apso standing on the wall by the pond, whose job it is to guard the garden from the predations of trespassing sparrows…

The interesting thing is that we all do this…  We are programmed to notice and recognise patterns in things (remember when you saw the shape of a creature in the clouds, or faces in the curtain fabric?) and in NLP we call this “deletion, distortion and generalisation”.  In other words, we see what we believe and we believe what we see – and we will quite happily “disregard the rest”, to quote Paul Simon’s lyrics.  A trick of the light, a different angle, a mis-heard or mis-read word, coming across something unexpectedly – these can all transform “reality” for us.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • You don’t have to believe everything you see, although if it makes it more fun, then go with your imagination.
  • If something is bothering you, make sure it’s true before you start to shout about it.
  • If you can see something that nobody else can, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there.


The Teachings of Dog – No 22: Why break the habit of a lifetime?

We had some old friends round for supper the other evening.  We hadn’t seen them for ages, and they were enchanted to meet the two new part-time canine members of staff, who were visiting us for the weekend.  Fortunately one of my friend’s favourite pastimes is to be submerged beneath a pile of tiny dogs, which is just as well…

Towards the end of supper, we let the dogs into the garden for a spot of milling about.  Shortly afterwards the sound of “ear applause” outside the door alerted us to their return and we opened the door… at which point a black and dripping form hurtled through the open doorway, into the kitchen – and through into the hallway, up the stairs, along the landing, into our bedroom, round the outside of the bed and onto the bed – with all of us in hot and hilarious pursuit.  Tizzie had fallen in the pond again…

It is interesting how we all become creatures of habit.  The very act of doing something over and over in the same way creates a neurological pathway in our brain, so that the behaviour becomes automatic and a habit (or ‘strategy’ in NLP terms) is born.

What if we want to create a new and useful habit, such as daily flossing, or exercise, or self-hypnosis…?  Sometimes the idea of making changes to our existing lifestyle can just seem too big.  Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit – but we can reduce this dramatically through setting a positive, specific goal, and then attaching the new “habit” onto something that we already do.  “Daily flossing” for example can be made more specific by stating is as “flossing every night after cleaning my teeth” – so that it becomes an extension of an existing habit, and not a whole new habit in itself.  Small change is always easier than big change!

In the daylight of Sunday morning, I watched the dogs in the garden.  They all know to avoid the pond, and when returning to the back door from the lawn this necessitates quite a long detour.  Tizzie has evidently decided to create her own new pathway and cut out the loop – and the trackway made by her little feet was easy to see, once you knew it was there… as was the newly-formed (and doubtless inadvertent) slipway, created the night before due to a misplaced foot in the darkness.

Tizzie’s Teachings:

  • New behaviours sometimes take a while to get right every time; remember there is no failure, only feedback.
  • Always look before you leap – even if you think you know where the edge of the pond is.
  • Don’t leave mud to dry – if you take action straight away it will mostly come out in the wash.


The Teachings of Dog: No 21 – How Not to Worry

Poor Lily recently developed an infection in one of her toes.  We didn’t realise she had a problem at first – it was snowy outside, and so a certain amount of foot licking was only to be expected – but when this graduated to a fairly persistent chewing, we knew something was amiss and investigated…  At first, I applied a “sock” which worked well… until I went for a shower, at which point it was quietly destroyed in order that the licking could recommence.  After this we had no option.  Lily was going to have to wear “The Cone of Shame”.

After the initial period of confusion, during which certain skills such as stair climbing and jumping onto sofas had to be adjusted accordingly, Lily found one or two benefits to her new sartorial adornment.  Whereas before, when chasing frozen peas across the floor, for example, she had to contend with competition from Theo and Daisy, now her cone acted as both a scoop and an effective barrier, so that once captured, her peas could be consumed in peace.

The main purpose of the cone was, of course, to prevent Lily from worrying constantly at her foot, and thereby making it worse.  This is often what happens when we worry constantly about something – the more we choose to focus on it, the bigger it appears in our mind as we return to it again and again.  In Lily’s case the original problem was only very small; yet it occupied her entire being – and as soon as she was wearing the cone, she appeared to forget about it altogether. 

There are a number of tools which we can use to create our own “cone” – distracting the mind from our worry (and thereby allowing it to reduce in size, or even disappear completely) while at the same time allowing our sense of peace and calmness to expand.  Self-Hypnosis, Meditation, Mindfulness – when used regularly, these, and other methods, can be of immeasurable benefit to both our mental and physical health as we leave our worries outside our “cone” and allow our mind and body to heal from the stress we have created.

A week of wearing her cone (and some expert advice from John at Grace Lane Vets) soon saw Lily’s foot back to normal, and her erstwhile neckwear was consigned once more to the top of the cupboard in the utility room, where hopefully it will remain for a long time to come…

Lily’s Teachings:

  • Constantly worrying about something only makes it worse, as what we choose to focus on expands in our mind.
  • Discovering a way to change your focus can have immeasurable and unexpected benefits.
  • Frozen peas are even more fun when nobody else can reach them.

The Teachings of Dog: No. 19 – Limitless Beliefs

Tizzie is the newest member of the part-time section of the canine team.  At just six months old, she is also the youngest; a fluffy, diminutive Lhasa Apso with formidable reserves of energy.  Her favourite pastime during her visits is chasing Theo around the garden until they both collapse, exhausted, in the grass, until one of them decides it’s time for the next round.  Tizzie is half his size, but nobody has told her that she can’t win.

Nobody has told her that she’s too small to jump onto the kitchen bench, either – even Daisy, with her balletic leaps, can’t manage the bench – but to tiny Tizzie it’s no obstacle… neither is our big iron bedstead, onto which Daisy and Poppy have to be lifted because it’s too high for them to jump.  It took her a few attempts to work out her perfect strategy; but to Tizzie, for whom failure was not failure, but feedback, it was her goal; and she knew it was achievable.  She just kept on going until she achieved it.

What would you do in life, if you knew you couldn’t fail?  Is whatever has been getting in your way really real, or is it just a belief?  Just think… what could happen if the belief was no longer there…?

Beliefs are not real – they are just ideas we have ceased to question.  It’s perfectly possible to change a belief that is no longer serving you.  So ask yourself – are your beliefs limiting, or limitless?

The Teachings of Dog – No 17: Perception is Projection

Here in Wydale it might sometimes seem as if time stands still while the rest of the world passes us by (which is why it’s such a good place for a retreat centre!), but of course even here we are not immune from change…

A recent change, which might seem small in the scheme of things, was chronicled in The Teachings of Dog No 16 – our full-time canine members of staff are now down from five to three and, it has to be said, things are a lot quieter round here…!  It is remarkably interesting how differently the dogs behave depending on who else is around, and this sudden reduction in their numbers has really brought this to the fore.  Theo and Lily now play and chase as they used to do before Poppy came along – when Poppy visits, Lily is more or less ignored by Theo.  Lily will vociferously defend me against “intruders” (aka “visitors”!) if Theo is around, but without Theo she becomes quiet and welcoming.  (Daisy remains pretty much Daisy, regardless of who is there!)

What about us?  Do we also behave differently around different people?  We certainly do!  I was speaking with a new client this afternoon who was wanting help with some problems he is experiencing at work.  Most of the time he is fine, but when in the company of certain colleagues he goes to pieces and loses his confidence completely; we’ve probably all experienced something similar at some point in our lives!

In NLP terms, this is known as “Perception is Projection” – in other words, we project our own “stuff” onto other people, which is then reflected back at us.  For example, if a person unconsciously reminds us of someone we met in the past who made us feel a certain way, we are likely to recreate those feelings without consciously realising why – we project the attributes of the original person onto the new person and have the perception that they are the cause of our feelings.  Snippets the poodle gave an excellent demonstration of this – when she first came to us she was afraid of men, so any man who came into the house was, in her perception, a truly terrifying being.

When we become consciously aware of an unwanted projection it then becomes possible to do something about it, either by acknowledging that this person is not the same person as the original person who made us feel this way, or by addressing the underlying “stuff” within ourselves (often a limiting belief) that created the feeling in the first place.

Amongst the canine members of staff, however, doubtless Theo will continue to be best friends with Lily unless Poppy is around; Poppy will be very, very quiet when by herself, but act as a noise catalyst (or should that be “dogalyst”?) when with the others; Lily will have to be forcibly restrained until visitors are safely inside the hallway if Theo is around, and Daisy will remain Daisy, regardless of all the rest of us… until such time as another junior canine member of staff arrives, to shake up the mix yet again!

The Teachings of Dog – No 11: Is It Really Real?

Snippets, our newest canine member of staff, has been with us now for just over a week and her personality is starting to blossom as her comfort zones gradually expand. She has discovered the joys of scrabbling excitedly in the scrunchy dead leaves of the crocosmia plant on the terrace, especially when “hiding” from Theo during a game of chase. She was very excited indeed to see Tracy last week for her new makeover, and after a rather drastic short-back-and-sides is now half the dog that she was… the discarded fluff filled an entire carrier bag! A trip to the beach at the weekend with Daisy and Poppy for company raised her to heights of bliss, once she realised that she could safely leave our sides for a run – but even better if we ran with her!

But Snippets has a problem. We had a visit from our lovely business coach, Dr Alun Rees, yesterday, and when he arrived Theo gave his usual vociferous and enthusiastic schnauzer welcome, aided and abetted by the rest of his team. All except Snippets whom, after a spot of loud and horrified barking, shot up the stairs and retreated to the safety of our bed, from where she refused to be moved. We managed to have her in the same room during the evening, when we were all in front of the fire, but even the sight of Theo and Daisy cuddling up next to Alun on the sofa was not enough to convince Snippets that he is really a friendly and gentle dog-loving soul.

Something in Snippets’s unknown past has created for her a belief that all unknown men are to be feared. For the other dogs, this is not their reality; they experienced the same situation and were more than happy to relax in Alun’s company, but Snippets believes it with all the fervency of her little doggy heart and, to her, the fear is very real in her mind because of that belief.

We all have our own worries and fears; most of us are extremely good at the game of “What If?” and can create easily for ourselves some quite scary future “realities”, because reality is subjective. Next time you find yourself doing this, stop for a moment and consider whether or not your fear is really real. Is it actually true, in this moment, or is it just a belief or a thought of something that might happen? What happens if, instead of your “What If” being a negative possibility, you change it to be “What If… something positive”? You may find your fears are less real than you thought they were.

For Snippets, of course, the only way to prove to her that her old belief is not true is with time, patience and a lot of love. Fortunately we can offer her all three of those in abundance, so that hopefully when Alun is back again in April, Snippets will be competing with the others for a place next to him on the sofa.

Snippets’s Teachings:

  • Just because you believe something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. Is the belief serving you? If not, ask yourself whether it could be time to let it go. What would be a more empowering belief to have in its place?
  • Ask yourself, What If…. today was the most wonderful day of your life so far? What could happen if you start each day with that expectation?
  • Last year’s crocosmia leaves are the best place to hide the squeaky duck.