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.

 

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The Magic of Discovery

Joy and Happiness - Luna Small

It’s just over three weeks since little Luna joined us, and we can’t believe how easily she has just taken everything in her stride…  Nothing seems to faze her, and she is abundantly curious about each new experience.  “What excitement can I discover here?” seems to be her motto.

She’s deeply fascinated by the numerous bumblebees that frequent the clover flowers in the lawn; having briefly experimented with eating one, she’s now decided that’s possibly a bit too exciting and is contenting herself with sniffing them, and then chasing after them when they fly busily off to the next flower…  The fat woodpigeons who sit, apparently in deep contemplation, on the lawn are also good fun to chase – flapping heavily away at the last minute, only to perch on the wall and look down at her in high dudgeon at being so rudely awakened from their meditative trance.

An early exploration of the pond has fortunately not been repeated – no doubt to the collective relief of the newt population – but everything within the garden and without has been subject to her close sensory scrutiny.  The paths and lanes we walk must smell astonishing to her; from her previous life in the suburbs of a city she is now surrounded by the sights and smells of horse and sheep, pheasant and partridge, hare, rabbit and deer…

And yet… every new experience is treated as a joyful discovery, enthusiastically widening her previous comfort zone of familiarity.

Luna’s Teachings:

  • Try everything once, and take feedback on board; it’s not a good idea to eat bees, and water lilies do not bear the weight of a Lhasa Apso.
  • Enthusiasm is contagious.
  • If outside the comfort zone is where the magic happens, then stepping outside your comfort zone on a frequent and ongoing basis is a recipe for adventure.
  • Miracles are all around you, if you only pay sufficient attention.

 

 

Teachings of Dog: No 29 – The Journey is the Destination

I am fascinated by the different approaches that the dogs have to their walks. Theo is excited by everything – and if something excited him on the previous walk, then he will remember and get even more excited as we approach the same place in the walk, obviously hoping that the same pheasant, hare or whatever will leap out again at the same spot (and if it did, he would probably explode with joy). He has a constant air of anticipation – “what excitement will happen next?” seems to be his motto.

Lily is mainly concerned with keeping her eye on us; if we stop for any reason, she will hurry across, jumping up and putting a paw on our leg, gazing up in mute, gentle enquiry with her beautiful black eyes.

Daisy, on the other hand, is a keen student of nature and takes her research seriously. When she finds something worthy of study, it will occupy her entire attention so that she becomes completely deaf to our calls, or to the fact that we are now a considerable distance ahead. Eventually, one of us will be forced to hurry back and encourage her on her way – at which point she will look up at us in amazement that we are not sharing her fascination. She will then dance along the path until, a few yards further along, she comes across the next object worthy of study… To Daisy, the journey truly is the destination.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • The present moment is all we have – our lives are just a series of present moments. Taking time to be in the moment is a true antidote to stress – we are not worrying about the past, or being anxious about the future, but just being with what is. Enjoy the journey.

Teachings of Dog: No 27 – Creatures of habit

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.  We all develop our own routines and ways of doing things – and this is no different for the canine members of staff.

For Theo and Lily, breakfast is not complete unless they have been offered at least one blueberry (or possibly raspberry – they are quite happy with either) and will gaze at us with vaguely affronted expressions if this offering is not forthcoming for any reason.  Daisy quite likes to be offered one so she can sniff it and decide she doesn’t actually want it…  A piece of toast crust is also a necessary part of the breakfast routine (a not inconsiderable drain on one’s toast resources when we have all six dogs in the house!) before their actual breakfast, followed by a leisurely bimble around the garden…

When we go out, it is essential to provide a small gift in recompense for the loss of our company – a biscuit will suffice – but there is generally much fuss made over the possibility that we might just forget, as we prepare to leave… calm is restored by the lifting of the biscuit jar lid!

It is interesting how quickly a new part of the routine is accepted and becomes habitual (particularly if it involves food!).  Not so long ago, we introduced those chewy dental sticks to the suppertime regime, and it only took a couple of days for this to become an accepted fact, and for Daisy to start demanding one immediately after finishing her supper.

So, what if we decide we would like to create a new and useful habit in our own lives, such as using a new stress management skill, or improving oral hygiene by daily flossing…?  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 our new “habit” onto something that we already do.  For our oral hygiene patient, for example, it’s easy to add flossing onto an existing habit of brushing (provided that habit is already in place!).

Small change is always easier to achieve than big change, so the smaller the habit you want to create, the easier it is to incorporate into your life.  Small habits are things you can do at least once a day, in perhaps less than a minute, without too much effort.  You can design them to take place after an existing habit that already happens in your life – and if you congratulate yourself after each time you successfully complete your new habit (in other words, a metaphorical pat on the head and a dog biscuit), this also means that your new habit is associated with positive emotions in your mind, which helps to reinforce it.

So easy, and so simple… after only five days of successfully performing your new small habit, you will have set in motion the possibility of a whole new way of being.  Small change really does lead to big change.

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 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 18: Finding the Right Candidate

One of our part-time canine members of staff has recently left to pursue a new career with her original breeder.  Poppy does not seem to like being an “only dog” when she is at home; a reduced appetite and general air of ennui suggest that she misses her colleague (despite the occasional bullying that was the reason for Snippets’ departure), so Lou is now looking for a suitable candidate to fill the vacancy.

As anyone who has ever recruited staff will know, this is a time fraught with questions and decisions.  Before even beginning the search, it’s essential to consider the precise nature of the position and ask yourself what is important to you about the ideal candidate; what values and attributes should they possess in order that they will be the right one for the post?  Is the position one that involves any reception duties, for example, and if so does this include any requirements of an auditory or vocal nature?  Will they be expected to undertake any secretarial duties such as paper shredding or mail collection?  Is the role of personal trainer an important part of the job, or just someone to assist with the steeper hills?  Does existing training for the position matter, or are you happy to undertake their CPD (Continuing Puppy Development)?  Would an older candidate with more experience be more suitable?  Are you looking for the curious, innovative type, or someone who has a strong interest in sofa-based inner contemplation?

Would you prefer someone with a marked disinclination for going out in the wet and a deep and abiding fascination for researching how long they can stay in bed?  Are any gardening duties required, such as clearing fallen apples and plums, digging the borders or scratching moss from the lawn?  Is the occasional pilfering of supplies of, say, coal, going to be a problem? And, of course, there are the needs of any existing staff members to consider; what are they looking for in a colleague?  Are there any roles they would enjoy sharing, or perhaps passing on to a new member of staff?  Do you have someone who is already in a managerial position who might resent you employing someone of a higher grade, or are they the laid-back and gregarious type with little interest in heirarchy who just loves networking and making new friends?  Are you going to include them in the interview process?

Looking through the various recruitment (ie adoption) agency websites is a good place to start your actual search and, as with any CV, you have to read between the lines and match as many of your required values and attributes as possible…   Eventually, Lou has drawn up a shortlist of candidates for her vacancy and interviewing has begun…

Yesterday’s interviewee seemed very promising indeed on paper; we arranged an appointment at his foster home and took Poppy to meet him.  Unfortunately, however, Poppy’s values concerning, for example, the purpose of her tail, were in direct variance to our candidate’s sustained suggestions, so that a radical and, I might add, vociferous difference of opinion occurred.  Poppy said no – and we listened.

Poppy’s Teachings:

  • Don’t ignore your instincts, however attractive the candidate appears to be
  • Listen to input from your other staff members and be prepared to change your criteria for their benefit, and the benefit of the whole team, if necessary
  • Learn from each applicant, allowing the picture of your ideal candidate to evolve
  • When Poppy says no – Poppy means no.

Teachings of Dog – No.1

I learn a lot about rapport and tolerance from watching our five dogs, and I wanted to share some of my learnings with my Blog readers.

The first in the series comes from Poppy – a diminutive Lhasa Apso of endearing temperament and enormous character. When she first came to us she had very sore feet due to a chronic infection. After the dogs have been out in the garden, if their feet are wet and muddy then we dry them on a towel before allowing them out of the kitchen, but Poppy could not tolerate this at all as she found it too painful. However, she didn’t like having wet feet, so she worked out a way to solve the problem… Now, if we put the towel down on the floor, she will dry her own feet by scratching around in the towel (which she also finds great fun!).

Poppy’s teachings:

  • There is always more than one way of achieving your outcome – pick the one that is the most fun.
  • Don’t just complain about something you don’t like – ask yourself if it is possible for you to do anything about it and, if so, take responsibility and take action.
  • What activities do you really enjoy which you can use in another context?