I have a 5-year old Jack Russell terrier. He’s a terrific companion with seemingly endless energy and a positive outlook on life. Watching him sunbathe in the garden last week, it occurred to me that he has some great habits that are worth adopting. Here are a few of them that I believe translate from the four-legged world into ours.
1. Bury that bone and come back to it later. When given a fresh bone, Bentley buries it. This maturing process is important to him – it has to happen with every bone. A few days later, he digs it up and spends a few hours enjoying the feast. Then, he buries it once more. This repeats until I assume the bone looses its meatiness. We all know the experience of hammering away at problem but not getting anywhere. Much evidence suggests that the brain continues to work even when we think we are resting. As Dr. Marla Gottschalk so beautifully puts it :
“The brain cannot be bullied into being effective. It needs to be respected and nurtured. There is something about letting a matter mature in one’s head.”
Sometimes, we need to bury the bone and come back it.
2. Turn the corner and forget the cat. What’s in the past – even if that was seconds ago, seems to remain in the past for the dog. When we walk around the corner, and leave the cat that’s been annoying him in the other street, Bentley looks forward and appears to forget the cat. If it’s behind him, it’s not in his consciousness. I struggle to forget bothersome things when I turn corners. I’m very good at carrying around the little things like what did she really mean, or I hope I didn’t offend him with that joke. Worrying about things that have happened is a fairly fruitless exercise. If something needs to be redressed, by all means take action. Otherwise, turn the corner and forget the annoying cat.
3. Positive affirmation builds loyalty and strong bonds. Whether its first thing in the morning, or I’ve come home (having been out for 30 minutes), he’s thrilled to see me. He always has a ready wag in his tail for me. I’m a sucker for the positive feedback and so I believe we have a good relationship and feel good about myself. And he has a very loyal owner. Positive psychology and research into marriages has shown the power of positive affirmation. Relationships that thrive – be they person or professional – need a ratio of 5 positive comments to every negative comment. My dog has that down pat!
4. Life is less about speed than about focus. Like most Jack Russells, Bentley is ball obsessed and can chase and return balls for much longer than most humans have patience. Almost every other dog in the park is faster than him so when it comes down to the chase between Jack Russell and Other dog, your money might be on the fastest dog. But most dogs at speed overrun the ball – leaving Bentley – with his resolute focus on the ball – to come in behind and scoop it up. This feels true for much of life where we are under pressure to do things at speed. What if we weren’t the quickest but instead had focus? What balls could we scoop up in our lives?
He gets a few things wrong. Continuing to chase squirrels whilst never in five years catching a single one speaks of a mismatch between one’s expectations and one’s skills. Sometimes, the evidence is there to let us know that we don’t have the skill to do what we’d like to do. And that’s ok – move on. He capable of coming to conclusions on one data point. Just because there was a piece of biltong under the table at the South African butcher’s tent ONCE does not warrant us having to stop and check for errant meat at EVERY visit through the farmer’s market. But overall, he’s pretty smart – for a dog – and gets enough right in his philosophy on life to have my respect. Here’s to a life of living with focus, in the present, forgetting the cat and with positive affirmation.