Have you ever had a pet, of any kind, and have you ever had to make a change to your lifestyle to ensure their health?
Was it walking them every day? Setting a timer on your phone so you’d remember to feed them? Or was it staying up late every night, with your arm through a crate, so they wouldn’t cry? So you could let your puppy out and housetrain them? Was it painstakingly litter-training your cat, or, lord, teaching them to use a toilet?
It’s funny how we never question what we’d do for our pets. We love them. We appreciate them. We chose them, and we choose to care for them the best that we can. We feel responsible for their health and wellness, and if for some reason our vet deems them overweight, we go out and we buy diet food. We measure it without question. We feed them raw food or cook chicken for them every day, sometimes twice. We take the health risk so seriously, and we are so quick to change our routine to accommodate the needs of our best friends.
Why don’t we do this for ourselves?
Why is it, when we’re asked to set an alarm to remember to feed ourselves or take a vital vitamin, we balk at the idea? When did we forget we were our own best friends, and that our own health was our most precious gift? When did we decide we were not worth the time, love, attention, and care that our beloved animals deserve?
I don’t know. You tell me. There are thousands of rationalizations we pull forward. “Well, I only have so much time in a day.” “I have to do a, b, c. I don’t have time.” “I’ll be okay without it.”
Negative vs Positive Reinforcement
Have you ever been in a class and felt like you sucked at the subject matter, but later realized you simply had the wrong teacher? That was me, in algebra. I thought I was terrible. I actually dropped out of my college algebra class, convinced I was completely useless. All my teacher did was tell me what I did wrong. I had to take it again, obviously, to graduate. I took it again, with a different teacher. Same curriculum, different delivery. He was fun, engaging, and praised me when I did things correctly. I passed that class with flying colors.
It wasn’t that I was bad at algebra. I just felt too defeated to continue trying. I wasn’t led by my right decisions, I was attacked for my wrong decisions. I convinced myself I was useless at something I actually was quite good at.
Ever been on a diet with more “wrong” choices than “right” choices? How long did you stay on it before you felt frustrated; like you were failing, and just wanted to quit?
When we train our animals to successfully integrate into our home, we know that using positive reinforcement is far healthier for our furry kiddos in the long term. In a world of thousands of wrong choices, it is much more constructive to isolate and reward the right choices. It simplifies the trainee’s experience thousandfold.
Imagine trying to climb a rock wall, and instead of someone saying “hot and cold” to direct you to your handhold, they only shouted “COLD”? You’d be frustrated and feeling like a failure within seconds. Worse yet, imagine that against all odds you find the right handhold, and instead of congratulating you they say something like “about time” or “next” without giving you a moment to soak in the success you’ve just made.
Let’s say we’re training our puppy to walk with us without pulling, and we yell at them every time they get excited or tug or get distracted, and we never acknowledge or reward the behavior we’re trying to encourage.
Does that sound like a good, responsible way to teach someone something they’ve never done before? Absolutely not. We’d never do that!
So why do we constantly do it to ourselves?
I’ve watched this with my clients, and it breaks my heart every time.
Client has an awful week. They come to me, upset, guilty, afraid—they’re afraid I’m going to drop the hammer. They describe their weekend, or week, and tell me everything that happened and everything that went wrong. They tell me all the ways they were upset, that they failed, and how they wished they did better. They rip themselves apart internally, question why they try, and let the defeat build and grow until it’s crushing them and they feel like they don’t even know what to do next. “What do I do next, because nothing I do is right?”
That helpless and lost question always seems to float around a failure-focused mindset, haunting the individual and obstructing their ability to see clearly. Like a fluffy counter-attack, I come back just as excited as the most heckin stoked pupper you ever did see. Think golden retriever puppy after you went grocery shopping – “HI, HELLO, WHAT IS IN DESE BAGS U BROUGHT HOME, EVEN IF DERE ARE NO TREATS LET’S TALK ABOUT DIS WHAT DIS IS DIS LETTUCE? EW K R DERE CHICKEN NUGGETS? K MAYBE SOME PROTEIN PLS HELLO I MISSED U HI HELLO U ARE MY FAVORITE” or like, something like this:
I tell them everything they did that was awesome. Tracking their mistakes, being honest with themselves, finding the solutions for next time, noticing their behavior for the first time in their lives without blinders on. Sometimes, they still did way better than they ever would have before. They’re upset about 1 cookie, but before it would’ve been 10 cookies, a bowl of ice cream, and half of a bottle of wine.
I don’t let them negatively reinforce the bad behaviors.
I pull the positives out, and I praise them. I emphasize them. I “reframe.” (How many times have you heard me chant “reframe, reframe, reframe!” Coach Tanner wrote an excellent blog about our Narrative Bias, here.)
Next thing you know, because we’re human, a bad week/weekend/day/meal happens again. And the next thing you know, instead of me needing to do the reframing, my clients do it themselves. They come to me at check-in with a completely different kind of email. Their outlook is better, they have more hope, they’re more accepting, and they’re ready to tackle things as the obstacles they always were – temporary roadblocks. With a success-focused mindset, that failure-fog evaporates.
“Instead of beating myself up for days, I just got right back on track and it feels really awesome.”
And we get better at it every day.
The next time you’re feeling that urge to punish yourself, catastrophize your mistake, take your decision and turn yourself into the biggest enemy you’ve ever had, take a step back.
If you were a puppy that had pooped on the floor, yeah, there’d be corrective measures. Yeah, you’d be like, hey, look at what you did, this isn’t cool little dude! But you’d clean it up, and you’d say, man, did I miss the puppy sitting by the door? Was the urgent patting on my knee, restlessness, and whining earlier not just for attention, and instead, did he need to go out but didn’t know how to tell me? Did I leave him home alone too long too soon? Did I ignore important cues, or set him up for failure accidentally?
You’d hit the ground again, training with more gusto, ever more aware of your puppy’s needs and warning signs. You’d spend no time punishing, less time correcting, and more time rewarding the behaviors you wanted to encourage.
I mean, guys, we’re not pooping in our houses, we’re just eating too many cookies.
We can deal with that.
When you’re tempted to berate yourself, when you set your own needs low on the totem pole, when you remain failure-focused—you miss all of your successes and you are unable to be your own greatest teammate. If you have an animal or a child in your life that you love, think of the ways you approach your interaction with them, and how closely you monitor their happiness. Our caretaking nature amplifies itself and we search for what they need and look to supply it or help them provide it for themselves. Turn that light onto yourself this week.
This week, I’d like to give you some homework that will help you be a little more success-focused:
In your check-in, I’d like you to tell your coach 3 good things that happened this week.
They don’t need to be big things. They can be little things – track in your sheet if it’s easier.
- Did you pre-plan breakfast every day? Even if it’s something you’ve always done, highlight it, talk about how it makes your life easier.
- Did you go out to eat and did you make better decisions than you would have before? I don’t even care about the quality of data. If you did better than before, you did better, and I’d love for you to highlight it.
- Did you stick to your workout schedule, even when you didn’t want to? Highlight it.
- Did you help a member out in the group? Highlight it.
- Did you make one of Mason’s fall recipes? Write er down, captain!
Make us proud. Be your own teammate, your most dedicated caretaker, and gimme three things you did right. Focus on the best parts of you, and those will be the parts that shine through all the crap when things get crappy (and they will).
And, as I leave you, one more thing, because dogs are the best: do you know why they call dogs “man’s best friend?” They see us only as our greatest successes, and we are their greatest joy. They love us unconditionally.
Be your own best friend just a little more, for me. Love yourself with fewer conditions, and give yourself a little more space to grow.