Virginia is a bit of a magician. She’s like the dog whisperer on TV only a lot nicer to the dog. And funnier.
In a matter of about 15 minutes, she transformed our hyper, jumping dog, Lulu, into a calm dog we didn’t recognize. And she never touched the dog.
What if there was a people whisperer?
Better yet. What if you could become one for yourself?
Surprisingly, I’ve learned as much about psychology and human behavior from a dog trainer as I have from some books and programs about those topics.
Lulu is 20 pounds of energy, fur, and love.
Yet, Brenda and I had noticed over the last few months that Lulu had become a barker. She barks violently at the windows when anything outside moves. She barks fearfully at sounds. She’s started barking at other dogs as they approach. Out of the blue, she was expressing bigger emotions through her bark.
COVID has created the same hyper-vigilance among humans.
Pause for a moment and consider yourself in a COVID world. You might not be barking, but have you become more easily triggered by things that used to not bother you?
Not a single client of mine hasn’t reported increased levels of stress and sensitivity. They’re stepping up to do some amazing things, yet the additional stress is a weight they carry. Some have become hypersensitive to the smallest irritations.
Here’s the big idea: quiet and calm are not the same.
Virginia taught us that there’s a difference between a quiet dog and a calm dog. Any dog can be quiet for a moment as long as there’s nothing going on to excite them. But it’s only temporary until the next trigger comes along.
A quiet dog that’s not calm can quickly get triggered into a barking dog. Just ask Lulu.
The goal is to have a calm dog.
A calm dog is less likely to go bananas at the slightest surprise, noise, or action outside. The state of calm is like a buffer that can absorb or deflect a stressor without reacting.
Embrace your inner canine.
In this age of coronavirus, are you quiet? Are you also calm, prepared to weather the big and small surprises that naturally show up in your world?
If you can’t say yes to being calm, what will you do?
Lulu can be your inspiration….well, actually it’s mostly Virginia.
Virginia has a whole bag of training tricks for Lulu. At least one of them can be modified for you and me.
Yes, I’m gonna suggest you learn a dog trick.
Lulu is working on a practice called “Behavioral Down.” *
She’s learning to calm herself so she’s less reactive to a non-threatening stimulus. You can do the same.
For Lulu, with sessions that usually last approximately 30 minutes, she’s teaching herself to be happy and at ease in her current circumstances. Essentially, we gently keep her physically still and non-reactive until she chooses to calm herself. She no longer needs to wait for outside conditions to calm her. She’s building her own buffer of calm.
Isn’t that the basic human skill we all need every day?
After only three rounds of Behavioral Down with Lulu, she was building her skills. She was less triggered. She was barking less throughout the day—not just during her training sessions. There’s always more calm available, so we’re still practicing.
Today, she’s as happy and playful as always, so it hasn’t dampened her spirit. She’s just more calm.
What’s possible for you?
Are you “barking” more? Do things that used to not bother you set you off now? Almost everyone can answer yes to those questions these days.
What can you do?
In a word, practice. That’s what Lulu is doing.
The ultimate skill is to learn to take responsibility for where you’re directing your attention. Apps like Calm and Headspace can help. People in my 6-week Resilience Amplifier program learn other simple approaches. And there are plenty of things you already know to do like walking, breathing, smart exercising, journaling, and meditating.
Just like you practiced to learn speaking, writing, or math, you can practice learning how to build calm.
Essentially, what Lulu is learning is the simple (but not easy) skill of focusing her attention toward what calms her instead of letting random thoughts or outside distractions pull her toward them. You and I can do the same.
Start with something laughably easy like 30-seconds once per day. When you’ve got a good streak of success going, step up in by teenie increments to 45 or 60 seconds. Small steps versus grand efforts lead to calm that sticks. Focusing your attention on something physical will demand more of your brain power than just trying to focus your attention on “being calm” through sheer willpower. For example, you can focus on the sound of your breath or the feel of your feet on the earth.
Just begin to notice, this week…are you quiet or are you calm? Calm is a muscle, a skill. Lulu’s short sessions created calm that remains with her throughout the day. Yours can do the same. Lulu is as vibrant as ever. You will be, too.
* Behavioral Down was developed by Mark McCabe, one of Virginia’s teachers.