Today I want to tell you about our dog. We have a 4-year-old, floppy-eared Yorkie named Pip. This dog has quite the personality and keeps us on our toes. He is deeply loved by all of my children, and definitely brings a smile to our faces when he's not being obnoxious. He is a people-lover and just wants to be with any people at any time. He is very friendly, but almost to a fault.
But here's the thing with this dog, he's an animal and he's reactive. If he sees a squirrel in the tree outside, nothing is going to stop him from getting outside and chasing it. (The squirrel always wins by the way). If he hears something hit the floor in the kitchen, he's there to immediately "clean it up." If he sees a bigger dog, he makes sure to let that dog know he is there (can you say small-dog syndrome ;)).
He (and all animals) doesn't have a prefrontal cortex like us humans. He doesn't think about what he's doing, he just does it. He can't reason that running into the road is dangerous, or that eating a plastic toy might not go well.
My husband likes to say that he is a dumb dog. I remind him that Pip can only be as smart as we train him to be. And so far we have trained him to ring a bell on the door to go outside, to sit and stay, lay down, shake, and to come when called for.
When we train him to do something new, we do it over and over and sometimes for weeks so he really gets it. When he does something correctly, he gets a treat. Knowing he will get a treat is a very big incentive for him to do the correct action. And that is his learning pattern.
We humans also have the ability to learn new things to become better and more capable "emotional adults." We do this by choosing our responses or actions.
We can choose to see something happening and not react to it, but rather think through the best outcome.
We can choose our thoughts and actions by considering others.
We can choose how we want to show up the world and what kind of person we want to be at all times.
But just like my dog, these skills take practice. We may not get a physical treat, but our reward is feeling the empowerment of taking control of our thoughts and actions and seeing how that control benefits us and those around us.
This decision to use our higher brain (rather than our default/animal brain) is not always easy, but the more we do it, the easier it becomes.
This week I challenge you to start to taking note of when you override your default brain. To just be aware of it.
The more you notice it, the more you will start to see how it makes you feel and then the more likely you are to choose it again in the future. It's pretty powerful stuff. And if you have a pet, give that pet some loving because if nothing else, pets are fantastic at loving us no matter what.