New Years Day used to be my least favorite celebration of the year. Tallying the last 365 days of accomplishments (or lack thereof). Penning dramatic resolutions for the next chapter. It felt like a lot of fuss over nothing.
That is until, I started making New Year’s resolutions with my dogs. Sound crazy? Well, it worked for me.
I grew up in a family of animal lovers. But it was always understood that I would do something more with my life than work with animals. Something more prestigious, more lucrative, more respectable.
Although I started working with animals over a decade ago, I fought an internal battle over this for years. I should’ve been an engineer or a professor, I’d tell myself. Heck, a veterinarian even!
It wasn’t until I fully embraced my passion for animals that I truly started to enjoy my life. It was through working with shelter animals that I found applied animal behavior, and the rest is history.
So, what does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Resolutions are about setting goals that make us better. These goals generally involve behavior changes on our part, and changing our behavior can be extremely challenging to do long-term!
In the past, I’ve set goals that I wasn’t really motivated to accomplish. Could I have been an engineer? Yes. I actually had a couple scholarships to different engineering programs in college. But I never really wanted to do that with my life.
I’ve also been known to set goals that were absurdly challenging. Could I go run a marathon next week or month? Not without serious regrets or injury! But I can run a 5k and work my way back up to a half marathon given more time.
Worse, [and I know I can’t be the only one who has done this] I have made the mistake of letting myself be bullied or shamed into a certain goal. A great example is the way I dropped to 100 lbs in my twenties, which was at least 20 lbs underweight! I may have accomplished my goal but I was anemic and miserable.
These days, I’m much better at setting healthy goals for the right reasons and pursuing them more strategically. The first step to all that was allowing myself to pursue my passion, which happens to be dogs! The rest of my recipe to successful goal-setting includes a combination of the below concepts… all of which happen to be a part of my positive training philosophy.
Start with realistic expectations
Remember, we have to walk before we can run. As eye-roll inducing as that statement was to 25-year old me, 33-year old me knows it’s the damn truth! A great example is when I started running half marathons and went from a solid 6-mile run to 12 miles in one week. I ended up with an injury that set me back for weeks. Nowadays, I’m willing to admit where I’m at and start from there. Even if it means learning how to crawl first!
This is the same thing I do for my animals when we train. I can’t expect my horse to clear a 6′ jump without first building him (and myself!) up to it. Likewise, how can I expect my dog to walk on a loose leash if we haven’t first mastered the elementary skill of eye-contact? Working with the dog in front of you (or reflection in the mirror) makes progress a smoother ride.
Create measurable goals
I want to be healthier, happier and smarter! Okay, so what does that look like? Be specific. By when do you want to get there? I’ll use a personal example. I want to work on concept training with my dog Hope; skills like modifier cues, matching to sample and mimicry. I’d like to teach her like a pro and not through trial and error, or just as a cute party trick. To help with this, I might sign up for Ken Ramirez’s concept training course by the end of the month. This action is specific, measurable, and has a timeline.
In good dog training, we know that if we can’t describe a behavior, then we can’t teach it. In other words, you’ve got to be able to put into words what it is you are trying to accomplish. The more specific, the better. Specificity allows us to break down our goals into measurable, smaller steps. Likewise, setting timelines helps ensure that we continue moving forward rather than stalling out along the way.
Integrate actions into your daily schedule
Now that my goal is broken down into more manageable baby steps, I can schedule those into my everyday life. That’s easier to do when I’m properly motivated, and much harder to do when I’m not really feeling it. That’s why it’s important that we are pursuing goals that align with our passions. [If you aren’t, then it’s worth going back to the first step.] We make time for the things we care about and we don’t make time for the things we don’t care about.
As an example, when the hubs and I first brought home our puppy, we made it a goal to adequately deplete her daily energy. With our schedules constantly changing, there was no way we’d be able to stick to the same activities every day. So, instead we came up with a long list of training games, enrichment activities and physical exercise that we can choose from depending on our own energy. Two years later, we don’t have to “fit in” time for the dog because it’s already a part of our every day lives.
Share your goals with others!
There are lots of reasons that we may chose to keep our goals private. Goals say a lot about our dreams, hopes, and ambitions. In a world where everybody is a critic, it can be hard to be transparent or open up. I’ve definitely had my share of hurt from sharing my goals with the wrong people.
Here’s the thing, though… the older I get, the less I give a flying f**k about haters. I’d like to thank my dogs for showing me how to live life like my give a damn’s busted! Jokes aside, there is value in “putting yourself” out there. Find your tribe – human and animal – that supports and encourages you. And take a cue from your dog: Shake off the fakers and breakers!
So, what are some of your resolutions for the year ahead? You can bet mine include a dog or two!