My two dogs bounded happily toward the truck, excited to be going for a ride. Granted, a ride usually means spending time at the dog park, romping and running and wrestling with their friends while we humans get our socialization fix. It’s a positive experience for all of us.
But this ride had a different purpose.
“Do you think they’ll forgive us?” Jeff asked as we belted ourselves in and headed to the local do-it-yourself pet grooming facility. Bath day was never a favorite time for our boys.
“Eventually,” I said. “As long as there are lots of treats involved when we get back home.”
I’ve often noted how the behavior of our pups reflects my own responses to the situations life throws at me. Experiences we don’t enjoy are more tolerable when there is a reward waiting on the other side of it. And even then, the way we approach the experience is as variable as we are.
Ash, our border collie/bernese mountain dog mix, takes a rather Zen approach to everything. Assuming the experience was inevitable – or perhaps trusting us enough to know he’d survive – he calmly walked through the pet store to the grooming area, stepped into the bathing booth, and allowed Jeff to secure his collar to the tether.
Piggy, our white lab/pyrenees mix whose genes apparently are comprised of the Pyrenees hair and the lab personality, fought me every step of the way. He struggled so valiantly, in fact, that I surrendered and let Jeff with his high-traction work boots and greater strength take over. It was clear Piggy was going to pull me all the way back to the front door to avoid a bath if I didn’t call in the cavalry.
Ash was cooperative and stoic as Jeff gently lathered, rinsed, and conditioned him. Piggy was frantic as I quickly slathered on shampoo, hoping the dripping lather would cleanse areas I might be missing in my rush to get this over with. After the trauma, as we loaded the boys back in the truck, my hand came away from Piggy’s coat a little slippery from conditioner I’d failed to completely rinse in the rush. Ash got comfy for the ride home; Piggy remained on edge until he was safely in the house, curled up in his dog bed with no shampoo, brushes, or water hoses in sight.
Some of us have the self-discipline of a Navy SEAL, but in my experience, most of us are a mix of acceptance and resistance when it comes to working toward our goals. Think of all those decisions made in the moment that don’t seem like a big deal at the time, but add up to create either greater momentum or greater obstacles. Do I give in to the need for comfort that I think I’ll get from eating a brownie, or do I choose a healthy snack instead and move closer to my health goals? Do I spend the rainy weekend learning something new or honing an existing skill, or pass the time on the couch binging on Netflix? Whether we accept what comes next, or resist it, is the difference between moving forward or prolonging our struggle.
My approach to fitness is a great example of this dilemma. Exercise is critical to my mental health and enjoyment of life. Without it, I am irritable, less focused, more tired – and much more likely to give in to poor choices like the aforementioned brownie and Netflix binge.
I love lifting weights and have no problem motivating myself to get to the gym on weight day. But I hate running, and my emotions echo Piggy’s behavior on bath day when I’m preparing for a run. I know both are necessary; one I gladly embrace, yet the other I resist for all I’m worth. Here are a few tricks I’ve adopted that help keep me on track, not only with fitness, but in all my endeavors.
Remember who’s in charge. Doing what we don’t want to do because it leads to something we do want is a sign of maturity and healthy self-regulation, and the attitude we take toward those actions is critical. We always have the choice to act in our best interest or in the interest of momentary comfort. It feels rather childish from this perspective to resist what I’ve already decided is the right course.
Remember the reward. I remind myself that the act of running brings benefits I crave – increased stamina, endurance, cardiovascular health, and weight management. The added bonus is the sense of accomplishment I feel after a run. That brief amount of time I invest in an act I wouldn’t choose for enjoyment pays off tenfold in terms of long-term benefit.
Mind your attitude. In addition to focusing on the benefit, I try to channel more Ash and less Piggy when I’m feeling resistant to following through on my intentions. As adults, we don’t have to enjoy every moment of every activity in which we engage. So instead of thinking, “Ugh, running day,” I reframe the thought in a positive light. “Today I get to increase my stamina.” See the difference? I don’t HAVE to; I GET to. I have the freedom and privilege to choose this activity that is most suited to move me forward on my journey. It’s much easier to take action when viewed in this framework.
The attitude we adopt and the thoughts we choose to think have a powerful effect on our behavior. Whatever “bath day” represents for you, align your perspective with the desired outcome. Be your own advocate in reaching your goals.