I’ve become a bit of a mental management nut. Like most people, I believed that I was making many decisions throughout the day. Then I read the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I was a bit dismayed to realize that our day consists primarily of a bunch of habits. Starting with how we get out of bed, our morning routine, or commute to work, and so on. Why? Because habits are easier on our brain. They don’t require much thought. So that’s the choice our brain makes. And that’s why change is hard, and uncomfortable. Because it requires conscious thought and effort. And all the while our brain is saying…just take the easy route. Maybe we try something new for a few days. But often at some point we cave. Which just seems to prove that the brain is right. You can’t change. You are stuck with your habits.
But that’s absolutely not true. We can change our habits until the day we die. When I read the book I was pretty excited. Truth be told, there were many habits I wanted to change. Where to start? At the time I was working extremely long days. When I got home in the evening I was eating just for the sake of eating. Which is not entirely true. When I really thought about it, I wanted to reward and comfort myself. Eating really didn’t even fill that need but I was doing it anyway. I decided that I would conduct an experiment. I would eat a salad every night. The first couple of weeks were the most difficult. I would be driving home and my subconscious mind would create pictures of yummy foods to eat. It would remind me that I deserved to have them. After all, I was tired and had worked a long day. But I was now aware of the thought pattern driving my habit and was able to do a pattern interrupt. Thought about my salad. About how much better I was going to feel the next day and how much healthier I would be. I reminded myself that I can create a new habit in 21 days. I just had to hang in there. I reminded myself of the reason I was eating. That it had nothing to do with hunger or nutrition.
Three weeks went by and the book was right. I had created a new habit. It was no longer challenging. Nor did it require a lot of thought. Because eating a salad was now habitual. So here is where it gets interesting. One night I’m driving home and I was looking forward, with excitement, to my salad!! It wasn’t a conscious thought. It came from of my subconscious. Not only had I created a new habit, I inadvertently created a positive association with it! Needless to say, I was sold! Since then I have changed many habits. It’s actually gotten easier and easier over time. Think of the possibilities!!! I apply it in life, at work and with dog training.
This has wonderful implications for dog training. Our dogs rely on our physical and verbal cues. Often, we, as trainers and handlers, are not consistent. We have poor habits. Which really isn’t fair to our dogs. Especially since we ask so much of them. Do you have a well thought out training plan before you get your dog out? Do you have a consistent warmup routine for each dog? Do you stay connected with your dog? At all time? Do you give your dog EXACTLY the same physical and verbal cues every time? Are you aware of your body and how it is influencing your dog? Do you have good mental management habits? Good trial day habits? I challenge you to pick one habit you would like to change and work on it for 21 days. It’s really not that hard! And should it feel especially difficult, remind yourself that the brain is just looking to take the easy way out. You’ve Got This! Your training and trialing will improve and, most importantly, your dog will thank you.