It’s those little tiny moves toward what we want in a behavior that we reward when shaping our dogs. So, they may go from nose touching a dumbbell, to slightly opening their mouths, we see that change toward what we want and we make note of it, reward it, letting the dog know we want more of that.
So, do you shape your own behavior? You can. Before you can do that, you have to actually “see” what you are doing, much like shaping a dog. You want to reinforce the small movements in the direction you want to go as a trainer, and even as a person. I believe that many times it starts with the self-talk we do. Many times I will work with trainers that use positive reinforcement with their dogs and are far from positive about reinforcing their own behavior. They will call themselves “slow” or “uncoordinated”. They may say that they are stuck or can’t change, and yet they can, but they have to start rewarding themselves for moves, even little ones, in the right direction.
I remember a few years back talking with my sister about my bad eyesight. I had a client in a very exclusive community; the houses were huge and set back from the road. I had a street address, but could not read the numbers from the road and so had to drive in and out of many driveways before I could find my clients home, the whole time thinking that someone is going to call the cops on me! My sister says to me “why don’t you go get glasses”, and I tell her I don’t want to spend the money, I can see well enough! Then she says the thing that I think of all the time now, “if Roxy needed glasses, she would have them today”. WOW! I knew she was right! If my vet recommended something for my dogs, Boom. Done. Today. So, why didn’t I value you myself, my well-being, and care for myself as I would care for my dogs?
Things changed for me that day, I started realizing that I could be as kind, caring and forgiving to myself as I was to my dogs. I started to note all the times I told myself I was “stupid”, “slow”, “ugly”, “fat” and a myriad of other self-degrading comments that went through my head each day. I started to say thank you to myself, which was a big one. I would say just a simple thank you for picking up the dry cleaning, as I would say to a friend that ran that errand for me. I started to note the things I did well, and the things that I put effort into, and appreciate that I was one woman working hard, just as I would appreciate one my dogs working hard for me.
I try to counter every negative thought that enters my head with a positive one, and make as much note of the things that I do well as the things that I need to improve, and note the small improvements that I make toward the behaviors that I want. I try to be as kind to myself as I would to one my dogs, and that is pretty kind.
Recently I decided that I have to be much more realistic in what I can get done in a day, for example. I would make a to do list for a day that would take a week to accomplish, and so at the end of a productive day, end up feeling negative about all I didn’t get done, when I had gotten done so much good work. Hmmm, sound like dog training at all? I would not do that to my dogs! I carefully set up my dog training sessions to be short, get specific things done, and end when things are going well and I can plan our next session.
I now have a schedule I can handle. I plan ahead how much time I will need for each task, and work on being realistic with how long it will take and how much effort I have to give to complete it. Even being more realistic about the amount of time it takes to drive somewhere has allowed me to be less stressed and happier with what I am able to do. When I get somewhere on time, or *gasp* early, I note that and mentally tell myself “thank you” for a job well done. I am shaping my behavior toward someone who is more organized with their time, and it is working. If I have failures, start to run late for a day or two, then I stop and realize that I am slipping back into old patterns of behavior, and change up my schedule to reflect what I can reasonably do.
Just like shaping the behavior in our dogs, by noting what we like and reinforcing it, as trainers we can stay positive about ourselves, and our training, by noting what we want in our own behavior, and taking little steps to get there. Just like any good shaping program, huge jumps in criteria are only going to lead to frustration, so the small steps get us there and get what we want. The little things, they count, the words you tell yourself, count. How about for today, we all are as kind and positive to ourselves as we are to our dogs.
Go treat yourself like a dog today, and enjoy J