It is interesting how we all become creatures of habit. The very act of doing something over and over in the same way creates a neurological pathway in our brain, so that the behaviour becomes automatic, and a habit (or ‘strategy’ in NLP terms) is born. We all develop our own routines and ways of doing things – and this is no different for the canine members of staff.
For Theo and Lily, breakfast is not complete unless they have been offered at least one blueberry (or possibly raspberry – they are quite happy with either) and will gaze at us with vaguely affronted expressions if this offering is not forthcoming for any reason. Daisy quite likes to be offered one so she can sniff it and decide she doesn’t actually want it… A piece of toast crust is also a necessary part of the breakfast routine (a not inconsiderable drain on one’s toast resources when we have all six dogs in the house!) before their actual breakfast, followed by a leisurely bimble around the garden…
When we go out, it is essential to provide a small gift in recompense for the loss of our company – a biscuit will suffice – but there is generally much fuss made over the possibility that we might just forget, as we prepare to leave… calm is restored by the lifting of the biscuit jar lid!
It is interesting how quickly a new part of the routine is accepted and becomes habitual (particularly if it involves food!). Not so long ago, we introduced those chewy dental sticks to the suppertime regime, and it only took a couple of days for this to become an accepted fact, and for Daisy to start demanding one immediately after finishing her supper.
So, what if we decide we would like to create a new and useful habit in our own lives, such as using a new stress management skill, or improving oral hygiene by daily flossing…? Sometimes the idea of making changes to our existing lifestyle can just seem too big. Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit – but we can reduce this dramatically through setting a positive, specific goal, and then attaching our new “habit” onto something that we already do. For our oral hygiene patient, for example, it’s easy to add flossing onto an existing habit of brushing (provided that habit is already in place!).
Small change is always easier to achieve than big change, so the smaller the habit you want to create, the easier it is to incorporate into your life. Small habits are things you can do at least once a day, in perhaps less than a minute, without too much effort. You can design them to take place after an existing habit that already happens in your life – and if you congratulate yourself after each time you successfully complete your new habit (in other words, a metaphorical pat on the head and a dog biscuit), this also means that your new habit is associated with positive emotions in your mind, which helps to reinforce it.
So easy, and so simple… after only five days of successfully performing your new small habit, you will have set in motion the possibility of a whole new way of being. Small change really does lead to big change.
...and the Canine Members of Staff