“Nonna, do you ever get sad because you live alone?” asked my sweet six-year-old granddaughter. My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of going from being raised in a family of eight full-blooded Italians (we have since grown exponentially) to becoming a very busy single mom of an active child with lots of friends. I smiled and responded, “No, Evi, I’m never sad to be living alone!”
“Well, you’re never really alone,” she responded. “You have Louie to keep you company.”
Ahhh, yes, and there’s always Louie! I am very grateful for Louie, and our time together is increasingly rewarding for me. But I have noticed over the last couple of weeks that he has reverted back to some of his earlier unacceptable behaviors.
It all started with my noticing his unusually boundless amount of energy. We did our normal long walks and he had play dates with his friends. But he was still anxious for more activity. While tossing the ball to play fetch one evening, I started wrestling with him—all in fun, of course (I can just see his trainer, Zig, shaking his head). While this may seem small and insignificant, this activity had ramifications that became clear.
The next morning I was working when I noticed my pup had slinked off to another part of the house. I went upstairs (and not quietly so he heard me approaching) only to find him nicely nestled on my bed! He didn’t budge when I noticed him although he clearly saw my body language and heard my expressive tone. He just looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “Hey mom!”
“Get off that bed, now!” I said and with that he jumped off, and laid on the floor, belly up. Okay, sweet dog, let’s just get back on track, I mumbled to myself. A few hours later, I was in the kitchen and when I went back downstairs, there was Louie sitting on my couch. Now, my dog is not allowed on the furniture, the one exception being a love seat on which he is allowed to sit and look out the window. That’s it. This was only the beginning. Other odd behaviors started happening. He wouldn’t walk alongside me, and he was constantly pulling to get ahead of me. I caught him a few more times on my bed, and he would rebelliously linger when I would say, “Here.” Has he entered adolescence so soon, I asked myself? What on earth is going on with him?
And then it hit me. Ken Blanchard and his team have long taught on the dynamics of change. One dynamic is that when the pressure is off, we revert back to our original behaviors. Couple this with the fact that research shows it takes 21 consecutive days to form a habit and for a new course of action to be ingrained into a natural pattern of behavior. At first I reasoned that I was LONG past the 21-day mark with this dog, and he should be getting it by now. But then I asked myself if I had been consistent with my modification training for 21 consecutive days, or did I see improvement by week two and decide to ease off? I had to admit that I had taken the pressure off long before the 21 days.
And while this may seem unremarkable, I should have remembered that wrestling with Louie is a no-no. We were playing like he plays with his dog friends, and I am not his dog friend. I am his alpha. That behavior led him to believe we were on equal ground, and that he had full permission to sit wherever he wanted. Because the pressure was off, he didn’t think I was serious about the behavior modifications, and he reverted back to his original behavior.
Isn’t that just like us? We see a little improvement, and we slack off on holding ourselves and others accountable. We do this in exercise programs, healthy eating, sleeping enough, managing people and projects at work, and in nurturing our relationships. To make it worse, we often not only ease off, but also we latch onto the latest and greatest leadership idea. And we never really stay with the course of improvement we’ve started and for which we have asked others to hold us accountable. The best gifts mentors and leaders can give to others are both encouragement AND accountability. Even more important is to press through, especially during the times when things have improved enough and you think you can slack off. That is the time others need you most.
Louie and I had to go back to the basics and stick with the program. He needs a leader mom who will stay the course and lovingly keep enough pressure on to see him experience the behavior change needed to live a happy life! As I’m writing, he’s lovingly staring at me with his big brown eyes as if to assure me he is never too far and always has me in his sight! And for that, I am truly grateful.
NOTE: Louie’s stumped! There is a rust stain of some sort next to Louie’s left paw. That stain has been on my driveway for 3 weeks. And it just happens to look like Louie! Oh the little things in life that make a huge difference in our world!