Each part of my life offers an opportunity to reflect, pay attention and gain awareness. Walking Miley, my chocolate lab, affords me that time. Between her chasing squirrels, jumping into creeks to cool off, or fetching the proverbial stick, I have found that to be the perfect time for me to reflect. Humans are of course, animals, despite our habitually ignoring that fact. It is not far fetched then for us to watch animal behavior in order to increase our own awareness.
So I offer you a few life lessons I have learned by observing Miley. The first lesson I have learned through observation is that self control can be increased through exercise. When we are anxious or wound up, we tend to jump at the smallest out of place movement or sound. Our prey drive is unchecked and small offenses garner a solid pounce. I have observed many a wound up manager pounce before asking any questions. When self control rules, we investigate before jumping.
The second lesson learned is that even the most frequently travelled paths have different details (smells) that are worth checking out. Miley knows the way on familiar trails. She trots along with experience and confidence. She frequently stops to sniff, explore or paw at the ground only to discover something new and different. Remaining a learner, even though we think we know the way, takes energy for us to look closely at what may have changed since our last trip around. Humans have a tendency to over generalize our experiences, leading us to ignore or overlook differences we ought to have seen. Think of Ron Johnson applying Apple’s retail philosophy to J.C. Penney for example.
Miley is a bird dog, she spends a great deal of time scanning the pond behind our house for ducks, heron and geese, or gazing up at tree branches. She will lay on our deck calm as can be, and then suddenly jump up, race across the yard, taking a flying leap after a bird that has invaded our air space. However, with all her focus on things air bound, I have witnessed her completely overlooking a nice fat rabbit hopping directly across our path. How unfortunate that squirrels and chipmunks can slip by her unnoticed. Yet, there are other times when I cannot spot, no matter how hard I look, what she has in her view. The lesson here is that whenever we have a myopic focus it can cause us to lose sight of other possibilities. We are hardwired to see the world in a specific way, which is to each of our advantages as long as we understand that our personal reality contains only a fraction of what is real.
Dogs walk until they are tired and then they rest a moment in the shade. There is no guilt about stopping at 4.8 miles rather than 5 miles. There is no watch to be checked or path that will end. Being fully present and aware is a gift we humans must give to ourselves and others we encounter. When coaching talented executives, it is clear that humans are superior to our animal counterparts, but yet they are an excellent reminder of how important it is for us to stop and “smell the roses” and to take notice of how we observe ourselves and our environment.