INSIGHTS COME FROM THE STRANGEST PLACES
From liver treats to neural pathways: how training my dog revealed the beautiful simplicity of positive psychology
Ideas come to me at the strangest times. Do you find that too?
In this Life Line I share my striking moment of insight that tied together dog-training, gratitude practice and above all self-love. All in such a way that now I just get it without thinking about it. My hope is that I can explain it just as simply!
This winter I have been lucky enough to escape to the Laurentians each weekend and spend time at a cottage overlooking a frozen lake. It is a magical area surrounded by mountains, forests, streams and lakes.
It is here that I walk my dog, Sasha, off leash and free to bound through the snowy drifts and chase the odd squirrel (or if she is really lucky a deer – but don’t worry Sasha doesn’t stand a chance after these fleet-footed forest dwellers).
Which brings me to the point. There have been times on our walks when my dog has taken off after some critter and no amount of recall works. She takes off like a bat-out-of-hell and I’m left just calling into the void, entirely powerless. The little devil is using me for echo-location!
Not a terrible problem you might think as she always comes back. Only a couple of weekends she came back with porcupine quills embedded in her snout. The porcupines nest in covered dens on the ground and Sasha had clearly stuck her nose into one. It was so painful for her, and so distressing for me! Something I hope she will never have to go through again.
The solution: I need to train her for better recall. So one pack of highly scented irresistible treats and a whistle later and off I went.
Connecting the dots
What has this to do with anything you might be asking? Well, training a dog is all about positive reinforcement. You call, they come, you give them a treat. They sit, you treat them. Sometimes it’s food, sometimes it’s just ‘good dog’, but it works. All you need is consistency. And lots, and lots of treats!
And then it dawned on me.
That is exactly what a gratitude practice that makes you happier is all about.
Our brains are wired by default to favour and dwell on negative thoughts. We ruminate on them like a deliciously chewy delight seeking out every last bit of that negative energy.
Research tells us that on average we need 5 positive thoughts to cancel out a negative one. To counteract the negativity bias we have to build up a virtual library of good thoughts.
A gratitude practice is so powerful because it ‘wakes up’ those good thoughts and brings them alive. As a result our body becomes flooded with happy hormones and a sense of wellbeing. Moreover, every cell becomes nourished and healed.
Every time you have a happy thought, or reflect on something you are grateful for, it is like giving a treat to your brain.
It trains your neural pathways to re-direct to the positive. And THAT was my moment of insight. It really is that simple.
Positive reinforcement in the form of actively noticing things we are grateful for benefits our whole being because our mind and body are inextricably connected.
The one thing to do every day
- Get in the habit of noticing everything you are grateful for and that makes you happy. Think of it like a treat for your mind and body. Be on the look-out for it or maybe write it down (perhaps in a journal). My favourite method of all is to snap a photo of it with your phone *(see below). This practice alone will make you noticeably happier.
That’s it, that’s all. Now I invite you to give it a try 🙂
*If you like the idea of snapping a photo of things that make you happy I invite you to join my private Facebook group #hereisbeauty. You will find all kinds of beautiful and uplifting photos there 🙂