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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Safety Nets

The weather was lovely this past Saturday as I did my long run. I took my youngest dog "Pocket Puppy" with me. Pocket is a miniature long-haired dachshund and a terrific little runner, and we did about five miles.

Pocket has a lot of natural energy, and I have worked with him to walk and run properly on a leash. Pocket is quite exuberant on a run, and he generally pulls to the extent of the leash. He will back off when I correct him, but generally he still goes to the end of the leash.

A curious thing happened on our Saturday run. I chose a deserted back road loop. Since I had no fear of traffic on that loop, I let Pocket off his leash to run loose with me. Pocket did not run off or ahead of me like he might have done if given his head while on the leash. Instead Pocket actually drew closer to me and ran directly alongside me in exactly the place that he should be when on the leash! And Pocket stayed in that position alongside me for the duration of the run.

I puzzled over this. I think the reason Pocket came so close to me when off leash was because he was afraid, nervous, or uncertain. He needed to be close to me in order to gain confidence about what we were doing. I do not believe that we had ever run that stretch of road together before, so this was new territory for him. Unfamiliar smells, new sights, strange sounds. Pocket needed the reassurance of being right with me in order to feel safe about running in this new area.

Having come to this conclusion, I observed whether Pocket's behavior changed at any point during the run. Sure enough, as we turned down our final road of the run, a road that we have run many times together, Pocket pulled out of position alongside me, and behaved as he normally does when on the leash. Afterwards, I spent some time contemplating the experience, and I would like to share my conclusion.

Pocket seemed to feel "safe" and therefore confident when he was on leash or in familiar territory. The leash provided a sense of connection between us, and Pocket gained confidence from that in order to reach (stretch) forward. The familiar patch of road much travelled lent Pocket a sense of confidence because he knew the area well.

I do not mean to compare ourselves to dogs, but I do like to uncover life lessons from our furry friends. In this case, I believe the lesson I learned from little Pocket is that we can gain confidence from familiarity and from a sense of connection. Note that I did not say that we cannot behave with confidence otherwise, because I think that we can always move forward confidently. Because I step boldly in a particular direction does not mean that I do actually feel confident at the same time. Oftentimes I just strike out boldly because I know that it is the right thing to do. and I muster up the courage to take the first steps. I work at being teachable as much as I can in order to build the traits of humility and gratitude.

Still, it would be nice to actually feel confident at the same moment. Therefore, I conclude from Pocket's example that I need to build up familiarity and shore up safety nets. How do I do that?

Familiarity comes from an intimate knowledge of something, in other words, a close association or study of something. Familiarity comes from repetition and habit. If I work out a section of a piece I am learning, I build familiarity when I study the piece, work out fingerings and bowings, and analyze the form of the music. I build up familiarity when I strengthen my muscle memory through repetition.

Safety nets (leashes) come from a different place, through our connections with others. For example, I might rely on a friendship with a colleague, where we share our miseries, goals, and experiences. I might seek to establish a mentor relationship with a more experienced person in my field and learn from observation and discussion. I might have friends with whom I share my intimate thoughts.

This week, consider the areas of your life where you might need to build familiarity or where you might need to create a safety net. Make a note of these areas and choose one area to improve.

Have a great week!

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