Changing Habits – I wish I was more like my dog Gus.

Today was the fifth morning in a row my dog woke me up and would not let me go back to sleep. He implored me to get out of bed and take him for a walk. He is subtle at first. He begins by pacing around the bedroom yawning loudly. Each yawn leading into a small yelp. Typically, he sees no reaction from me and steps it up a notch by softly whining until he sees movement. The scene escalates once I look at my phone for the time. At this point he knows I’m alive and awake and now nothing will stop him until my feet hit the floor. I can’t pull the blankets over my head because he will just paw at my face beneath the sheets. In his excitement he’ll change tactics and jumps off the bed poking his wet nose under the blanket, aggressively sniffing to see how awake I truly am. Seeing I have no choice but to be annoyed I get up. Now he knows he’s got me.

It all started seven days ago when I took him for an early morning walk. We had left the house around 6:30am. I couldn’t sleep anymore that morning and my mind was starting to race. A walk with the dog along a creek sounded like the perfect antidote to get my day back on track. As we began the walk the sun was slowly rising behind the mountain and the cool air drafted up to the trail from the creek. It was perfect for me, and for my dog Gus too. He loved the smells of early morning and ran along the path with happiness.

The next day, remembering how the walk helped me I woke early and took Gus on the same walk. It was just as good for me as the day before and I pondered adding it to my weekday routine. Of course, I had already started making excuses in my head of how hard it would be to pull off this walk every morning. How could I do it once school started and the kids had places to be early in the am? I finished the walk thinking it was something I would try a couple days a week and reevaluate the end of the month.

Then Saturday morning came. Gus started his efforts of making sure I was up and ready to take him on a walk. Something stuck with him and three days in he wanted our walk to become a habit – for both of us. I’m now five days in of being woken up sometime between 6:19am and 6:39am. I do wonder if he will take cues from the sun and our start time will start to fall later as we head towards fall. The thing I don’t wonder about is how I’m going to stop this trend. I can see no end, nor should I look for one. The walks are good for me, I can make the time work but all of me is fighting the formation of this habit.

Why is it so hard to start something new, or stop a habit after a long-time?

Why was it so easy for Gus to start a new habit in three days?

Frankly I’m jealous. Do you know how much I can accomplish if all my efforts took hold after two days of effort?

I do know what motivates Gus to get me out of bed on these walks. You see, when he is out walking along the creek he can explore. There’s an adjacent field and he bounds, Tigger-like, through the tall grass as he stalks field mice. Needless to say, this is part of my walk that I don’t always love since he is quite a hunter – he’s no little bunny foo-foo.

Admittedly I can see the walk connects with his instincts and he is able to do something that feels good and catching the mouse gives him a sense of confidence and accomplishment. No wonder the habit was easy to instill. Maybe I can find the quick connection to creating habit by making sure I am doing something that speaks to me, that feels good. It’s also got to be married with accomplishment. Is this something I can always apply? No, but if I seek to find elements close to this, no matter the stretch I will have a better chance of success.

In the meantime, I’ll be getting up each morning to take Gus for a walk. Seeing him immersed in a feeling of joy as he leaps over tall grass with the wonder of what lurks behind gives me happiness. That’s the connection that will help me create this new habit, allowing someone’s joy to uplift me and allow me to start the day with gratitude.

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