Behaviour and Bella

Bella, our six month old Golden Retriever, is always learning. Anything we do (or don’t do) tells her something and she learns from it – for better or worse.

Raising and training a puppy has, for us, involved lots of reading and watching videos in an effort to “get it right”. I’ve come to believe that a lot of it comes down to the particular disposition and personality of the dog you choose. However, we certainly have learned some key lessons that seem to make the biggest difference. The core of our approach comes from the teachings of Cesar Milan.

Here they are:

  1. Your own tone and energy is important. Be self aware and manage your emotional state. Exit a difficult situation, when you feel frustrated.
  2. A tired dog is a good dog! Find ways for her to get lots of exercise everyday and she will be happy, healthy, and well behaved. She will tend to get into mischief when she is anxious from pent up energy. This can commonly manifest itself as chewing, barking, or digging. Swimming and wrestling will burn more energy than walking, however, dogs are hardwired, based on their genetics, to walk in a pack everyday – so make sure you do this. And make sure you are leading on the walk or your dog will take the lead, resulting in her having anxiety associated with being the leader of the pack.
  3. Redirect from undesirable behaviour, such as chewing a shoe or hand, to a toy or chew rope.
  4. When she bites your hand, even just a bit, say “ow!” and pull your hand away. This is what her litter mates did to tell her she was playing too aggressively. If it happens a second time, turn your back and even consider leaving the room to ignore her, thus letting her know that rough play means play time is over.
  5. Reinforce desired behaviours. Use treats and praise for good deeds. Even when she does them on her own – for example, when she automatically sits at the curb, before crossing the street on a walk.
  6. Be the alpha. Go through doors first.
  7. Be the hand that feeds – and takes away. Practice taking food and toys away, while she is eating or playing. Then return the food or toy, so she associates the removal as something temporary and thus not something she needs to get anxious about.
  8. Use lures, not force of pushing or pulling. Present opportunities for her to make choices, but stack the deck, so the chances of her making the “correct” choice are better.

I’ve found that I have a much more attuned sensitivity to behavioural cues and responses, as a result of paying attention to our interactions with Bella. It’s also made me aware of the challenge of always “being on” and making sure we are following the rules ourselves – never mind Bella following the rules.

Consistency is so important. Consistency is critical. Consistency means making sure these rules become habits – just as much for us, as for Bella.

Eat That Frog! Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress

I’ve learned a great deal from Brian Tracy over the years.  One thing in particular stands out from all the others.

This “thing” – call it a concept, an idea, a technique, a metaphor, a suggestion – has been huge in helping me increase my productivity, while also reducing my stress.  Sound pretty good?  It is!

Tracy has developed and popularized the idea of eating frogs for breakfast.  Not the frog’s legs that they supposedly eat in France, but a metaphorical frog.

What he proposes is that we all have things on our ‘to do’ lists that cause us anxiety until they are completed.  These are often important tasks that will create positive results for us, but we delay taking action, because there is something that holds us back.

In this short video, you can learn not only why we struggle to “get stuff done”, but also what you can do to improve your productivity and reduce your stress:  Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy (video).

With respect to the anxiety we experience when we have a frog that we haven’t eaten, I believe that the source of the anxiety stems from two things: (1) having an unmet commitment to ourselves or others and (2) fear about the anticipated pain associated with the impact of not yet having completed the task.

For example, if you said you would send a client or boss a report by a certain date and time and now that time has passed, you will likely experience anxiety.  (1) You will have an unmet commitment, since you have said you would do something and then didn’t.  (2) You will worry about having a difficult conversation with your client or boss, who may be upset or at least less trusting of your integrity and reliability.

I would suggest that the benefits of alleviating (or at least reducing) this kind of anxiety and tension from your daily life is equal to, if not greater, than the benefits of “getting your stuff done.”

For me, my frogs are often things like writing a client a proposal, dealing with a complicated email question from a student, or writing a reference letter for someone.

Breaking it down into smaller more (psychologically) manageable chunks certainly helps.  What can also help is gathering archived information, so I realize that I’m not starting from a blank canvas (e.g., past proposals, emails, and reference letters).

My wife and I now commonly use the phrase “I’m working on a big frog right now” to let the other know we are proud to be making progress on completing something that we, for whatever reasons, felt a great deal of resistance to doing.  This also lets the other know that we would like some time and space to be able to focus on the task at hand to make sure it gets completed.

At the office, I keep a picture of Kermit the Frog on my bulletin board as a constant reminder to reflect on the question, “what are my frogs that I’m currently avoiding?”

It’s easy to busy yourself with an inbox full of emails, attend unnecessary meetings, and to be drawn towards tacking all the easy things on your ‘to do’ list (assuming you’ve even taken the time to make one).  However, you only arrive at the end of the day never having really done the one or two things that would have made the day feel like a success.  Made it feel productive.  Made you feel more relaxed and less stressed.

Also, once you’ve eaten your frog, you’ll feel way more energy and enthusiasm for all the other things you do throughout the rest of the day.  They’ll feel easy!  You’ll feel light!


What’s your biggest frog right now?

Why is it important for you to eat this frog?

How will you feel once you’ve eaten this frog?

What are you tempted to do instead of eating this frog?

What will you chose to do?

Great!  Now get to it!  Here’s a napkin, for when you’re done…



Don’t Sell. Help Buy.

What’s the most recent thing you bought? Was it a coffee? A TV? A song from iTunes?

How about the most recent thing you were sold? Or at least that someone tried to sell you…

Due to the fact that the result often looks similar, in that money changes hands in exchange for a product or service, we often fail to distinguish between the two – buying and being sold. However, as you answered each of the original questions, you could probably feel your mind searching for different examples when thinking of your most recent buying experience versus your most experience of being sold. If you are like most people, you enjoy “buying” and hate “being sold”.

Not surprisingly, higher ticket items such as houses and cars are often the purchases we make where we encounter the feeling of “being sold”. Here the stakes are higher. There is more money to be made – and the person you are dealing with likely faces a positive financial incentive if you buy from them right now (a commission or bonus) and punishment if you don’t (being the bottom salesperson for the month – and if sustained, perhaps even losing their job). They are motivated by both the carrot and the stick. In some situations, there is a lot of pressure placed on salespeople to “sell” and they often pass this pressure on to you.

We’re all familiar with the high pressure sales tactics that leave us feeling gross. We rush home and have a shower, hoping that the icky feeling will be washed away. In these situations, we know the intent of the salesperson is focused on their own self interest – not helping us make a wise purchasing decision for ourselves. What’s a sleazy sales experience that still sticks in your memory?

Have you ever visited an Apple store? Did you notice what the employees did? They definitely didn’t use high pressure sales tactics, such as asking, “If we find the right computer for you that meets all the criteria you have just told me are important to you, is there any reason you will not be able to buy this computer from me today?” Depending on what you were looking for you may have found the employees busied themselves by asking you questions, listening to what you said, and sharing relevant information with you.  I’ll admit, I’m often in an Apple store just to caress the latest sleek device they have on display and I’ve never felt as though I was “being sold” – but I sure felt like I wanted to buy!

Which approach works better for you, as a customer? Where would you rather shop? Where would you prefer to come back to again and again? So why would you do anything differently when you’re on the other side of the counter?

A lesson in this for all of us, whether we are preparing for a job interview, pitching an idea at work, or “selling” a used Toyota, is to avoid selling to people, and instead to remember to help people make good buying decisions.

The path to doing this? In my opinion: ask great questions, sincerely listen for what matters most, and provide relevant information.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Yesterday the closure of the downtown HMV ‘flagship’ location was announced.

Oddly enough, over coffee earlier in the very same day a friend and I had been discussing the historic and current challenges of brick and mortar music stores.

Listening to the radio, this morning, News 1130 reported on the HMV closure. The host invited listeners to visit the News 1130 website to answer their daily web poll question: “do you still buy CDs?”

As of roughly 9:00am, 63% of respondents had clicked “no”.

Do you see any possible problems with the validity of this number?

Here is my perspective:

People who are frequently on their computers, tablets, or smart phones are the voters. Simply by knowing they were able to vote online, we know they have the technology and internet access required for listening to music via streaming radio and music downloads.  However, the people without this technology and internet access are also more likely to rely on other methods for accessing music and therefore are more likely to be CD buyers – but, of course they are less likely to vote on an online poll.

It’s like going to a bowling ally and asking the people there, “do you still bowl?”

Another way to skew the figures about consumer behaviour, when it comes to CD purchases, is to ask the same question, “do you still buy CDs?” as people are walking out of an HMV holding an HMV branded shopping bag.

Either way, the sample is not reflective of the range of people who listen to music.  Similar critiques have been made about the results of studies in Psychology that have only had the readily available college student population as a sample. When we then assume we can extrapolate these conclusions about human behaviour to the general population, we are making a big and potentially dangerous leap.

News 1130 cited a Communications Professor at SFU who says 1 in 3 people currently buy their music in CD format. He shared that people now buy through a wider variety of channels and also in multiple formats. Some people like to buy certain albums on CD, while their main listening may occur via a SirusXM satellite radio subscription. Therefore a binary, yes/no question such as, “do you still buy CDs” hides this level of granular detail. I have to admit, I am even left wondering about how the 1 out of 3 figure was determined.

There is a relevant saying often attributed to Mark Twain: “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  I encourage you to spend 6 minutes to watch Sebastian Wernicke’s amusing TEDTalk on Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We could go into much further analysis, such as discussing the use of the loaded word “still”, which for many people will suggest a negative judgement about your ability to keep up with current trends, if you answer “yes” to the question, “do you still buy CDs?”

Do you have a healthy scepticism about the statistics you see and hear every day?

Good People are Good to People

I woke up this morning with the words, “Good People are Good to People” in my mind.  It rang true to me, so I thought I would see what the rest of the world thought.

As you might guess, my first stop was Google, which ironically has an informal company motto of “don’t be evil” – it seemed like I was already on the right track!

I learned that Jack Johnson had written a song called “Good People“, in which the chorus is:

Where’d all the good people go?

I’ve been changing channels

I don’t see them on the TV shows

Where’d all the good people go?

We got heaps and heaps of what we sow

My initial thesis, that good people are good to people, wasn’t yet substantiated, however, I was now aware that according to Jack Johnson, we had a global shortage of “good people”.  In the midst of this “good-people crisis”, I was glad to be on the case and optimistic that I would get to the bottom of things.

Good People Brewing Company provided me with just what I was looking for – no, not a frosty pint – but rather their mission statement on their Facebook page, which implies good people are those who do good for others in their communities and beyond.  You can read it for yourself and see if you agree with my analysis.

To create quality beer as a celebration of the eclectic fabric that makes up who we are and our great Southern culture while supporting those good people who do great things in their communities and beyond.

In September of 2009, Esquire magazine actually published a list of the 75 Best People in the World, citing the “talent, achievements, [and] virtue” of these “do-gooder” men and women as the criteria for selection.

In a very interesting TED Talk, Dr. Philip Zimbardo (of the Stanford Prison Experiment) Shows How People Become Monsters… or Heros.  Zimbardo asserts that, “Evil is the exercise of power to intentionally harm, hurt, destroy, or commit crimes against humanity.”  In contrast, Dr. Z says, “Heroes are ordinary people whose social actions are extraordinary.  Who act.  The key to heroism is two things.  A: You’ve got to act when other people are passive.  B: You have to act socio-centrically, not egocentrically.”

Aha!  This is exactly what I was looking for:  For someone much smarter than I am, with decades of research behind them, to back me up.  I agree, Dr. Z – good people aren’t those who act egocentrically; good people are those who act in ways that are good to people.  These are the heros.

In terms of the debate regarding whether we are facing a shortage of heros, I’ll leave it with you to decide whether Jack Johnson’s question is relevant… “where’d all the good people go“?

Creating Your Own World View

By understanding our world, we stand a far better chance of changing it.

Similar to a scientist, who is seeking to understand the world from their discipline’s perspective (e.g., Physics, Biology, Chemistry), we too can make use of their powerful approach to create our own individual world view.  This post is about the value of actively pursuing the creation of your own world view.

“Now why would I want to do that”, you ask?  Well, first, it’s useful to understand that you are doing it anyway – just unconsciously and unintentionally.  As human beings, we are “meaning making machines”, constantly striving to make sense of our world as we perceive it.  We are continually trying to figure out our place in the world and how to best interact with it in a way that helps us avoid pain and move towards pleasure.

My point is that these world views are passively created.  If your aim is to be in the driver’s seat of your own life, wouldn’t you agree that you should do everything you can to actively pursue the creation of your own world view, such that it serves you?

Did I hear you say, “Okay, I’m sold.  So, where do I go from here?”  It’s fairly simple, but like many things, not always easy.  By regularly and consciously creating hypotheses and testing them, you will begin to form your own world view.  With your latest hypothesis in hand, when you come across information (evidence) that supports or refutes your hypothesis, you are essentially testing your ideas, assumptions, and beliefs about something that matters to you in your life.

As a result of consistently practicing this habit, you will notice that you gradually become more confident in your view of how things and people operate/work.  Consequently, because your perspective on the world will be evidence-based, you will become more effective at predicting and influencing the behaviour of yourself and other people.

Do you have a perspective on this post, from your own world view?  If so, please comment below!