“Wisdom from our Golden Retriever.”
In the spring of 2021, Molly and I enjoyed a three-week Sabbatical Session on the MEA campus in Baja along with our golden retriever. All three of us, including Jack, were fundamentally changed by the experience.
We arrived at MEA shortly after rescuing Jack from the dog pound where he was labeled as a “problem.” This beautiful dog had been abandoned by his prior owner because of a blended family and the resulting conflict between Jack and a newly-arrived German Shepherd. Someone had to go, and it was Jack.
Golden retrievers are both loyal and loving so this rejection upset Jack very much. Upon arrival at our home, Molly encouraged us to frequently reinforce that Jack was a good dog. Between Molly saying “good dog” 25 times a day and my doing the same, Jack received 25 – 50 “good dog” praises daily. Our loving MEA community students, Teri, Mike, and Cara, and staff, Gio, and Araceli immersed Jack in “good dog” energy that boosted his confidence and trust. Twelve months of consistent reinforcement resulted in him becoming not only a good dog, but a great dog! Jack exhibits behaviors we never trained and frequently we are amazed at how good he is.
This led to an insight: growing up my parents did not reinforce “good boy,” in fact much of their language was focused on where I fell short of expectations. Following years of this “bad dog” reinforcement I began to believe that I could not measure up to their expectations and maybe wasn’t worthy of love and encouragement. Does that sound like your upbringing?
Now some “good parent” reinforcement. Our parents did the best they could given the tools they had and the period in which they grew up. My parents lived through the Great Depression as adolescents and then went on to serve in World War II. They had an entirely different experience than mine. To their credit, they passed on several excellent virtues such as perseverance, a hard work ethic, and the importance of personal responsibility. They did the very best they could, using the skills and experience they had.
Fast forward to today, Jack has taught me the power and impact of positive reinforcement. More specifically that reinforcement is for “good John” behaviors and thoughts experienced daily. Mornings start with prayer, meditation, exercise, reflection, journaling, gratitude, writing, and personal notes of appreciation of others. All good dog behaviors. Evenings follow a similar wrap up of actions that close the day, again expressing gratitude, appreciation, and closure of a day well-lived.
My belief, and recent research supports that consistent daily reinforcement is rewiring my brain and ultimately the thoughts and beliefs regarding who I am in the world, transforming an intrinsic belief that I am worthy and responsible to make the world a better place by living intentionally. All that from a rescue dog named Jack!
P.S. Molly adds that John has transformed into a better life-partner and a “good boy.” She can’t wait for SabSesh 2023 in Baja!
John Anderson is a lifelong business strategist and entrepreneur. Through his published book “Replace Retirement: Living Your Legacy in the Exponential Age,” and in his coaching business, Anderson shares his passion for living the second half of life better than the first half. For the past 20 years he has coached CEOs and executive teams in developing clear, measurable goals underpinned with structures and insights to achieve both professional and personal growth.