Monday, April 11, 2011

Think Like A Dog For Better Health

I love dogs.  A lot.  Though I don't have one of my own yet, I do visit a local rescue organization every couple weeks to volunteer walking their orphans.  It's enjoyable exercise, stress relief, and a reminder to find value in life's simple pleasures.     

In an effort to learn more about my buddies, I read one of Cesar Millan's books last year.  What really struck me was how Cesar described dogs' ability to live in the moment:

         "The most important thing to know about animals is that they all live in the present.  All the time.  It's not that they don't have memories - they do.  It's just that they don't obsess over the past, or the future."

Nothing else matters to dogs other than what is happening right now.  They aren't thinking, "I can't believe that freaking poodle stole my frisbee yesterday."  Or, "Gosh, I hope tomorrow isn't my vet appointment."  Right now all your dog is thinking about is how happy he is to be snuggled on the couch next to you.

We humans can learn a lot from them, especially in terms of our health and fitness goals.  Too often, we fixate over past failures or worry about the future that we forget to do something in the present.   

Say you've been in the habit of hiting the gym for an hour every day after work.  One day you're overloaded at the office.  None of your meetings end on time and you end up staying late to prep for a big presentation tomorrow.  Before you know it, half your usual gym time is gone before you even shut the computer down. 

So what do you do?  

Skip the gym all together because there's not enough time to finish your entire workout before dinner?  Doing so means you miss the opportunity to clear your head so you're still stressed over work and don't sleep well.  The next day at work, you're feeling sluggish from that crappy night's sleep and struggle through the presentation.  You decide to skip the gym again tonight to take a nap instead.  No worries.  You'll be extra energized to toss some iron around tomorrow, right?  Except tomorrow you realize you're already two days behind schedule and there's no way you can catch up by the end of the week.  Might as well make it a wash and start over next week...

Or would you think like a dog and only focus on what's happening in the present?

There's obviously not enough time for your usual weight training workout tonight, but you decide to hit the treadmill for a quick interval session instead.  In less than 20 minutes your heart is pounding, your lungs feel like they're going to explode, and you feel invincible.  If you can sprint this fast, the presentation tomorrow will be a piece of cake!  You're still home in time for dinner and your evening is back on track.  You sleep like a baby and nail the presentation the next day.  After work, it's back to the gym for that workout you had planned to do yesterday.  It's like nothing ever happened.

Big difference between the two.  Living in the present moment like a dog changed your outlook from it's "all or nothing" to "something is better than nothing".  

Routinely starting over when you hit a bump in the road, like in the first scenario, makes it hard to ever reach the end point.  You carried the stress of your busy day at work with you and added it to your worry about the presentation tomorrow.  And it seriously screwed up the rest of your week. 

In the second scenario, you left the stress at work.  Thinking with the present in mind allowed you to complete a more manageable workout, rather than nothing at all.  You then hit the weights the next day and haven't looked back since.  Sure, there's some extra mileage when taking a detour but at least you're still moving forward.

Take a hint from our furry, four-legged friends.  Don't worry about the future and leave the past in the past.  And look at some more cute pictures while you're at it.

Dawson, my parents' rescue lab
Dawson taking me on a golf cart ride

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