A common adage and proverb says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But it’s a saying that’s full of bologna. We use this adage to impose limitations on ourselves, to maintain the status quo, to feel comfortable with our mediocre state, and to hold ourselves back. It’s an excuse to give up without even trying. The fact of the matter is you can teach an old dog new tricks. And with the New Year being just around the corner, with everyone making all sorts of resolutions, you might be thinking about implementing some changes and new tricks in your own life.
Training Old Dogs To Do New Tricks
But before we get into the New Year’s resolution stuff, here’s a few articles to support the notion that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks:
Both of these articles show that it’s indeed possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Teaching an old dog new tricks might not be an easy thing to do, but it is possible. The articles suggest that if you want to teach an old dog new tricks, you need to make sure the dog focused; be patient with the dog, to pay attention to the dog’s body language for signs of exhaustion; to make training sessions short; use a lot of positive reinforcement to reward the desired behavior; to make training as simple as possible; to make a commitment to follow through with training; and to be consistent with your training.
I’m no doggy psychologist, nor human psychologist, but these basic ideas about how to train a dog sounds a lot like how we all learn things as human beings. So, if you want to move into the new year and to build a new you, take some tips from training old dogs on how to do new tricks, and incorporate them into whatever you are doing right now.
Willpower Is Not Enough
But with that said, I think before we can move on with making a better version of ourselves, we need to engage in some self examination and reflection.
What sort of life do you want to build for yourself? Whatever it is, you can’t move forward without knowing where you’ve come from. As we approach a new year, I have to say up front, I’m not a fan of making New Year’s Resolutions.
As I talked about previously in episode #132 of this podcast, 80% of New Year’s Resolutions will fail by February, and that’s because such resolutions are seldom built on anything more than willpower. And as important as some good old fashioned grit and determination can be, such is a bad basis for transforming your life. Real transformation comes out of values that bleed out of our heart and into minds and actions.
Taking Inventory Of Your Life
But, instead of making New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming year, I do enjoy using this time of year to reflect on what I’ve done over the past year, to examine what I value, to take an inventory of my accomplishments, as well as my failures, and to dream about how I might build on and expand on this past year.
So, instead of making resolutions for the new year, I use this time of year to closely look at the past year, to examine what I’ve accomplished, to see where I’ve failed, and to see where I can improve. And I simply ask, do my actions align with what I value in my heart? If so, how can I better improve what I’m already doing, and if not, what do I need to cut out to better help myself? Let me engage in a little mental exercise here.
Personally speaking, this past year has been a tremendous one for me, and I accomplished a lot.
I turned 40. I finalized my divorce and have finally healed from the season of grief I walked through. I went on some dates, and while I didn’t end up in a relationship with anyone, I can say I tried and ultimately opened my heart to someone… although I got shot down.
I moved… again. I completed a four year rotation in my church’s high school youth ministry. I partnered with a friend to start a small men’s group at my church. I got a passport, and went on my first ever cruise to the Bahamas. I continued to grow my friendships. I joined a gym and started lifting weights, and have been doing such more than at any point in my life. And after 22 years away from the sport that I loved growing up, I started to play ice hockey again.
But for all that I accomplished, I also had some failures.
As I mentioned in my accomplishments… I got a divorce. And while I’m glad to have my prior marriage behind me, it’s ultimately a failure at the end of the day. I wasn’t as financially responsible as I could have been, especially as I spent money on things associated with my divorce and building a new life. I tried to buy a house, but failed to do so, and so I’m still renting.
At the start of the year before I started working out, I lost some weight, only to regain it all by summer… so I had the joys of starting over… AGAIN. Although I went on a lot of dates from women I met online, I failed to go on a date with someone I met “the old fashioned way.” While I read several books this past year, I didn’t read nearly as much as I should have, as I watched far too much TV. I didn’t get a promotion or a raise, although given the current environment in my industry, I’m lucky to still have a job as I saw countless people lose their job to to issues in the real estate market.
So… that was a pretty fun little mental exercise. And it’s something I think we should all try to engage in at this time of year. Don’t just think about what you’ve accomplished (or not accomplished)… actually write it down. You probably already do something like this at work, when your boss does an annual review. So, why not do it for your actual life?
Now that I’ve written down my accomplishments and failures, I can ask of each… is this something I can do more or less of? Something I can better improve? Something I can use for momentum and to build on? Or was it a one and done event? And if it was a one and done event, what can I take away from that event and carry with me into the future? Or is there something about that event I just want to shake the dust off from my feet and move on? If so, how? And how do my actions align with my values?
Ultimately, at the end of the day, I recognize that I still have a lot of room to grow. And, if I want to further advance in my life, I need to recognize that this old dog still needs to learn some new tricks.