What Dogs Have Taught Me About Fresh Starts

Happy New Year everyone! I’m not sure about you, but I’m 100% ready to put this absolute crapsack of a year behind me. (This insult is brought to you by Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars). It’s 2018. And that means a fresh start. FINALLY! A chance to reflect on the past year, to think about what did and didn’t work, what did and didn’t change, both internally and externally. Whatever list of things we come up with, it’s a time when many of us often seek a chance to change the things that haven’t been working for us. But why, exactly, do we wait until the new year to FINALLY get back on track. We can start over any day, week, or month of the year. I firmly believe it’s a combination of a firm deadline for bad habits immediately followed by the biggest support group you’re probably ever going to get. Everyone makes New Years resolutions, ranging from getting in shape to quitting smoking to finally reorganizing your Tupperware drawer. My list of resolutions is about a million and one things long. To make this infinitely less painful, I simply created three personal commandments* to live by this year.

Whatever you’re planning to do this year, changing our behavior is one of the most painstaking tasks to undertake. Our brains absolutely hate the thought of change, something I’ve spoken about in my post What Dogs Have Taught Me: Learn to be Uncomfortable. But, if I’ve learned anything from dogs, it’s that fresh starts are not only a nice way to begin a new year or a new chapter in your life. They’re necessary.

necessity

Like dogs, we are constantly changing—our expressions, our likes and dislikes, and our values and beliefs. Our habits need to change in order to stay in tune with who we are. No one is the same person they were a week ago, let alone a year ago. But habits are much more static than interests and values. The latter ebb and flow naturally and unconsciously. But our actions and habits require intentional, time consuming, and painstaking alterations. All it takes to realign our actions and our values is a simple change in our routine and habits. All of this can be wrapped up into three simple words: a fresh start. As difficult as the change required to launch a fresh start can be, dogs have also taught me that they are a wonderfully freeing and uplifting experience if you lean into the discomfort of that change.

freeing

My border collie, Brody, came into my home at a whopping 100 lbs. This wasn’t from any case of negligent overfeeding. It was simply that he was a dog that used food for comfort, something that I’m sure many of us—myself included—can relate to. Any change in his environment, be it a new person or pet—simply an unexpected noise—sent him on a quest to empty his food bowl. He was a big blub of a dog. But thanks to a change in food and a change in his exercise and play routine. Now, you might be thinking, “easy for him, he had someone to enforce these changes.” To that I say: if we want a change bad enough, we will naturally take on the role of our own enforcer. I say this because with these enforced diet and exercise changes, Brody slowly, but surely, underwent a gradual change in his own intentional habits. When he felt stressed or anxious, he would simply bark instead of seeking out food for comfort. Soon after that he began to play with a toy or even with our other dogs when he experienced a sudden change. All of the hard changes in the beginning helped him recover and begin a new life as a healthy, active, and happy dog. Because he wanted to be a healthy, active, and healthy dog—his old habit of comfort eating had simply taken that away from him. But all it took to bring his desires and actions back into alignment was a simple change in routine called a fresh start.

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Dogs have the benefit of having us to help guide them through a new beginning. But we are the only ones who can create the opening for our own fresh start, be it living a healthy lifestyle or kicking a bad habit. What starts as an intentional action will eventually turn into a natural habit, given enough time and nurturing. I won’t lie to you and say that it won’t be hard work. But I will tell you that it will be worth it. If you’re craving a fresh start this year, it’s probably because you’ve been yearning for a change in your habits that matches the change in your spirit—because you’re not quite the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even a year ago. The thing about starting anew is that once the hard work is done, you’re left with the incredibly freeing experience of aligning your actions and your values as your intentions become habits—and that’s something worth being proud of. No matter what your new beginning, no matter what your journey or how far you get, it’s simply about progress, no matter how small. Whatever way you put it, a fresh start is a change. More importantly, it can be a change that’s engineered by you. A new beginning starts with a simple, deliberate action, but that’s far from where it ends.

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One of the fresh starts I’m seeking this year is to live with more intention and authenticity. What are you looking forward to starting or changing this year?

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