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10 Valuable Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog

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10 Valuable Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog

My beloved Pomeranian, Puff, turned eleven years old this spring. I got her when I was 22, and she’s been a constant through a tumultuous decade (and one cross-country move). Many of us have fond memories of our childhood dogs. I think of Puff as my ‘adulthood dog’ — she’s been there with me as I’ve tried to figure things out, by my side for all kinds of ups and downs. The older both she and I get, the more I realize that I’ve learned from her. Here are 10 of the life lessons that I’ve learned from my dog.

1. Dogs give everybody a chance.

When I first got Puff, I lived in New York City. I didn’t know any of my neighbors because, come on, it’s New York. You don’t just go around talking to strangers. When I’d take Puff out though, she was enthusiastic about greeting everyone, from the wealthy owners of park-side co-ops to homeless people on the subway. Through Puff, I had countless conversations with my fellow New Yorkers, and got to know people who lived in my building and my neighborhood — pretty much none of whom I would have talked to if it weren’t for the furball at the end of the leash tugging her way toward them (and yes, New Yorkers aren’t known for friendliness, but most also can’t resist a cute puppy). People are quick to judge others based on their appearances, but dogs aren’t — and if you close yourself off to strangers, you’re missing out.

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    2. Dogs will try anything once.

    Another classic moment from Puff’s puppyhood: At a pool party on Labor Day weekend, she was frolicking around and running away from me when she fell straight into the pool. To my surprise, she immediately started swimming, and swam the entire length of the pool. A couple of years later, when I first moved to California, I took her to the beach, thinking she might like to wade — nope, she jumped into the water and swam. Pomeranians certainly aren’t known for swimming, but Puff loves it (just smelling the ocean air gets her beyond excited). When you’re considering something new — even if it’s something you don’t think is your style — jump in and give it a try. Worst case scenario, you don’t like it. At least you tried! Best case scenario, you’ve found your new favorite activity.

    3. Dogs connect through touch.

    If Puff wants me to pet her, she will push her nose under my hand until I lift it up high enough for her to fit her head underneath. It works pretty much every time, as does her move many people mistake for “shake” — she’s lifting up her paw to ask you to rub her belly. Puff loves attention and petting, and she’s not alone in that. One reason people have surmised dogs enjoy being petted so much is because it triggers the same feelings of connection they got as puppies being licked by their mothers. Touch makes you feel good. But when you’re busy all the time, it’s easy to ignore this part of your life. Even if you live with your partner, you might not make time for for a shoulder squeeze, a back rub, a quick kiss. Sure, belly rubs aren’t what people usually go for, but why not a hug? It’s an instant, free, mood-boosting way to feel more connected.

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      4. Dogs enjoy the ride.

      Sometimes it seems like Puff’s biggest disappointment is when I leave the house and don’t bring her along. If she gets to come with me though, that’s a whole other story. She doesn’t care where we’re going — sure, it could be the beach or the dog park, but it could also be the vet or just the Starbucks drive-through — she’s just thrilled to be along for the ride. She’s not focusing on where we’re going, and what will happen later. Puff’s got a point here: If you’re just worrying about the outcome, you’re more likely to be upset, frustrated, or angry if things don’t turn out according to plan. Focusing more on the process, and being open to the twists and turns you may encounter along the way, lets you enjoy the journey no matter what your destination.

      5. Dogs make time for a daily workout.

      Even now as she’s getting older, Puff is rambunctious and runs around every single day. Often, she includes me — we go for a walk, or she initiates a game of fetch. If I’ve been working all day, she’ll bring a toy over and bug me until I get up. Other times, she just runs around on her own. No matter what though, she stays active (and she always stretches before and after — her exercise habits are impeccable). Even if it’s just instinct, this is definitely a case where your dog has the right instinct. Staying healthy is all about keeping moving, and the more you make it a habit, the easier it is to motivate yourself to do.

      6. Dogs are always upfront with you.

      When Puff wants something — to go outside, to have a treat, to play — she lets me know. She’ll paw at the door, wag her tail in front of the treat door, bring me a toy. She’s not subtle, and she doesn’t drop hints. She also doesn’t sulk and shut me out if I don’t pick up on what she wants right away. It’s kind of amazing how dogs, who can’t communicate with words, can be much more direct than many people. If you need something from someone, or want them to know how you feel, just tell them! Don’t expect others to be mind readers (and definitely don’t pull an attitude because they lack ESP). Holding in your feelings, being vague, or hoping the other person will figure out what you want will make you less happy and much less likely to get what you’re after.

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        7. Dogs live for the moment.

        Dogs live in the present tense. Sure, Puff remembers big stuff (what time she eats, where I keep the food) as well as lots of little stuff (like a surprisingly wide range of words), but for the most part, she’s a dog. She doesn’t dwell on the past, she’s not worrying about the future — that’s just how their brains work. It’s not always practical: The time Puff opened Christmas presents until eventually, on a shelf behind the tree, she found (and ate) a bunch of chocolate was super-fun while she was doing it, but the aftermath wasn’t. But if something makes you happy, and it’s not going to make you really sick later, just let go and enjoy it! Drop your anxieties and revel in what’s happening right now.

        8. Dogs happily accept compliments.

        Dogs seek out our praise and attention, and Puff is certainly no exception to that rule. She’s thrilled when both friends and strangers pet her and tell her she’s a good girl — it’s never something she shrinks away from, if anything, she’s more likely to ham it up. Her tail will wag harder, and she’ll lean in for a snuggle. People, on the other hand, are often made uncomfortable by compliments. It can feel easier to try to deflect praise, but if you’ve done something well, you should go ahead and own it! Instead of shying away from a compliment, say “thank you” and accept it. Acknowledging your own accomplishments, and being thankful when others do so, gives your self-esteem a rock-solid (and totally legit) foundation.

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        9. Dogs forgive and move on.

        I do plenty of things Puff doesn’t like. Some of them I have to do (like going to work), some are just what I feel like (like if I have a headache and don’t want to play fetch), and others are for her own good (like keeping her out of the trash). No matter what I do though, Puff always — always — forgives me. She might mope for a few minutes, but soon enough she’ll be right back by my side. She’s made me become more adaptable, too, because I always have to forgive her (and in her puppy years, she was astonishingly destructive for a 10-pound dog). In the end, the little day-to-day annoyances like those chewed-up books and sweaters don’t matter; it’s the larger bond and all the happiness she’s brought me that count. Puff doesn’t articulate it, but I think it’s the same on her end. Holding a grudge magnifies what was in all likelihood an unimportant issue, and minimizes the much more significant relationship. Being willing to forgive frees you to enjoy all that you share with those around you.

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          10. Dogs adapt and thrive.

          A few months ago, we adopted a second Pomeranian, Rico, from our local animal control shelter. Puff’s never lived with another dog, and at first she was not too pleased about her new “brother.” We gave Rico a pet bed Puff had never shown interest in, and as soon as we made it his, guess who wanted to sleep in it. But as the weeks and months passed, she warmed up to Rico. When an emergency illness made him extremely sick, she stayed by his side. Where she used to growl at him, now Puff is almost always the one who initiates playtime. I had been worried that having been solo for more than a decade, Puff wouldn’t adjust to sharing her owners with another pet, but I was wrong — she adapted beautifully, and she’s happy having a canine compadre. When there’s an unexpected change in your life — even one that seems scary at first — there’s so much you can gain by embracing it.

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          Last Updated on July 20, 2021

          How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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          How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

          You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

          Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

          Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

          Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

          1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

          According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

          “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

          Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

          Warming up

          If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

          If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

          Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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          1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
          2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
          3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

          Stay hydrated

          Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

          To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

          Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

          Meditate

          Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

          Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

          Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

          Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

          2. Focus on your goal

          One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

          Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

          Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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          Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

          If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

          3. Convert negativity to positivity

          There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

          ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

          It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

          Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

          Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

          Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

          4. Understand your content

          Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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          However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

          “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

          Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

          Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

          One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

          5. Practice makes perfect

          Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

          In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

          Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

          6. Be authentic

          There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

          Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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          Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

          To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

          With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

          Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

          7. Post speech evaluation

          Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

          Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

          We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

          You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

          Improve your next speech

          As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

          Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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          • How did I do?
          • Are there any areas for improvement?
          • Did I sound or look stressed?
          • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
          • Was I saying “um” too often?
          • How was the flow of the speech?

          Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

          If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

          Reference

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