How to do Hard Things

It's the end of June, which means we are now exactly halfway through the year. Do you remember, way back in January, when you set your goals and plans for 2020? Do you even recall what you intended to accomplish? It feels like 100 years ago, doesn't it?

So, how are those goals working out for you? All met? Knocked out of the park? Or have they been thrown under the bus?

If your hopes and dreams for the year have tire treads through them, you're in good company. For the past weeks and months, many of us have had to put some or even all of our plans on ice and just focus on staying safe, staying calm, and staying healthy.

As a result, it's tempting to just write off the year and hope that 2021 will be better. But we still have a solid six months to turn things around and accomplish things we'll be proud of.

Pause for a moment and pay attention to what your brain just whispered into your ear when you read that last sentence. Did it say "Hell yes! Let's do it!" Or did it toss out something like "What's the point?" or "It's too late now!"?

Take note of how you feel when you look forward to the rest of this year. If you feel tired, heavy, sad, or scared, it's going to be hard to find the motivation to do the work it takes to train your dog and achieve your goals.

Here's why: Your thoughts create your feelings, these feelings fuel your actions, and your actions produce your results. If you aren't achieving the results you seek, work your way back up the chain to figure out the weak link.

(Spoiler alert: It's always your thoughts.)

The Impact of 2020 on Goals

Let me give you an example. 2020 was going to be my year to get back into competing after taking several years off to work on other things. I was very excited about spending the herding season attending trials with my two fully trained dogs, and had invested quite a bit into preparing to make this happen.

Then COVID struck and all trials were cancelled. Great. My first thought? So much for getting back to trialing in 2020! That thought left me feeling discouraged, and the result was that I stopped training my dogs.

I know a lot of other people have been feeling the same way, either about the loss of trials or the closure of in-person training. It has definitely been a hard few months, and the end is nowhere near in sight.

But does this mean we have to abandon our goals?

The answer, as with so much in dog training, is of course: it depends. It depends on whether we want to abandon that goal, or if we want it badly enough to find another way. The choice, my friend, is yours.

I've been amazed by all the creative ways people have found to keep going with their goals using the internet, such as by participating in online trials, working towards on-line titles, and taking online courses.

So far I haven't seen any online herding trials, but even that could be done, I'm sure. There have already been several online herding clinics that were quite successful.

My approach to sticking with my goals has been the following... First I took a long, hard look at why I wanted to get back into trialing and teased out the pieces: testing my skills, building teamwork, giving my dogs a variety of experiences, and expanding my social network.

I then devised ways to work on each of these pieces separately while I wait for trials to open again.

I'm happy with this plan, but actually putting it into action is an ongoing challenge. Without looming trial deadlines and the lure of oh, so many distractions, staying on task is hard. Add in the summer heat and ongoing isolation, and some days motivation is nowhere to be found.

Sound at all familiar?

How to do Hard Things

I wish I could offer a simple, one-size-fits-all solution to make things easy, but I can't. The fact of the matter is that some things are just hard to do. Usually the things that we want to make happen most.... Like training our dogs regularly and sticking to the goals we set for ourselves.

So what can you do? Well, there are plenty of strategies to help. You can split your tasks into bite-sized pieces. Make sure your training area is set up and ready to go well before you plan to train. Connect your training to something you already do, and have it serve as a trigger (always drink tea at 4pm? Put a clicker and some treats next to your mug, and train your dog while you wait for the kettle to boil!). Reward yourself for training because you know that behaviours that get reinforced grow in frequency.

And so on.

I use all these tricks and then some, but here's what really moves the needle for me: I acknowledge to myself that training regularly is hard.

And then I do it anyway.

When I feel the resistance—which I do. Every. Single. Day.—I remind myself of my goal, and why it matters to me. Then I tell myself "this is hard, but it's worth it."

"This is hard but it's worth it," is the thought that gets me out of bed in the morning, two hours earlier than I would need to otherwise, so that I can train my dogs before the heat or the chaos of the day makes it impossible.

"This is hard but it's worth it" acknowledges that achieving goals IS difficult—instead of trying to trick ourselves into believing it's easy—creating space for feeling the struggle. This thought acknowledges that we're having to overcome, that it takes effort, determination, and self-discipline. That what we're doing is worth doing, and, when we're done, worth celebrating.

So, look back at your 2020 goals from January and ask yourself if they are still worth working towards. If the answer is yes, acknowledge that doing the work will be hard.

And then? Do it anyway.

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