I’ve spent the past week feverishly excited. As a family, we made the decision before lockdown that we would get a puppy. We did the research, decided on a breed and found a breeder that we liked and trusted. We now have only a few days left before our new pup comes home with us.
I don’t think it has really sunk in how much of a change this is going to be. I can visualise the fun moments, playing fetch, getting ready for walks. I know where his bed is going to be and where he’s going to have his food bowl, but I think that our excitement makes it really difficult to imagine the difficult times.
I’ve been told that there will be difficult times. That puppies don’t understand that you’re sick and so they still want to play. That sometimes you’d really like to use the bathroom without an inquisitive monster scratching at the door to see what you’re up to (though, I’ve brought up two toddlers, so I think I can manage that bit). It’s still hard to imagine having any kinds of negative feelings around our wonderful new bundle of fur.
This can make it hard to plan. When we can only see the positives in a situation, it’s very hard to prepare contingencies and fall-back plans. Not only do we not see potential issues, we will tend to underestimate the seriousness of them. Convincing yourself to devote resources (whether time, energy or financial resources) to something that seems so unlikely to cause us a difficulty is difficult.
This can also be a problem when we’re dreading something. When we are blinded by possible negative outcomes, it can be hard to identify potential advantages or to locate reasons for hope.
This is exacerbated by the way in which most of us have difficulty believing that we are anything other than objective. It’s very easy to mistake having a strong subjective feeling with having a balanced, objective thought.
Although it’s difficult, this is a key skill that’s common to exceptional people. It allows us to find opportunities that others have overlooked and to avoid pitfalls that others fall into. One of the things that I have found helps a lot is the phrase “what if?”.
“What if?” doesn’t require that you actually believe that something is likely. It just asks that you consider what would happen if that situation did occur. By making the question hypothetical, we’re able to step slightly outside of our emotional experience and start to examine our situation in a more balanced way.
Asking “what if?” has allowed me to make a plan as to how to respond if I am too tired or grumpy one day to deal with an excitable pup who wants to play. I can’t imagine for one second how tired I would have to be for that, but at least I know what I will do so I don’t upset the dog or disrupt his training or his trust in me.
It allows me to act as my best self in every conceivable situation and it helps me to give my best to the people and things that matter to me. And now I’ve done the planning, I can get back to trying hard not to act like a kid on Christmas Eve.
Did I mention I’m getting a dog?!