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Even Good Dogs Make Bad Choices

Most of the guys I work with have in common that they genuinely don't want negativity in their lives. They want to wake up feeling good about themselves, have a productive day, have positive exchanges with everyone they interact with, eat some good food, get some rewarding leisure time in, and get back to bed feeling like they've checked all of their productivity boxes. We typically review the day we've had in our minds, scanning to make sure we haven't fallen short somewhere along the way, or made any egregious errors that could come back to bite us in the butt. In other words, we worry about having made bad choices...... and we worry a LOT. [Caveat: The guys who DON'T worry about making poor choices -- those who are so self-serving and devoid of empathy that they might be categorized as either sociopathic or psychopathic -- are beyond the scope of this article. I'm a Life Coach for Men, not a clinical psychologist.] I find myself reiterating the same basic message over and over for guys, which is that failure anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, they agree wholeheartedly. Most if not all of these guys have a certain degree of familiarity with self-help content (literature, videos, seminars) and are well aware of the difference between an "abundance mentality" and a "lack mentality". They know they aren't supposed to worry. They know they are supposed to stay calm, stay cool, and have faith that things will all work out. The problem isn't a lack of familiarity with these ideas. The problem is self discipline. How do we override our knee-jerk reaction to what we perceive as potential threats? How do we keep this fundamentally good dog from making bad choices? As my autistic 12-year-old often instructs me from the back seat of my Jeep -- particularly when traffic starts getting competitive on our SoCal Interstates, and my breathing gets more labored (which is apparently my first poker tell) -- "Dad. STOP, BREATHE, and THINK!". This is the advice he's been given over the years to help him deal with situational frustration. It's excellent advice.

  1. STOP -- This means exactly that. Just freeze whatever you're doing for a moment. Throw the engine into neutral. Relax your body, as though you've just been shot with a tranquilizer dart. No matter how justified you may feel ramping up, pull back on your own leash and do a hard STOP.

  2. BREATHE -- This means take big, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose until you lungs are at full capacity. Hold it for a few seconds. Now slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this 5-10 times with focused intention.

  3. THINK -- The guys I deal with are over-thinkers, which is where the worrying and paranoiac fantasies come from in the first place. What we're really saying here is to please use REASON in this situation, not EMOTION. Deal only in facts, be calm and methodical, and no matter what the outcome..... stay cool.

Okay, great advice. But what happens when you screw up? Just like the family dog who gets startled and bites the toddler, what do we do when we KNOW BETTER and freaking do it anyway? Paul "Bear" Bryant of The University of Alabama -- considered by many to be the greatest coach in American college football history -- said this about making mistakes:

“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: 1. Admit it. 2. Learn from it, and 3. Don’t repeat it.”

I couldn't agree more. When you mess up, fess up. Admit you've done so, and humbly apologize to anyone your reactive behavior has affected. Learn from it means take a look around at the collateral damage and accept that this outcome is a result of your actions. Take responsibility. And finally, don't repeat it. That's the challenge, man. But take it from a guy with clients in their late 50's and 60's who are finally learning alternatives to the reactive male behavior they've learned from their fathers (and fathers' fathers)..... you actually CAN teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, that's literally what I do for a living, which has earned me the tongue-in-cheek title: "The Dude Whisperer". So next time you screw up and make a poor choice, don't beat yourself up. Admit it. Learn from it. Try not to repeat it..... and if you catch yourself growling and snarling at a real or perceived threat: stop, breathe, and think. Good dog!


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