Are your plans going to the dogs?
Sometimes the most profound truths come in the simplest stories like below anecdote.
The Good Dog/Bad Dog Syndrome
A Native American elder once described his inner struggles to a friend. “Inside of me there are two dogs: the bad dog is mean and angry, the good dog is kind and excited. The bad dog fights the good dog every day.”
When asked by the friend which dog wins, the elder reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”
Do you experience a tug of war between the good dog / bad dog forces within you? The caring, hopeful, inspiring voice wanting to live life fully, dreaming of possibilities of what can be done versus the fearful and highly self-critical voice that holds you back and shoots down your big ideas?
Which dog are you feeding the most?
In my coaching sessions, when clients begin to talk and explore big ideas and best possible outcomes, they come alive filled with positive energy and vigor. Their faces light up, shoulders and body straighten and they sit at the edges of their chairs with their voices notching up in volume. Their whole body becomes infused with life force as if a thousand volts of energy are rushing through their veins. It is hard to miss the excitement they embody. Their “good dog” is having a ball.
Sadly, the excitement is often short-lived. They suddenly go quiet and turn inward. Their shoulders fall, they hunch and sink back into their chair, as if someone literally switched off their energy source and dimmed their inner light. The “bad dog” has awakened. It is now in charge, sabotaging and tearing down the “good dog’s” plans and dreams.
Taming the dogs
If you choose to look at this dynamic within yourself really carefully – observing the thoughts from afar much like a helicopter view of things – you will discover three important realizations:
1. The “two” dogs are never present simultaneously. The “good” and “bad” dogs are mutually exclusionary. Just as you cannot be simultaneously sober and drunk, or awake and asleep, similarly you cannot be simultaneously envisioning a dream (good dog) and also at the very same time sabotaging it (bad dog). When one is, the other is not. You can switch back and forth between the two but never holding on to them both at once.
This is an important realization that tells us, by consciously choosing to remember and return your focus to the “good dog” – your professional/personal vision or purpose – you make the “bad dog” disappear back stage. When we consciously choose to entertain the “good dog”, the “bad dog” will have no choice but to bow out. If we remember to repeat this often enough, the “bad dog” gets less and less publicity and show time.
2. The second realization is the recognition of a third dog – the biggest dog in the game, – the “default dog”. The every day default of our low charged mind-wandering that occupies and consumes the greatest part of our thinking and energy. The “default dog” is the chief cause of our unhappiness according to Harvard research. It makes sense to begin the taming practice by first attending to the “default dog” because it uses the most energy and also because it is less highly charged.
3. No “Good Dog”, no “Bad Dog”.
Another important realization is that the bigger your ideas are, the louder the bad dog’s growling and showing its teeth.
When we contemplate big ideas, it is only natural to feel hope and yet also a degree of trepidation signaling the entry into unknown new unchartered territory – a heroic journey and encounter with the guardians of the new land is a rite of passage as J. Campbell puts it in his book, the Hero’s Journey.
To claim the prize or achieve the big idea, we must first face and outsmart the guardians and manage the inner dragons of our emotions. This is the stuff of great mythological stories much like the three headed dog in Harry Potter which guards the entry door to the secret underground passage to the place of trials, learning and growth. It is the same in business adventures. We need to meet and outsmart the real and imaginary challenges of all sorts that guard the entry into a new market before a victory or growth in market share is accomplished.
In this sense, the growling of “bad dog” is good news, it tells us we have chosen a worthy goal that will stretch and shake us out of our mundane comfort zone into a new stage of development and growth. It is the signal that there is a learning curve ahead. We must recognize our thoughts and manage our emotions in order to progress. Most visions and big ideas are abandoned not because they are unworthy but rather because we don’t know how to manage the felt force, the emotions, that are part of the change process.
“Leading with mastery requires that we navigate the full bandwidth of our mixed emotions… in a way that honors passion and despair, excitement and fear, love and grief, gains and losses.” – Bob Anderson, Leadership Circle
“I have no dog in this fight”
When we can distance ourselves from issues and emotions and take a ”helicopter” view of our inner dynamics, we can disengage from he flurry of thoughts and strong emotions that flood us with alarming scenarios and doubts. We can achieve a certain level of clarity, freedom and control that leaves us feeling like we have no dog in the fight any more.
From this viewpoint, we see the play of thoughts on the screen of our consciousness much like the clouds travelling on the foreground of the blue sky. The clouds arise, change shape and disappear. The thoughts and emotions come and go. We may get a liberating insight that we are not our thoughts. We have thoughts and emotions but we are not them. And from this place of liberation and clarity we can begin to manage our inner world and emotions more skillfully with choice. We train the wandering “default dog” with more patience, manage the imaginary or real fears and worries of the “bad dog” more skillfully, and feed the big-ideas and visions of the “good dog” to fruition.
Recognizing and managing the inner-dynamics of our mind is a key ingredient for success in business. Successful managers and leaders not only master business skills, they also develop self-mastery in managing their own thoughts and emotions, as well as recognizing and relating to them in others. In this way, they embody leadership presence and evoke engagement and commitment from their teams.
“For leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself” – Daniel Goleman
Effective leaders are equally adept in the two complimneting and interwoven aspects of leadership: the outer world of excellence in business practices and competencies and also the inner world of self-mastry.
Kamran is an International Coach Federation (ICF) accredited experienced Professional Certified Coach (PCC). He focuses on executive and leadership development coaching assignments with multinationals and renowned business schools. Kamran has a deep interest in emotional intelligence, self-awareness practice and executive career coaching.