Updated: Dec 7, 2020
What would life be like if we lived more like our dogs?
Not so much in terms of sleeping all day, sniffing butts, or barking at the garbage truck, but in terms of what they can see, because dogs are color blind; they only see versions of gray. (Hang with me through this, I’m not suggesting you go color blind.)
Living in the gray offers you freedom. It opens your mind to possibilities, it doesn’t assume outcomes to be good or bad. It allows outcomes to be both a little good and a little bad or a lot of good and a little bad.
So I wonder - what would life be like if we lived in the gray?
GRAY vs. BLACK and WHITE
We’re all guilty of this: as we get older we become more and more set in our ways. We start to believe our narrative is the Right one, which implies that anyone who disagrees with our narrative is Wrong (sound familiar?) But this creates a HUGE problem in relationships. We get so stuck in our ways that we can’t even envision a world where our version of the truth isn’t 100% accurate. That’s called closed-minded thinking.
Open-minded thinking, on the other hand, might approach a tense situation with the understanding that both of you can be Right, in your own ways. And if you’re both right, doesn’t that mean you can learn from each other?
That’s what I mean when I say we should try to live more in the “gray areas”; seeing situations not in black or white, or as right or wrong, just different. Because differences can teach us things.
You limit yourself when you’re locked into thinking in black and white. You lock your mind into believing there are only two realistic possible outcomes or goals - one “good” and one “bad”.
But when you choose to see things in gradations of gray, you open your mind up to options, and having options opens up countless opportunities. Options are exciting and generate creative energy. Options indicate there is more to a scenario than good, bad, black, white, right, or wrong. Options allow you to imagine a million different outcomes to a problem or obstacle, rather than letting you assume you know how things will end up.
See, the key word is “assume”. We’ve all heard the saying,
“To assume make an ass out of you and me.”
Silly saying, but it’s true. When you assume you know everything, you set yourself up for some extreme disappointment when things don’t turn out the way you thought they would. Making assumptions generates closed-minded thinking.
We’re all guilty of generating assumptions based upon our previous experiences. We believe our version of reality is the only one that matters - without having any proof. But when we acknowledge there are gradations of gray out there, meaning there could be more than one outcome to a situation, we leave room for alternative outcomes.
WHY ASSUME AT ALL?
So, why do we always try and predict what will happen in every scenario we encounter throughout the day? Why do we think we know how a tough conversation with our partner will go, or how our boss will react to an idea we have? It’s a learned defense mechanism, that’s why.
It’s our mind’s way of trying to keep up safe or comfortable. It’s our mind’s way of reassuring us. Because we’ve developed a powerful part of our psychology that’s afraid of the unknown, so our mind sends a signal to protect ourselves and we act accordingly by making assumptions. This fear mechanism is incredibly useful, but outdated.
Let me explain: This part of us developed so we wouldn’t become lunch for a lion back in the caveman days. It’s a form of fight or flight. But today, our hard-wiring isn’t sophisticated enough to differentiate between the fear of being eaten by a lion versus the fear of the unknown. (Doesn’t that blow your mind?) So when we sense our fear of the unknown, we respond with the same level of stress as we would to a lion chasing us! That’s an outdated (and frankly unhealthy) way to respond to daily stressors.
Lets connect the dots. So if you think in black and white, or right and wrong, then you are limiting yourself by rejecting the possibility of other alternatives to stressful situations. In other words, you’re letting your fear of the unknown, of alternative possibilities, run your life.
I say “letting” because it’s a CHOICE. You can CHOOSE how you respond.
YOU CREATE YOUR REALITY
We all create our own hell by listening to our fears. I do it too. But our fears force us to predict how bad something will be, and it becomes so real in our heads that we experience real emotions associated with that outcome. Sound familiar?
Did you know that 85% of the things you’re fearful of and worry about don’t actually happen, according to Kate Sweeny, associated professor of Psychology at University of California. So not only are you trapping yourself in a cycle of fearful living, but you’re wasting your time.
But if we all work to accept ourselves for who we really are - an imperfect human who is unique and wonderful - we destroy that fear of the unknown. We surrender. Accepting we are imperfect reduces the fear of making mistakes, because imperfection implies WE WILL MAKE MISTAKES (and that’s okay!). When we accept we will make mistakes, our minds will no longer be afraid of making mistakes, because we already expect to!
This is what I mean when I say we need to take some inspiration from our four-legged friends. Dogs don’t make assumptions about the future based upon fear. So let’s try to be like them. Let’s try to accept ALL of ourselves and open our mind to learn about other outcomes that are out there. The fact is, no one knows everything; there are people, older and younger, who can teach different lessons. We just have to be open and willing enough to accept we don’t know everything.
Think about the world today and try and see it in a different shade of gray. COVID, for example, is both good and bad. Some of the bad side effects are the mortality rate, financial disasters, and job losses. But there is some good out there. People are spending more time with family, people are getting more creative with how they connect and are seizing opportunities, like buying homes, having kids, or adopting animals. So really, we can see COVID in a whole bunch of shades of gray.
LIVE LIKE A DOG
There is one other inspiration I’d like you to take from dogs. Their memory retention is only 30 seconds, forcing them to live in the moment. So, don’t look at the big picture and see all the unknowns, allowing the fear to slowly creep in. Take in each moment as it is so you can experience all life has to offer. Because, in the end, dogs have it right ;).
Live in the gray and enjoy the freedom of surrender that comes with it. Live in the moment and make the moment so wonderful it’s worth remembering. But also live like a dog and love unconditionally. Express your love often and genuinely. Spend time with the people who matter in your life. It’s up to you!