What My Dog Taught Me About Limiting Beliefs

This past week I had quite the scare.  My beloved, happy-go-lucky dog Baci was suddenly missing. Out of the blue, I looked around on Saturday morning and wondered, “Where’s Baci?” She must be outside, I thought. I checked the usual spots (dog house, garage, under the deck, tree #1, tree #2, tree #3….you get the picture) but to no avail. Then I was outside looking down the road and into presumably the uncharted territories of the neighbors’ yards and the road. By happenstance, a neighbor was down the road about 100 yards away walking her dog and I heard a familiar bark. Aha!

There she was, two doors down, barking her head off at another dog being walked, defending her new found territory. What in the world? How did that happen? I carried her home. I have a wireless containment system that involves a dog collar and base unit. When Baci gets out about 100 feet from the base unit, she receives a warning beep and then a slight shock. I’ve had the system almost as long as Baci (about 8 years) and she definitely knows her territory. The base unit was broken. For how long? Who knows. At some point, she started testing her outer limits–her limiting beliefs.

Outer Limits.  What my Dog Taought me about Limiting Beliefs.

This is what she taught me:

  • Routine.  Baci always has the same routine. The “usual spots” in the yard that she investigates every time she is outside. Heck, she has the same routines inside the house. The same windows she sidles up to peer out. The same tap, tap, tap, tap across the wood floor. We’ve all got the same routines. Brush your upper right teeth before the left. Wash your hair before your face. Check your phone and then pour coffee. At some point, Baci changed her routine to head into the outer limits. If you want to change things up, you are going to need to change up your routine.


  • Environment.  The day that I found Baci -AWOL, there was a blanket of snow on the ground. This is a drastic change in environment when you live in Eastern North Carolina. This was not the usual fare. With a blanket of white snow, her perspective and our perspectives were different. The snow was covering her usual “barriers”. Perhaps her imagined border had been the roots she would never cross or a fallen branch. A change in environment can change the way you see the world. Change your office, re-organize your books, or change the wallpaper on your PC. The barriers will disappear.


  • Test.  At some point, she tested the limit. Probably by accident at first, but she went a little farther than she had before. And then a little farther. And then a little more. She inched her way to new territory and was no worse for wear. Test your limits. Write an intro to a book. Sign up for that art course you’ve always wanted to take. Open a new PowerPoint template and make a few slides. Test your outer limits. And then go a little farther. And then a little more.


  • Explore.  When I look back, I was wondering how long the invisible fence system was down. When I reflect back, I can remember seeing Baci in places that had previously been off limits. Or I would look everywhere for her, give up and go inside, and suddenly she would be at the back door trying to get in. It.Could.Have.Been.Months. Wow. She was out there exploring. Finding new cats, tennis balls and squirrels (probably the same squirrels, just finding them around a new tree). She always came home. She knew where home base was. Go explore. What’s on your bucket list? Check a few off. Barcelona, Copenhagen and Alaska are on mine. Go explore some new trees.


I’m not suggesting we all let our pets run wild. But I do feel conflicted about restoring Baci to her home territory. How exciting for her to test her limiting beliefs and break beyond her usual outer limits. Don’t wait around for the next snow, the lottery, or your own retirement…test your limiting beliefs. See how exciting and rejuvenating it can be.

Curiosity: the Antidote for Fear

I’ve been taking several team coaching courses through CRR Global. Our facilitator said something really thought provoking. Curiosity is the antidote for fear. She posited that you can’t hold fear and curiosity at the same time. I guess this is why Curious George seemed to escape dire consequences because he wasn’t holding onto fear and examining all the “what if’s”. Rather liberating isn’t it? Just be curious and fear will melt away.

As I look back, I think the period of my life where I was consumed with fear and struggled with worrying about all that could go wrong was when my son was two. He was a toddler capable of dragging a tricycle onto a kitchen table and then sitting on it. He lacked any sense of fear. I was tethered to my son’s hand in every parking lot, store, amusement park, Movie Theater….for about three years. He had no sense of danger. No limits. I remember sitting several rows back at a Cirque du Soleil performance and he ran down the aisle to try and go on stage. We caught him just shy of the first step. Crisis averted. His curiosity struck fear in me. Thank goodness they grow up. Thank goodness he and I both survived.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t watch out for our toddlers and let them go play in traffic; but there is a lot to be learned from having an open curiosity about the world. I personally am game for any antidote for fear. So here are some ideas for embracing curiosity.

1. Open. To be able to embrace curiosity, you need to be open. Be available for the experience. I remember going for a zip line experience with my son a few years ago. I initially asked him if he wanted to go try it out and he was game (no surprise there). To be honest when I asked him I hadn’t really thought through that this meant I would be flying through a forest several hundred feet above the ground. I am not a dare devil but I was open. I didn’t come up with a laundry list of why I shouldn’t do it. It was more about seizing the opportunity to do something fun with my son before he headed off to college. When they strapped us into our gear and the helmet was on, well…it was too late to worry about fear. We had a blast and suffered no injuries. Be open. Curiosity: the Antidote for Fear

2. Scientist. Put on your scientist hat…or a lab coat. I remember taking food chemistry lab at Cornell. I was a Hotel Administration major and we spent hours messing with something basic like baking a cake. In one recipe we would double the baking powder, in another, we would leave out the eggs, in another, we would use oil instead of butter. As you can imagine (if you bake at all you know it is a science) the resulting cakes would be vastly different. I could see the cause and effect at work. It was a great learning experience although some of the end products were awful. Tinkering with various aspects of recipes has helped me to be a better cook. Take time to become the scientist.

3. Wonder. To be in “wonder” for me, means to be absolutely present and free of assumption. You need to let go and be. I can remember my kids as toddlers on Christmas morning. The larger presents from Santa would be all set up (i.e. Hot Wheels race tracks, Barbie dream house…etc). There was an overwhelming amount of things in the room but my son would run up to the racetrack and start playing. He would spend 30 minutes before he was ready to move on. He was present in his wonder and took it all in at his pace. Embrace wonder.

4. Talk to your triggers. We just practiced this in my CRR Global class. Being triggered is when you go into fight or flight mode. I get triggered when someone says a sexist statement like “those football players are playing like girls.” Suddenly my 30 year old neighborhood bully named “Joe” breaks out and wants to teach somebody a lesson and I shut down and can’t think. When I separated from my triggered self (through coaching), I could dream up a new way to deal with Joe the next time I get triggered. I can show up as my adult self and keep Joe in the back room by the red phone. Having a plan to deal with your triggers helps keep you resilient, in the moment, and keeping fear in check.

5. Muscle. Work your curiosity muscle on a regular basis. This is kind of like getting out of the status quo. Shake up your routines. Try a different drink at Starbucks, cross your arms the opposite of normal, drive a different route to work, eat vegetarian all day or call your brother you haven’t spoken to in months. It might be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable but it gets easier the more you do it. You can flex that curiosity muscle more easily. Flex your muscles.

The beauty of embracing curiosity is that life becomes that much fuller, more interesting, more adventurous. The view is different there. Lean in.

Why Fear Doesn’t Work

I just got back from a conference by the NeuroLeadership Group on Results Based Coaching developed by David Rock and all I can say is, “Wow”.  Intimidation and fear have no place in the workplace; or in healthy relationships.  This may seem obvious but aren’t we all guilty of using ultimatums (eat your peas or else I’ll….)? I know I am.  We have this notion that we have to drive performance with the “whip”; much like the slave driver in the movie “The Ten Commandments”.  As Dan Pink has illustrated in his book “Drive”, unless it’s really the type of straight forward, non-thinking kind of work; threat will not drive performance. hebrew slaves building Rameses city_thumb

Paul McGinniss, an outstanding trainer for the NeuroLeadership Group, illustrated this in the training by suggesting that if the leader says “create or else”, you aren’t going to drive performance.  He also said that it takes five “towards or reward” feedback to counteract one “away or threat” responses.  So every time you criticize your employee or your child, it’s going to take five (yes, five) positive responses to get the limbic system back to equilibrium.  And you want that equilibrium.  If the brain of your direct report or spouse is in “fear” mode (when the limbic system is lit up), there ain’t no productive thinking happening.   When was the last time you made a meaningful decision when you were under stress or fear?  Yeah. right – I thought so.  Fear is not going to drive performance.

Here are some ideas on how to diminish fear in those around you:

1. Presence.  Are you aware of how your direct report is reacting or acting at this moment?  Is he tapping his foot with a furrowed brow?  He’s under stress.  If your spouse looks preoccupied; they probably are.  When your child is on the phone and takes a moment or two to reply or to answer a simple question; they might be in the “away” state.   You can’t move on.  We can’t move on, when one of us is in fear, preoccupied or as my husband says, “too many people on my stage” (the prefrontal cortex).  Being present makes you aware.

2. Esteem check.  It’s a good idea to maintain or boost other’s self-esteem (one of the Key Principles from DDI).   Criticizing and nit picking will not enhance performance.  Your teammate will not start picking up the pace or lend you a hand when they are on the defense.  Nagging your partner about mowing the lawn or asking your daughter if she’s gained weight; will not enhance either’s performance.  A thank you or specific positive feedback, on the other hand, will help bring them back to equilibrium.  If you want enhanced performance, make sure you are boosting self-esteem.

3. Steady.  Being steady or consistent is a tenet of emotional intelligence.  Be the same boss, mother, brother or team mate on Monday as on Friday.  Try to keep the team on a steady course as well.  If you are constantly changing directions or “flip flop” on decisions, you will have the team on the back of their heels waiting for the next shoe to drop.  There are times when this is impossible, and that’s OK, just remember that it isn’t the best time to introduce a new project or expect a breakthrough with the team.  Their limbic system is lit up and they are sitting in threat mode.  Wait till the storm passes and keep a steady course.

4. Justice. Hand in hand with being consistent is handing out equal justice.  The same way you need to show up and be the same person day to day, you need to treat Sam, Suzy and Old Joe the same as well.  I’m not suggesting you be a robot but handling situations with an even hand will build respect with the team.  Your family is likely to call foul on this immediately.  If I let my son take a car alone on a weekend trip and didn’t let my daughter (this actually almost happened), your child will educate you on the discrepancy.  Trust me.  Your teammates may not.  Reflect on the manner in which you dole out punishments, rewards and delegation.  Make sure you are using equal justice.

5. Let go the reins.  Let your children, your direct reports or your teammates call their own shots.  Keep your fingers out of the pie.  As I’ve written before, delegate the monkey and let the receiver of the monkey take it from there.  Self-mastery isn’t built under the direction of micro managers.  Delegate the project, figure out the available resources and let them loose.  At some point, you have to allow that 16 year old behind the wheel and Let. Them. Go.

6. Human.  People want to be recognized as human beings.  As Patrick Lencioni wrote in “3 Signs of a Miserable Job“, “People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known”.  This is one of the signs of a miserable job, anonymity.  Know your teammates children’s names, if they play a sport, where their spouse works, what their hobbies are.  You don’t need to know what they had for dinner last night or when their last dental cleaning was, just be able to stay connected.  Make sure they know they are human; that they matter.

There is no need to get wrapped up in perfection with these ideas.  Don’t worry about conquering all 6 by Monday.  Try one out a week and see if you don’t get better performance around you.  One or two tweaks in your approach can go a long way.