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Have you ever watched dogs play at the beach or the park and thought, what a life?

Watching my lab/kelpie x having fun at the beach yesterday, I realised dogs can teach me a lot about being a better leader and human. When you think about it, dogs are always in the present moment. They don’t worry about what other dogs think! Dogs have fun!! Dogs express their love and happiness without wondering if they are uncool. And dogs are great at chilling! I think these are all things we humans could be better at doing, and our lives would feel more free.

So this week, for some newsletter fun, I’ve put together some Dog Lessons to Live By. Whether you’re like an expensive pure breed, or you’re more a rescued mongrel type, check out these doggy tips for work and life. (Cat people, bear with me!)

Here are my top three leadership lessons from observing our canine companions:

  1. Reframe rejection.

Many times I’ve seen my dog Leo bound up to another dog to play, and the other dog is not interested. Or two dogs are playing and when he goes to join in they don’t play with him. Leo doesn’t think ‘Dogs don’t like me’. He doesn’t think ‘whenever I try to connect with other dogs they ignore me’. Of course not.

It sounds ridiculous, but that’s the sort of crazy stuff we humans think!

Humans are primed to minimise any situation where we can be rebuffed and rejected. We are rejection waiting to happen. We expect it, we look for it, and we then live our life in smaller ways to avoid it. Rejection feels personal. It’s all about what’s wrong – with me, with you, or with it.

Think of the things you do to avoid rejection: that networking event you don’t go to because people might not talk to you; that business you don’t start because you shared the idea with someone who thought it was dumb; that person you really like but you don’t call because you’re too afraid; that job you want to apply for…

We will never expand our capacity to impact our life and our world if we don’t get over our fear of rejection. Our wiring to avoid rejection is automatic and unconscious. When it kicks in, question it. And if that doesn’t work, lighten the weight. Imagine you’re a dog running free in the park, and then make your phone call/take that action!

2. Re-evaluate failure.

If Leo doesn’t find that ball I (foolishly) hit into the bushes, the next day when I hit the ball, he’s all in. He’s not thinking ‘gee, yesterday I tried to get that ball and I failed. I’m not meant to be a ball fetcher.’ No! He’s all waggy tailed and ready to rumble!

Humans, on the other hand, have a very wobbly relationship to failure, and it’s because we are meaning-making machines. We attach significance to everything that happens. If something didn’t work out that once or twice, we create a story around it, and we tell that story so often to ourselves that it becomes the truth.

Failure is one of those stories.

But what is failure? Failure only means that something was tried, and it didn’t turn out the way we hoped. Full stop. It’s not personal. It doesn’t mean anything about you or the project. It does, however, provide some new information about what didn’t work that can be helpful in guiding your next action.

Next time you’re deciding to play small, or not play at all, think about what story you are telling yourself about failure, and whether that story is serving you. Does it light you up and get you back in the game? If not, create a new story! 

3. Choose joy!

Dogs are pretty simple. When they are happy to see you, you know it!! They don’t play it cool. Their whole bodies shake with happiness!

Our own nature is one of joy. Allowing ourselves to feel it and express is the biggest gift we can give ourself. For some of us, joy needs practice. It might start as a shimmer, but too often we shut it down. So give joy space to flourish. Put on music when no one’s watching – and dance. Twirl in the garden. Sit with a cuppa and be. Allow space for joy to emerge, and for you to express it!

Now wag that tail and go have fun like a good doggy! Woof woof!