The Teddy method of self-awareness

Most of us aspire to be better people. We pray, we meditate, we go to therapy, and we volunteer for good causes. There are retreats, high-priced courses, and loads and loads of books. Self-improvement is an $11-billion-a-year business. We are either very eager to be better people or we are very insecure – maybe both!

A lot of this thriving business grows out of the fact that honest self-assessment is almost impossible. How do you step outside of yourself to look objectively within? It is, by definition, a self-centered and self-defeating activity.

OK, so what if I told you that I had this amazing solution that could provide unerring, real time feedback about you … something that could help you take control of your life with real time responses and empower you to make choices that align with your personal goals.

If you behave in keeping with your preferred self, this solution provides immediate positive feedback. If you behave like a jerk, this will let you know immediately. If you really want to realize the better you, this is it.

So what is it?

I’m talking about animals. Yup, dogs and cats.

There is more to the relationship that we enjoy with our household pets than a sentimental connection with a critter who seems to love us despite our faults. Our relationship to our animal companions is deep and powerful – something very profound – and it is important for us to be aware of it even if we will never entirely understand it.

These friends of ours have the potential to bring out the best in us. They hold up a mirror to us that, if we are willing to look, tells us what kind of a person we are as opposed to who we would like to believe that we are.

If you want honest feedback about yourself, look to your dog or your cat.

So how does this work?

Here’s a personal example. I travel frequently, and when I get home after a high-intensity trip that usually includes air travel and a three-hour drive from the Las Vegas airport or an eight-hour drive from Los Angeles, I am, frankly, a bit wired. I drop my bags, kiss my wife, do a ceremonial greeting with our pack of dogs, and eventually settle in the kitchen to grab a snack and watch the news. I am in a perfectly understandable decompression mode, but more subtly, an isolated mode. OK, sometimes it’s not so subtle and sometimes I’m a bit barky. Tsk, tsk!

Anyway, when I notice that Teddy, an incredibly affable and entertaining mutt is a bit hesitant in approaching me to do his standard display of absolute affection, or if Q, our German Shepherd security detachment, is looking a bit anxious, like he’s still waiting for his assignment, or Barney, our very shy pittie, is making wide circles around me, then I know I need to slow down and reconnect with what’s important. The animals offer me the opportunity to make the choice to reboot in an entirely different mode. No arguments, no conflict, no awkward silences; it’s just my “come to Teddy” moment that takes me to an entirely different place and arrests the downward spiral of aggravation that is so draining and time-consuming to undo, if that’s even possible.

Joey, our bedroom cat, does the same thing, as does each of our household pets, each in their own way. And it’s not just when I’ve been away – that’s just the most obvious and predictable occasion. Anytime I’m not in tune with them, then I know that I am out of tune – period.

Animals react adversely to the things in ourselves that we don’t like – the anger, impatience, aggression, etc., the stressors that we allow to intrude into our relationships and family life and rob us of a sense of personal satisfaction and self-control. Likewise, they respond positively to, and reinforce, all the qualities that our “better selves” value – kindness, compassion, patience, quietude, understanding and a willingness to listen.

Yes, our animal friends train us if we are prepared to learn. They help us to ground ourselves.

This totally works, and I highly recommend it.

Francis Battista
Cat Dog