#33 - What Do You Make
Behavior Mean?

[00:00:00] Allie: Mindset affects everything that we do. It affects how we think and therefore behave and about pretty much everything, and it’s so often neglected as a skill to develop. As consultants, we talk about observational skills, and training mechanics, and consulting skills, but I think that not enough people in our profession are talking about the impact that mindset has.

Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:41] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:43] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last week we heard from Marissa Martino, and one of the topics we discussed was how your mindset impacts your behavior and your pet’s behavior in turn. This week we’re going to dive further into what do you make behavior mean and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about how mindset is a topic that needs to be discussed way more in our industry, how to transform harmful stories into helpful curiosity, and how helping clients to shift their mindset helped them overcome obstacles that were getting in the way of progress.

Let’s get started.

I loved Marissa’s interview so much. You know that I’ve been on a mindset kick lately.

[00:01:46] Emily:  Yeah, I feel like anyone who knows us knows that we harp about mindset a lot. Like a lot.

[00:01:52] Allie: Right, right. Because mindset affects everything that we do. It affects how we think and therefore behave and about pretty much everything, and it’s so often neglected as a skill to develop. As consultants, we talk about observational skills, and training mechanics, and consulting skills, but I think that not enough people in our profession are talking about the impact that mindset has, and so I’m so glad that Marissa is in that space doing that.

[00:02:20] Emily:  For sure, I was lapping up every word she had to say and internally like cheerleading the whole way through because her way of taking the topic of mindset and making it tangible and actionable is so needed in our industry.

[00:02:35] Allie: I think that’s a great segue to dive right into today’s takeaways. So, let’s start with the first one, and that is, introspection. Marissa mentioned that the first thing you have to do is identify how a certain behavior makes you feel and any stories that you have attached to it. So, for example, if you have a reactive dog and you’re like, “Well, every time my dog is reactive, I feel embarrassed, like my neighbors are judging me. I feel ashamed. I feel like a bad pet parent, like, what did I do to make my dog like this?” There is often a lot of emotional baggage that comes with, especially pets with maladaptive behaviors. So, that first step is to identify how the behavior makes you feel, and any stories that you have attached to it about who you are, or your personality, or, or whatever it is.

Then once you’ve identified that, you can start looking at how those stories are impacting your behavior. So, for example, let’s keep going back to the, this leash reactive dog. And you say, well, I feel embarrassed about the leash reactivity, and so, I don’t walk my dog because I don’t want my neighbors to judge me, and not walking my dog makes me feel like a bad pet parent, and feeling like a bad pet parent makes me maybe overfeed my dog, because if I can’t give them walks, then let’s take the food as love approach, and maybe now my pet is a little overweight because of that. So there are a lot of ways that these stories can impact our behavior. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in little ways, but they definitely do impact in some way.

[00:04:15] Emily:  For sure, and I think I would like to add to that, that also applies to how we show up for our clients as well. So, it’s really important to think about this not just in how we show up for our pets, but also for the other people in our lives.

So, then the next step is to break down those harmful stories. So, after we’ve identified the stories that we’ve been telling ourselves, and the emotions that have been happening, or that we’ve been experiencing as a result of those stories, then we need to break those down a little further.

So, we do that in a series of steps. The first step is to look at the behavior that’s actually happening, and identify just the behavior themselves, so separate the behavior from the story. There’s a fancy big word for this called operationalization. So, what we mean by operationalization is we take those stories that we’ve told ourselves about the behavior and why it’s occurring, or about the learner and why they do what they do, and we break that down into just the behaviors that we’re seeing in front of us. What that looks like is, you know, somebody says to you, I need to reschedule my session, and you immediately panic, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, they’re blowing me off. They hated the training plan. I’ll never hear from them again. What did I do wrong?”

All this stuff happens, and we need to stop that whole story that we’ve made in our head and go, okay, what? What’s the actual behavior? What did, what did the client actually say or do? The behavior is, I need to reschedule my session. That’s the behavior that we observed. That’s all we have. That’s all the information we have. And then from there, the next step is to do a thought exercise, coming up with at least three different reasons why that client may have offered that behavior, in addition to the, the like Insta story that we created, and then emotionally reacted to.

So, for example, I could say, you know, um, maybe another reason that the client needs to reschedule is because somebody else in their family forgot to tell them about, uh, an event that the family has to do that they got signed up for without their knowledge. Or maybe they know that they have to go into surgery and so they need to reschedule their consult for when they’re out of surgery. Or maybe they have a new family member, maybe somebody, and somebody had a baby and they wanna go visit the baby. Right?

Those, those are also stories that we have told ourselves, but they, we don’t know that any of those are true. But it serves, the purpose of reminding us that we don’t actually have any evidence beyond what they gave us, which is I need to reschedule the session. And there’s lots of possible explanations, so emotionally reacting to a single story that we told ourself, is not helpful because we have no evidence for that story being true. There’s lots of other possibilities.

And that just gives us a little bit of perspective about how, how little information we actually have compared to the volume of storytelling that we attach to those little pieces of evidence.

[00:07:24] Allie: And we all do that. We’re, we’re human and we make up stories to make sense of the world around us. So, it’s not that this is an inherently bad thing, it’s just that stories can sometimes be fiction and not nonfiction. So, once you have dissected those potentially harmful stories, you’ve operationalized, you have thought through at least three reasons why the behavior may be happening, then you can make decisions more based on evidence.

Obviously, feelings and emotions are always going to be a part of it. There’s no way that we can get around that because we’re human. But it’s so much easier when we can recognize how those stories, and feelings, and emotions are impacting our behavior to know, okay, this is a legitimate time for me to be acting based off of those or, mm, maybe I feel a certain way, but that may not be the reason why I shouldn’t be, be making a decision and maybe I should make a different decision that is not in in line with how I feel about something.

[00:08:29] Emily:  When Marissa was talking about, you know, when we try to control somebody’s perception, or we try to act based on what we think is going on, on some level, we are stealing their experience. I love thinking about it in that way, that like their experience is not ours to control, and we need to let go of that need to control, and let them experience whatever it is they’re experiencing, and we can only act on what they’re giving us, right?

So, what they have chosen to share with us is what, is what we have to work with. And that’s what we should make our decisions on. It’s not our responsibility if somebody chooses to withhold information from us. All we can act on is what we are given, and so that’s all that we should make our decisions on. We can only base our decisions on evidence.

[00:09:19] Allie: So, we have a couple of stories as always about, uh, about this topic. And so, my story is for a client who realized that the stories that she was telling herself about her dog were impacting how she was interacting with her dog. So, this client came to me with her dog Hazel. Hazel’s, kind of a hot mess, like that, that’s a, a generous term I think for, for what Hazel was like when, uh, when we first started working together.

One of Hazel’s biggest issues is that, uh, she has some, some pretty severe handling discomfort that has led to numerous bites to family members. There are two, not young, young, but younger, boys in the house. And so, hazel’s mom was rightfully very worried about Hazel being in her household. During that first session with Hazel’s mom, you know, we talked about why handling discomfort can happen, and how this is a fear-based behavior, and all of those things, and I didn’t really know the extent of what Hazel’s mom felt about her and, and the stories that she had about Hazel until our second session.

When in our second session, one of the first things Hazel’s mom said to me is, I see Hazel differently now. And she thanked me for helping her to see her dog in a new light, and she said how that mindset shift really just changed so much of her interactions with Hazel, because before she thought that Hazel was trying to dominate her and, and, you know, all of these, um, pervasive myths about why dogs do these particular behaviors and, and that’s what she thought about Hazel.

She really had this combative, relationship with Hazel, so when I explained that it’s not that Hazel’s trying to dominate you, it’s, it’s that she’s really afraid, she’s uncomfortable and, and that’s why she’s acting that way. She’s Hazel’s mom said that she is now able to collaborate and work on cooperation with Hazel as opposed to trying to be in conflict with her or, or seeking conflict with her, or being combative, you know, whatever that looked like. That story just like, ugh, I, I still think about it some, sometimes it just warms my heart that that mindset shift was so incredibly helpful for her, and paved the way for us to actually be able to work with Hazel and, and, have her be able to leash Hazel and unleash Hazel and, uh, not be as worried about her family members and everything. And, and that mindset shift was the absolute first thing that we needed to do.

[00:12:19] Emily:  It’s such a common thing that we experience, right? Where we help clients change how they’re viewing behavior and then a whole new world opens up to them. I, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a client say, you can’t see. Now that I know how to see it, I can’t unsee it. Right? That’s just, um, such a, an amazing bit of feedback.

[00:12:40] Allie: Yes, like the number of clients that are like, you’ve ruined those quote unquote funny YouTube videos for me forever.

[00:12:48] Emily:  So, my story actually has two layers of mindset shifting because I wanted to talk about a collaborative consult that I did with a colleague of ours who is, a trainer learning to become a behavior consultant. And she’s really good about recognizing when a case extends beyond the boundaries of her expertise and then referring out. So, i, I think she does a fabulous job of, of staying in her lane. And so, I, I worked on a case with her recently where, we had a dog with a lot of layers of issues. Like things weren’t as straightforward as they appeared when she first took on the case.

And there was some disparity between the husband’s perception of it, and the wife’s perception. The trainer was having some difficulty getting the husband, on board with some of the things that we needed to get done to be successful. I met with the clients, and the consultant, and I could see what she was talking about.

The husband, was arguing a lot with the things I would say. I would make a statement and he would go, yeah, but blah, blah, blah. And I could see that there was some level of, okay. The story that I was telling myself. I don’t actually have, I didn’t have evidence at the time, although now I suspect I was correct, but it seemed to me, that his responses were a little bit based in anxiety, and like maybe he felt like he hadn’t been listened to. And I don’t even necessarily mean that the trainer who brought the case to me wasn’t listening, I think just in the past had a history of not being listened to.

It, it seems to be fueled by some anxiety of like, “Nobody’s hearing me, they’re just listening to my wife about this.” So, I think a lot of times there’s that tendency when clients argue or push back for us to panic and be like, “Oh, they’re not, they’re not believing me. They’re not taking me seriously. I have to, you know, control the situation.” And I just agreed with everything that he said. I acknowledged his truth, and I was like, “I absolutely believe that that’s what you’re experiencing, and I also believe your wife, that what she’s experiencing is valid, and here are the reasons that you two could be experiencing different things and they can both be true.”

And so, that was part of the process was immediately agreeing with him, and validating his experience. And then talking them through their concerns, and the difficulties they were having, acknowledging all of those things as being valid and true, explaining why they could be the way they are, and explaining here’s what we’re going to try and here’s why what we initially try may not actually work. So, if this doesn’t work out, we’re gonna try this other thing. We have backup plans available to us, but here’s why we’re gonna start out the first thing.

So, I want you to think of this instead of thinking of it as, if it doesn’t work, it’s a failure. Let’s think of this as trial and eval, and we’re gathering more information about your dog, because we don’t know her history and we don’t know all of these complicating factors. So, here’s how we’re gonna go on a fact finding mission. So, think about these exercises as sleuthing, and here are some of the reasons that these things that your trainer was recommending to you will probably be necessary, but if you’re not ready to start them yet, we can wait, try these other things first, and here’s what we’re looking for to see whether or not this other thing is going to be necessary. I suspect it will be, but we are, if you’re not comfortable, we can definitely do some other things first to find out. So, that was, was kind of the approach that I took with helping them to shift their mindset away from like, “Oh, we’ve been trying all this stuff and it’s not working!” To, “We’ve been trying all this stuff and we’re learning more about this dog and the process.”

Well, I heard from the, the trainer a couple of days later, and she said the clients were really happy, they had a totally different perspective, and they had discussed it and decided to do the thing that we both felt was necessary, but that the husband had been resistant to. So, by changing their mindset about why we were doing what we were doing, what we were trying in what order, and what we needed to look for, they both felt, heard, seen, believed, validated and they felt ready to take on this thing that they had a concern about.

But then here’s the second layer of mindset shift. The, the trainer herself said, I appreciate that, it was a, a really educational experience, I learned a lot. I’m curious why you had us discontinue these exercises that seemed to be helping, they seemed to be working, and why you switched them out for these other exercises instead.

And what I said to her is, “You did a great job. I believe you, that the exercises work well, and were doing their thing, but here’s something else we need to consider. We need to build a plan that’s going to be really efficient for these clients. And if we’re doing one exercise for each goal, that’s a lot of work. That’s giving them a whole lot of work. So, if we cannot do that, and instead replace that with exercises that will meet multiple goals, we’re going to be more efficient, and our plan is going to be more sustainable for them to continue doing over the long term. So, don’t just think about whether or not a procedure will work. Think about the bigger picture of what the aggregate of all of the procedures you’re recommending will would be like for the client from their experience, from their viewpoint, and how efficiently we can reach their end goal and how much work and how much labor they’ll have to do in order to reach that end goal.”

And she was like, “Oh yeah, that is a total mindset shift for me because I was just thinking about whether or not it worked, and not what that looks like from the client’s point of view.” So, there are layers in that case of like mindset shifts to get everybody in the place that we needed to be so that we could move forward and start making more progress. And now everybody in that situation is much happier with their plan, and they feel more confident moving forward because they know how to think about it, right? We’ve reframed how they think about what they’re doing.

[00:18:55] Allie: I love that. That story was like a two for one, where there was the mindset shift for the clients and then the mindset shift for the colleague.

[00:19:04] Emily:  Yeah, it was a little bit of a, a long story, but it had to be to talk about the two different layers, right?

[00:19:11] Allie: A two for one story. I love it. So today we talked about Marissa’s What Do You make Behavior Mean? Mindset shift. Which you can accomplish first by doing some introspection about how the behavior makes you feel and identifying its impact on your behavior. Then by breaking down harmful stories, by operationalizing your constructs and labels and coming up with additional reasons why a behavior may be happening, all of which helps you to then make decisions more based on evidence.

Next week we’ll be talking with Sara McLoudrey about cooperative care, or as she calls it, Care with Consent. Y’all, I am so excited for you to hear this interview. This was one where I was like, “Why aren’t more people talking about this in this way? And also, where have you been all my life?”

Sara has this amazing ability to take the essence of what we’re trying to accomplish with cooperative care, but also make it salient, and sustainable for the average pet parent. Amazing. You’re going to love it.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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