The Dolphin Divide

Sounding the Depths of Our Common Consciousness

Oops, What'd I Do With That New Year's Resolution?

To salvage your goal, rededicate yourself to gradual, consistent progress

"Therefore, be it resolved . . . "

If these words, so boldly declared thirty days ago, are ringing a bit hollow in the ear today, you are far from alone. Resolutions are notoriously some of the shortest-lived and easily ditched phenomena of the New Year - or of any time of the year, for that matter.

Why?

Because motivation and consistency are among the toughest parts of any training regimen to maintain. These critical elements of successful change require (in a word coined by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous) "stick-to-it-iv-ness" - and that, let's face it, can be a real hassle.

Buddy was a Jack Russell Terrier, an old friend of my wife's who, like many of his breed, and in spite of his otherwise winning personality, was a bit quick on the draw when it came to yips, barks, and growls. Good watchdog? Absolutely. Problem was Buddy was quite persistent once something caught his attention. He could spot a lizard, chase it into a hole, and remain barking - not at the lizard, but at the place where it had last been seen - literally for hours.

When Buddy went on alert in the middle of the night, there was just no reasoning with him. Believe me, we tried. And so, as the former animal trainer in the household, it fell to me to develop stick-to-it-iv-ness.

It wasn't always easy. Four in the morning isn't my favorite time to trudge outside and discuss the virtues of neighborly consideration with the family pet. On the other hand, my wife and I didn't want to get kicked out of the house we were renting for noise complaints either. So, bleary-eyed and groping, I'd reach for a rolled-up newspaper when I heard Buddy barking, regardless of the time and regardless of the weather.

You're thinking about that rolled-up newspaper, aren't you? Let me explain. I didn't need to hit the dog with it to get his attention. It was enough for Buddy to hear a loud smacking sound against the back of my own hand. Accompany the sound with a firm, "No!" and you begin to establish the associative basis for a verbal command that will be heeded.

At first, the verbal cue will only carry weight in conjunction with the smacking sound, but later the mere sight of the newspaper will be enough and, eventually it can disappear completely. If you're training a dog like Buddy, you'll still have to walk out into the yard for a time, but over the course of weeks or months, you won't have to walk as far. Ultimately, as happened with Buddy, you'll be able to wake up, crack the window, yell "No!", and the barking will stop. Pretty soon, you won't even have to raise your voice.

Granted, motivation is easy to maintain when the roof over your head is at stake, but that isn't usually the case with most New Year's resolutions. What then?

Well, then you just have to remember that the process is the same and that the goal you're after doesn't have to be (and probably can't be) achieved overnight. Whether you're trying to train yourself to eat less, jog farther, or practice the piccolo more regularly, be kind to yourself and take things in stages. Consistency over time works wonders.

Remember too that you picked the goal because it has meaning for you. And if that's the case, then the duration of the training shouldn't really matter. In fact, if when next January rolls around you find you haven't completed this year's resolution, don't trade out the old one for something new. Instead, resolve to make consistent progress with the one you've already got.

Copyright © Seth Slater, 2012

Seth Slater, M.F.A., is a former dolphin trainer for the U.S. Navy and currently teaches creative writing at Cuyamaca College.

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