Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pitfalls of Expectations

Last month during a lesson with Dianne Deal, she said that something that stuck with me. Often things go in, bounce around in the vacant space between my ears, eventually finding a place to land where it sits as I ruminate.

This morning when I was holding my half-finished cup of cold coffee, shivering on the back patio I found myself thinking about Friday’s snowy training/work session with Brynn & Beth at Fido’s with Monique and Lucy.

At the trial last month I asked Dianne why she thought I handle Beth so differently than Brynn.Why do my words get harsher, more critical, and frantic? She said that I had no expectations of Beth. In many respects she was correct. I had given up on Beth. I decided she was done trialing and I was just going to use her for my set out dog & chores. Putting her in the last trial was a snap decision and when we placed third in Ranch I was stunned.

Expectations are a tricky wicket from my perspective. I have been plagued by unreasonable expectations throughout my life. Ones that have been put upon me and others I have placed on people in my life.

Unspoken expectations about marriage cause marital strife and can eventually lead to divorce. Expectations placed on our children; contrary to what they want for their future can cause them undue stress. Expectations are ‘rules’ that form in each of us from childhood and our teen years. We absorb these silent ‘rules’ from our cultural and religious affiliations, from television, books, previous romances and or friendships. They all shape our expectations for our own life.

When I got married I fell into a role I felt was my due as a wife and mother. My husband had a different view of what he felt a marriage should be. We did not talk about these differing expectations – instead we projected disappointment to each other. Holding onto imaginary fantasies about what your partner should or shouldn’t do are insidious to the foundation of marriage. Especially if you are holding your partner up to an impossible standard, leaving you disappointed when they do not live up to your ‘expectations’ of providing a safe, happily ever after love affair – free of discord. I believed my husband should be able to read my mind, then take the steps to heal the hurts. When my knight on shining armor turned out to be a flawed, normal man who had hair on his back and farted in his sleep, needless to say, I came crashing down to earth pretty darn quick.

At the beginning of a relationship your spouse can do little to disappoint you because you are infatuated, enjoying the high brought on by new love. As time passes, your relationship deepens, your expectations evolve. When you are not getting those expectations fulfilled – suddenly everything your spouse does is annoying. How do you get past this? Only through honest communication, introspection and aligning your expectations to reality.

This is where things get difficult for me. What expectations are reasonable and which ones are not? Of course a reasonable expectation of marriage would be one of fidelity (no cheating). But what constitutes cheating? Each relationship is different, based on each person’s expectations.

How does this play into working with my dogs? Expectations are huge. 

I have been working with Beth for longer than Brynn. I know Beth pretty well now. I know when she is going to blow off a flank; I know when she is going to lie down or not. I have a pretty good idea how far a distance she can work away from me without blowing up, or bringing the sheep back. Over time these things have changed & grown as she progressed further in training – my expectations are realistic with Beth. Chances are, given her age, and level of talent she will never be an open dog. But she can do well in the level I know she is capable – anything else is an unexpected bonus.  My expectations of Beth are reasonable – thus when I work her it is less stressful, dare I say…fun?

My expectations of Brynn are different. She has the natural talent to go to open. But do I? She is already so much further ahead of me – the obstacle to her progression is me. Dianne told me that she could get Brynn around a nursery course, no problem. I certainly cannot. I lack the experience. The unrealistic expectations I have of Brynn are to compensate for me. To be completely honest with myself I believe I have been expecting Brynn to overcome my lack of understanding, experience, and ability to communicate to her in a timely manner.

In my reasonable moments I know Brynn cannot compensate for my lack of experience – then I begin to doubt myself. My handling and the experience I do have seems to fade away. I let the anxiety overwhelm me – and know when we walk to the post that I am the weakest link. Instead of projecting confidence, I telegraph weakness & anxiety to my dog through my voice, as the commands become shrill, coarse and tense. Brynn rises to my expectations and begins to compensate for me, she doubts my commands and tries to please me by going faster and faster – a big fat self fulfilling prophecy.

How will I get past this?

I need to identify my expectations – honestly and accurately. 

Be realistic about what I am asking for- Is Brynn really ready for Pro-Novice? Yes, she is. Am I? Maybe. Are we ready for Nursery? Brynn, yes. Me? Not yet.

See where I can improve - Last week I had a fantastic session with Brynn. I was feeling confident in my handling. She responded in kind. I was very happy and bubbling over with joy. As I was walking off the field I allowed a ‘Negative Nelly’ to steal away my joy. Without any provocation or warning this person was watching me walk and suggested that I look into going on a diet. OUCH. I retreated back into a hurt little girl inside – who wanted to go to the car and immediately begin stuffing cookies into my mouth and hide. I allow what other people think to overwhelm my confidence. It crushes me and for whatever reason I am impervious to slough it off. This is where I need to improve. I need to tell myself I can do this. I am deserving, I am good enough. If I believe it, my dog will believe it and things will improve for both of us.

Use disappointment as a signal of unconscious expectations - When I feel disappointed in training or at a trial I need to examine my expectations. Thus building an awareness of how my expectations are guiding my attitude and actions.

Don’t compare my dog to others – this one needs no explanation

Look carefully at the expectations I have for myself – Like so many of us in this sport, I am a perfectionist. I do not expect perfection from everyone else, but I do from myself. I am extremely hard on myself and the expectations I have for me are unrealistic and unattainable. Thus I live every day feeling like I just don’t measure up. While these expectations may be brought over from my childhood in some way, I am an adult now and need to let go of the bullsh*t from my dysfunctional family of origin. It is time to be a little nicer to myself.


Loretta Mueller said...

WTF!?!?? Who the HELL has the balls to say that to you? My take on that comment? The person has no self esteem, and can you imagine how miserable it is to be them? Feel sorry for will change your outlook.

I would have belted out something involving F YOU...

The quote I love..." I maybe be fat, but you're ugly and I can diet"... :)

BCxFour said...

Loretta, you are cracking me up!

Country Girl said...

Those negative nelly's are really just adult bullies who put you down to make themselves feel better. Keep that in mind next time someone is mean or hurts your feelings. What are they getting out of saying those things? :)

(If someone commented on the size of my ass right now I'd probably deck them... lol)

BCxFour said...

Maybe I need to edit this post - because negative nelly is not what I wanted to focus on...but you guys are seriously making me laugh. Thank you for the solidarity! What I need to do stop giving my power and confidence away to negative nelly type of people in the future.

Kathy said...

Yes, I do agree that whomever made that comment to you is very insecure themselves.

I do understand what you are talking about as far as expecting too much of myself. I am the weakest link when we walk to the post. I do try to use visualization as much as I can. This does mean blocking out other people and sometimes going off by myself before a run. It does help me to remain calm. But, still when my expectations get too big, I do put too much pressure on my dog.

Hope I didn't ramble too much and I hope that I didn't go too off topic from what you were discussing. Thanks for getting me to think about this.

Monique said...

You don't have to go it alone. I'll be your bodyguard ;) (joking)

WTF. I mean, really? I can give you turbobitch lessons if needed.

Your photos came out beautifully, and you show a great deal of insight. I wish I could describe a lot of things that clearly. Now you just need to take that next step of making it real.

FWIW you and both dogs looked a lot better than the last time I saw you! And you took my feedback in stride...

Laura L. said...

I usually just lurk, but I feel like I should comment today.

Your posts and photos are always wonderful. I enjoy reading them. There is always something that I can identify with in them. You do a wonderful job, and the fact that you're willing to share all your insights means that you're a generous person on top of it.

You just keep doing what you're doing and don't worry about one person thinks. The rest of us are all here for you.

sagechronicles said...

It's hard to understand why some people have to criticize rather than find something nice to say. Speaks of their own lives, I would think.

I LOVED the pictures of Brynn & Beth. What gorgeous dogs! They look like they are doing such a great job!!

julie said...

Love the writing, and those pictures are just WOOOWW!
(But how the hell do you manage training your dog AND taking pictures?)

I hope Brynn gave that horrible person a good bite in the *ss!

Lynette said...

I know you didn't mean this post to be about the Nelly, but I literally gasped aloud when I read that, so it stands out. I'd like to think I would have thought fast enough to suggest she buy some duct tape for her mouth, but I probably would have felt and reacted the same way you did!

That said - I wholeheartedly agree with the above comments. Your pictures are mesmerizing, and I really appreciate you sharing your musings. I struggle with expectations, both realistic (though there are some who believe there's no such thing) and unrealistic. I'll look forward to reading more about how you reconcile expectation vs. reality.

BCxFour said...

Sometimes when I write something like this and post it for the world to read I feel quite vulnerable - like I just bared my soul to the world. Everyone has been incredibly supportive and it means the world to me. Thank you.

Julie: How do I train and take pictures? Well, we were done training when I started shooting these pictures and I made a few mistakes doing this - in the training session I ended on a good note with Brynn, but I just had to take pictures. So I had her do some work - then got distracted while I was shooting the pictures and let her slack off on a few things (did not correct flanks etc) and now I will have to fix it the next time we train. All for the when you guys are looking at the shots thinking how wonderful they are, I am looking at the shots feeling guilty that I may have messed up my dog. Ohhhh what a scary place it is in my mind, scary place indeed. :)

forensicfarmgirl said...

Oh...My .... Gosh!!! What incredible arrogance! I was speechless when I read this! (actually that's not true, I shouted "WTF!") Negative Nelly has her OWN problems! Don't let her project her problems onto you. You are a beautiful and wonderfully talented person. In my experience, folks who say things like that are trying to tear you down to make themselves feel better.

Original_Wacky said...

I'm way late because I am catching up with blogs, but I wanted to add my voice to the other who say that Nelly needs to STFU and STFD (shut up and sit down, in meaner language heh).

I really enjoy how much you share on here about expectations and such from your dogs. Though I'm not herding or anything, I find myself worrying about what I expect from one dog over another, and I have to check myself as well. Reading your blog sometimes helps me see what I might need to do to improve.

And I totally love your commentary on so many pictures (which are awesome!!!), CameraFace. Hee.