On Managing the Space Between Your Ears (The Mental Game)

This is my first post for the dog agility blog event – please be gentle with me :)!

brainI had been doing agility for many years before I got serious about developing a mental game. It’s something nobody talks about or teaches in class. Yet what I’ve learned in my journey is that what goes on in the space between your ears is every bit as critical to your performance as what goes on in the space between obstacles.

In every aspect of our lives, we have a “self image” – our perception of our abilities and skills in various situations. Brains are funny – they like to be consistent. So subconsciously, we are drawn to remaining in our comfort zone. This means that like it or not, we will act in ways which “fit” our self image. Your subconscious tries to make sure that you behave “like yourself” – whatever that may be.

So what does that mean in an agility context?

– If you keep telling yourself that you’re an awful handler, are you comfortable with being a “good” handler? Is that “like you?”
– If you keep telling yourself you always mess up sequence xyz, is it “like you” to handle xyz correctly?
– If you keep telling yourself you have no concentration span and can’t even focus for the 30-70 seconds it takes to run a course, is it “like you” to stay focused for just those few seconds?

Step #1 – Stop the negative self talk! Just … stop it!

Every time you put yourself down – whether you say it out loud, write it on Facebook or just listen to that evil little voice inside your head, you reinforce the negative self-image and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We focus on the positive with our dogs, right? Focus on what you did RIGHT during that last run. Replay the parts that went well. Watch the “bloopers” on video just enough to see what you need to practice or proof, or to understand how you could have handled that section more successfully. Then stop. Practice the skills you need to practice. Watch videos of the good runs at least twice as many times as you watch the bad ones.

If your instructor treats you like a lost cause, find another instructor – one who believes in you AND your dog!

Like any skill, managing your mental game isn’t something you learn overnight. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. If you can just make that one little change, you’ll be off to a good start.

Thanks for listening! In case you’re wondering, I loosely follow Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management system. You can read more about it in his book With Winning in Mind. If you aren’t convinced about the effect your thoughts can have on your life, grab a copy of Freedom Flight too.

Don’t forget to stop by http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/the-mental-game/ and read what other agility bloggers have to say about the mental game.

This and That

Well another year coming to a close! Who saw THAT coming?

I’ve been a very bad blogger lately and I blame Facebook. It’s too easy hop on there and post a quick status instead of a lengthy blog post, and after several status updates the blog post seems redundant.

Somehow we got through the Fall agility season fairly well despite only having use of my teeny-tiny yard to train in. Jayda (who just moved into the B classes this summer) is now 2 Q’s from her MJP, halfway to her MXP and, after several weekends in the “one little thing” club, finally got her first double Q. She’s also just 2 Jackpots and 5 Standard Q’s from her C-ATCH2. Despite her issues, I’m really enjoying her these days. Jayda is the poster child for “good egg” and she really has no technical/equipment issues at all – getting good runs out of her really comes down to choosing venues where she feels “safe”, and I’ve added a few more of those to our list this year. And at home she makes me smile, she makes me laugh – I adore her :)!

Raven started out the season really well, only to fall apart in the end. Not sure what’s up with her – if it’s a confidence problem or something physical. Probably a little of both. She tested negative for TBD’s, but to me she looks “stuck” in her mid-lower back so a long-postponed trip to the chiropractor is definitely in order, probably followed by some remedial training and a lot of cookies.

Bryce is still in clinical remission. If I look at him at certain times and in certain light, he looks exactly the same as he always has, but looking at him closely he seems to get older by the minute. He’s developed some really odd quirks, and I have to wonder if we will share another New Years after this – that makes me sad. I know I’ve been saying that since his cancer diagnosis, but he IS almost 13 1/2 now. I ran him in agility a couple weekends ago – just CPE Fullhouse (Veteran, Level 5.) I found a nice do-able strategy for him, we had a good run – qualified and placed with time to spare, but I could see him get a little “confused” at one point. It may be time to fully retire him – will totally miss running the little guy, but it would be nice to end his career on a happy and dignified note.

Speaking of agility, I am going to be teaching agility part-time again next year :)! I’m excited and a little apprehensive all at once, having been away from it for several years, but I do miss it. I love agility and I like helping other teams learn and be their best – simple as that.

Hopefully not a bad omen that I got miserably sick (sore throat, coughing, sneezing, laryngitis, sniffling, fever, not-sleeping, tapering off to just a lttle sniffling and coughing now) after spending a weekend at the facility where I will be teaching – or maybe it’s some kind of really weird good omen?

Kitties are good. Kacey and Hat have become BFF’s – they often sleep together and there’s a ridiculous amount of mutual grooming. Cuteness overload! Kacey is doing pretty well at nearly 16 – I do have to watch her eating, since Biki often noses her out and eats her food! She’s a skinny little thing to begin with so I’m always giving her “snacks” – she doesn’t complain.

Cassie (left) now has the run of my upstairs room most of the time, and is pretty friendly with Hat and Kacey. I need to bring the dogs up there more often so that they’re “familiar” to her when she starts to come downstairs. Biki refuses to even go upstairs and LOOK at her (though she’s curious enough to sit outside the door) – I have a feeling it will be ugly when those two (who are probably real-life sisters, or half-sisters) finally meet!

Cassie is a little snugglebug with me, and now that she’s not constantly on alert like she was outside, she’s relaxing and learning to play. She loves her catnip and is just starting to see the fun in wand toys. She may be getting a new name for the new year – “Cassie” and “Kes-Kes” started turning into “Cassandra” and the urban-chic “Kessindra” which has lately turned into “Cindee”. It seems to fit her.

I love that Cassie/Cindee and Hat are both safely inside now, but it has its drawbacks: After years of freedom from rodent pest problems, there are icky mice in my basement again, and even worse, I had a flying squirrel in my house again a few weeks ago! I think I need another “porch cat!” Any takers?

Constellation Energy – Way to NOT get my Business!

Dear Constellation Energy:

With the deregulation of power suppliers in my state, many energy companies, including yours, have been sending me offers soliciting my business.

Small problem. You see, you never sent an offer to ME. Instead, the one and only offer from you arrived at my house addressed to my father. My father who has been deceased for over a decade. My father who never was in any way a bill payer at this address – a single family home which I own and which is in MY name.

So why was this offer addressed to him? Because the prefix was “Mr.???”

I realize this is just some computer program / mailing list screwup and not a personal decision on your part, but FYI, that sort of thing pisses me off. I trashcanned your offer. I may go with one of your competitors. One who knows who pays the freakin’ bills.

Have a nice day.

9/11 – Looking Back

US FlagFor me, the miracle of 9/11 is that I only recognized two of those 2,976 names. You see, I lived just across the river in northern NJ and, up until June 2001, had been working in the financial industry for about 15 years.

In late August 2001, a bunch of my former co-workers and I had gotten together for lunch, for what we knew even then would probably be the last time. We had been a close-knit and congenial group, but since being laid off in a merger, we were slowly but surely going our separate ways. A few of us were still gainfully unemployed, others were moving on to new jobs, most in the booming NY Financial district.

We were all happy that Scott made it to the luncheon. Scott used to sit across the aisle from me – he had a wickedly-funny sense of humor and was great at his job, but the love of his life was his family, especially his two children.

Well OK there was another … he loved cars too. Scott was a walking database of car facts and trivia, and could talk car-talk for hours on end. He made some extra income detailing and selling peoples’ old cars. At least 3 of us in our workgroup had sold a car through him and in every case, even after taking his cut, Scott somehow delivered top dollar. We all joked that he could have had a brilliant career in car sales!

But if it came down to the cars vs the kids, it was no contest – those boys were his universe. His desk and walls were covered with pictures and it seemed every morning he had another story to tell about them. You couldn’t help smile, not just about the stories but because he was such an enthusiastic, proud and devoted dad.

That day, Scott had some great news: he had just landed an awesome new job which he would be starting in a couple of weeks. It was a job as a disaster recovery manager – which meant a big step up the career ladder for him, a big increase in pay to support his growing family and an equally big office with a fantastic view. Best of all, they had agreed to let him work 8-4 so he could get home early enough to spend quality time with his sons.

It was the perfect storm.

So that’s why on Tuesday, 9/11/2001, at 8:46 AM, Scott was in the office early – celebrating his birthday and his first full day on the new job in his bright, new office with a beautiful view of the Hudson river, on the 93rd floor of the North tower. I have no doubt that the first things he unpacked and put on his desk that morning were pictures of his boys. I like to think that they were the last thing he saw.

About a week after 9/11, the rest of us got together one last time. We didn’t speak much of Scott – we were all still in denial, certain that he would turn up in a hospital somewhere … or perhaps be found wandering around dazed in some used car lot. I don’t think any of us could have held it together had we known otherwise. Instead, we talked of the miracles. Of the many colleagues who worked in the towers who were not in the office that day. Of the ones who had been there for interviews just a few days earlier. Of the ones who made it out. Of the woman who caught that last NY Waterway ferry –the one where the captain put the pedal to the metal as the towers fell and headed for NJ as fast as that boat would take them. Faster than it was meant to go!

And we talked to Eddie – who weathered 9/11 across the street – hunkered down with his new co-workers in the Federal Reserve building, wondering all the while if they were going to be the next target, and witnessing things no person should ever have to see. Eddie was our touchstone that evening – his presence after the ordeal a spot of hope amidst unbearable sadness. Hope that we would all eventually pick up the pieces.

And despite the scars, life would go on.

Gardening – FAIL!

Epic Gardening FAIL

So much for my “grow a potato from a potato” experiment!

OK – you can stop laughing now.

No really – Stop laughing!


So after days and days of dire warnings, battening down the hatches, and making all kinds of preparations, hurricane Irene turned out to be pretty much a non-event at my house. Lots of twigs and branches down and intermittent power outages (the longest of which was about 12-15 hrs) for a couple of days afterwards because the flooding took out a power substation, but that was about it. Not a DROP of water in my basement. Oh wait, I lied: I accidently forgot to bolt the basement door and it blew open in the wind Saturday night, so a little rain-spray blew in through the open doorway – does that count? But elsewhere, not a drop.

I think I can now safely claim that my house NEVER floods!

The picture shows the river of water running through the dogs’ potty area and down the 17′ “cliff” behind my house. One of the rare times living in a hill is A Good Thing!

But others didn’t fare so well! Just a couple of blocks from me and on lower ground there was
some MAJOR flooding. And the complex that includes Skyline Agility‘s Garnerville training site also suffered severe flooding, including structural and roadway damage. Unlike these poor folks, we don’t think the water reached us on the 2nd floor (nobody’s allowed in to see), but the bridge in front of our entrance was washed away and given the extent of the damage all events/classes at our building are cancelled for the “forseeable future.” Time to put up that temporary fence on my little grass patch!

Hurricane Irene did indirectly affect the life of my little porch cat, Cassie, but that’s a long story and another post in itself.