If you have ever had the pleasure of traveling with a commercial airline, you are familiar with the passenger safety briefings. This is when the airline staff relay the safety features and procedures specific to the aircraft you are on. If your aircraft flies high enough, this briefing includes a demonstration of the oxygen masks to be used when the cabin pressurization system fails. After demonstrating how to use these masks, they always tell you to fit your mask before trying to help anyone else. The logic here is that if someone requires assistance to put on a mask, there is no way they will be able to help you if you lose consciousness while attempting to help them, but if they lose consciousness while you are fitting your mask, you can still help fit their mask and potentially save a life.
Last year, during a session where I got to act as a Teaching Assistant in a really cool online class for the even cooler Andrea Varep Harrison, this safety briefing came to mind as we discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to our ability (or inability) to be motivated to pursue our goals. The Hierarchy of Needs was not a new concept to me but with the safety briefing in mind, something became clearer to me.
Looking at the hierarchy through the lens of my current mental health knowledge I see how practicing self-care to ensuring physical and psychological needs are met, has a HUGE effect on our lives. It helps shape how we feel about goals, whether we feel like setting goals and whether we are even ABLE to meet those goals.
From personal experience, I have felt like a better friend, better spouse, better instructor and better dog trainer when my own mental health demons, are well managed. This doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days or frustration in my life. It means that when I am taking care of myself, I am no longer the barrier to my own progress towards goals. When I fit my own oxygen mask, I’m better prepared to act in my own life positively.
In Canada and the US, we know that 1 in 5 of us will experience some form of mental illness, and the canine community is no exception. If you have been struggling with a specific dog sport goal for some time, before you assume you are not reaching your goals because you are a bad trainer, or because you aren’t as disciplined as that girl in your online class, or because you have The Worst Dog In The World, I would like you to try one thing. Please?
Fit your oxygen mask first.
Sit down in a quiet place and take 5 minutes to consider how your physical and mental health might be playing a role in your current inability to meet goals. If simply contemplating 5 minutes of self reflection alone has you in tears, you have your answer before you’ve begun. If your 5 minutes of self reflection reveals some areas for improvement, jot them down. Either way, a discussion with your primary healthcare provider may be the first real step forward towards your dog training goals.