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"You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Right?


Message 21, January, 2021

Dear Guest,

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That sounds like a harmless thing to say, right? But hang on a minute - it isn’t harmless at all. It’s a lie.

But every time we hear it, or say it, we are letting it sink a little deeper into our minds. Just because we grew up hearing this old saying doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and it sure doesn’t mean we are entitled to just stop growing at some point in our lives.

I think this is critical to know because, as family caregivers, there’s a lot we are expected to put up with because we believe humans are old dogs who can’t learn new tricks. And who shouldn’t be expected to.

I’m talking to you and me, of course, but I’m here to tell you it’s also true for the people involved in your caregiving situation (and mine). Why is this important to know? It means you don’t have to settle for any habits, patterns or dynamics in your life. 

Because, let’s just face it, many of us have inherited family relationships and dynamics that are - to put it delicately - difficult. We have created sophisticated ways of behaving that enable other folks to act like toddlers. We tell ourselves that people can’t change, that they can’t be expected to do things differently. 

There’s no blame or shame here! Believe me, we all do this, every day. In fact, when I work with business teams around my seminar (it’s called “Building Trust Across Generations” - doesn’t that sound like something that I picked up working with family dynamics?!), I spend a lot of time helping people see the ways we tolerate unhelpful behavior at work. And relationships at work, for the most part, are relatively new - they haven’t been going on for decades (unless you are a family member working in a family business, of course).

We picked up this mindset of tolerating very immature behavior from the adults in our personal lives and in our work because it’s what we’ve always seen the people around us do. And sometimes, of course, we act in immature and petty ways ourselves. It’s just part of being human.

But if immature behavior - gossip, drama, blaming and shaming, shunning, manipulation, and controlling - is bothering you, there’s a first step you can take to put an end to tolerating it. And it’s not what you think. You think I’m going to tell you to change, but I’m not.

The first step is simply to notice it. Observe it. Truly and honestly and as neutrally as you can. And there are at least two parts to see: (1) the behavior of others, and (2) your own reaction and behaviors when it happens. You will react with words or actions, probably, but I am certain that you are also reacting with your own thoughts. You might never express these thoughts to anyone, including yourself.

No, this first step has nothing to do with changing anything. Change has to come later. (And I want to say this very clearly - you can’t change anybody but yourself. Argue with me if you want, but it’s true. It sounds like a bummer, but it's actually great news. Trust me.) 

Once we humans learn to notice and observe, we can then figure out what our starting point is. No matter how you move on into step two - which is processing the things you notice - you have to begin here.

After you begin in step one, with just the noticing without judgment, I highly recommend getting some help with processing the things you notice, whether you find a support group, therapist or coach (like me!).

I wrote a free guide to help you do this first step. It’s called my “Thought Download Cheat Sheet” and you can get it here.

In most circumstances, you CAN continue to learn new things no matter how old you are.

In other words, “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.” 

In the next message, we’re going to debunk the myth that you’re behind. On anything.

Please let me know if you can relate to this, or if you have any thoughts or  questions, by leaving a comment here.

Kay Coughlin

P.S. Are you ready to get out of the trap of what other people think it means to be a "good" caregiver? Take a look at my book, From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind. You can listent to chapter one here and buy the book here.


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Copyright 2020, Facilitator On Fire, Galena, OH, 43021, 614.426.8062

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