Not external baditude, which involves acting out on others, but internal badittude.
I am big. I am bad. I am making an impact instead of having an impact made on me.
Agility is the one activity in which I’ve always had a certain amount of internal peace with myself. Not cockiness—every course presents its questions, and every training moment deserves thoughtfulness—but the nerves involved were the sort that simply provide edge. Positive rather than destructive nerves.
Then things changed. Slowly enough to be insidious, and to creep into the way things were until they became the way things are.
Getting older. Facing a series of slow-healing injuries that heralded increasing challenges with this long-term Lyme body. Blows to my health, to my dog pack, to my profession. Things that made life harder and sadder and, as I finally voiced out loud not too long ago, all too accustomed to failure.
I addressed some necessary changes, but most of the factors were entirely out of my control (and remain that way). In fact, along the way a series of bad, bad luck agility trials drove that point home with mean emphasis. Healthy nerves turned to full blown stress and anxiety.
Now here I was not only accustomed to failure but anticipating it in a way that led to fumbling on course.
I took some deep breaths and made more changes—unprecedented decisions about entries that would slow our progress but which I hoped would grow our experience. I shifted my resources toward training, simply because the boys and I have fun with that.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to not be anxious.
Then, a few days before a March trial, I ran across a TED talk on how assuming a confident posture for two minutes a day literally changes body chemistry to that of a more confident person. No need to think about not being anxious or (because this is so productive) to fuss at myself for feeling anxious. Just pretend to be Wonder Woman and get on with your day!
So I did that.
Was it the reason the dogs and I were more connected, and that the dogs performed brilliantly overall? I dunno. Could be I was reaping the rewards of my changed entries. Could be it was just a good trial after a series of bad. But it sure didn’t hurt.
In the middle of it all, ConneryBeagle has been creeping toward his PACH. After three MACHs earned in spite of all his health challenges and layoffs and his eleventh birthday behind us, this championship is a huge milestone for us.
So it would be easy to get all wrapped up in it and tie myself in knots of the unpleasant kind.
But as I practiced being Wonder Woman every morning, still investigating anxiety management tools, one day I was hit with this massive epiphany: There’s a difference between trying to be not anxious and in seeking confidence.
I decided to seek confidence.
A few weeks ago, we went to another trial. (Opportunities aren’t thick on the ground around here.) We faced some courses that weren’t unfair, but they weren’t fun, either—funky jump spacing, marginal angles, and layout that made it hard to set a dog’s path. They were also often particularly difficult to memorize, because during reorientation after a direction change, both handlers and dogs were faced with a pick-up sticks course layout and no obvious next jump–and tons of off-course options. (Just look at that opening sequence…guess how many dogs took the tunnel as #3?)
In other words: ACK!!!
It cannot be overstated: I have a really hard time re-orienting on the best of days. It’s a side effect of an over-excited nervous system that doesn’t know how to filter stimuli. (Thanks so much, Lyme Disease.)
So when Sunday’s jumpers course came along, I knew the moment I hit the walk-through that it was one of the hardest-to-navigate courses I’d ever run. I spent my eight minutes not making handling decisions so much as instilling the best possible body memory of reorienting after direction changes.
Then when the class started, I decided against watching the early dogs. Normally one does; it’s a good way to see how the course runs and make notes of focus points. But watching people go off course only confuses my mental map.
I finally allowed myself to watch my marker dog,* an awesome handler with an awesome little dog. If anyone could do it…
*When your marker dog is on the course, you go get your own dog and get ready to run.
He got lost three times.
Well, I only saw the first time, because then I left to get Connery, laughing a little helplessly to myself. If he’d gotten lost…
Then I stopped. “Self,” I said, “So what? Practice confidence! Go run the hell out of this course, and if you get lost along the way, run the hell out of it anyway because WHY NOT.”
I got Connery out of his crate, played with him, stretched him, and scruffed him up. “Let’s go bite this course in the butt!” No, really, that’s what I told him. And then on the way to the ring I told him, “Grrr! Grrr! Let’s get it! Lost, schmost!”
I’m beginning to think there could be something to this.
So go on. Pretend to be Wonder Woman each morning. Or Superman. Smile while you’re doing it, because that’s part of it all.
I think I’ll keep looking, too.
(This blog is joining up with the Dog Agility Blog Event on Stress, where it fits right in! See what the rest of us have to say at the Blog Event Page)