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  • Angela Gault

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, Or So The Saying Goes...

Ever thought about wanting to throw in the towel at your current job?

Does your mind constantly wander off as you think about pursuing something you've always wanted to do?

After five minutes of daydreaming, do you snap yourself out of it because you've no prior experience or not enough/no knowledge in that area, and feel it would be too late for you to learn?

It's at this point we'll often make a comparison of ourselves to our canine best friends through the saying 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks'.

Why are we likening ourselves to a retired version of Lassie all of a sudden??

The last time I checked I hadn't recently played a game of fetch, saved a small boy from a well or had a treat balanced on my nose for comedic effect. (Actually thats a lie, I did put an after eight mint chocolate on my forehead and then wiggled my head to get it to try and it slip down the side of my face and into my mouth without using my hands. It's harder than you think!)

Scientifically there's reasoning behind this comparison of humans and dogs:

The effect of aging on cognitive processes (such as learning, memory, and problem-solving), has so far been studied mostly in humans, where it was confirmed that older brains are often less efficient in these areas. However, it has recently been established that dogs show many of the same kind of age related changes that humans do. (Psychology Today - You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks)

However, we now seem to have stored this in our arsenal of commonly used phrases as a throw-away 'one size fits all' comment that gives us an excuse not to learn something new. We seem to think this phrase gives us a free pass in life if we:

  • Are afraid/scared to try something new

  • Can't get to grips with it within ten seconds of giving it a go

  • Think have a predisposition to be bad at it based on trying to learn it as a child

Does that sound familiar to you? Ever try something/go to try it/think about trying it and then say:

  • I've never been good at this kind of stuff.

  • My brain is just not wired the way that's needed for me to be able to do this.

  • I can't do it.

  • I've tried once and I couldnt do it.

  • I've tried a few times and I couldnt do it.

  • My teacher/mum/dad/friend/sibling got frustrated with me because I couldn't understand so I stopped trying.

  • This is just like that other thing which I'm not good at, so I won't be good at this either.

The worst part of all of these comments about ourselves is that they can start coming out of our mouths at a relatively young age and then continue to worsen throughout the rest of our life. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - the lack of self-belief in your capacitiy to learn and your abilities, leads you to try and give up quickly, or not try at all. In turn this gives you 'proof' that you couldn't have done it in the first place.

But it is not so much a lack of capacity and ability, but more a lack of confidence and patience and being prepared to not be good at it at first. 

Even if you're trying to argue the fact you can't learn something because you're getting on in years, it's been proven that old dogs can learn new tricks - it just takes them longer. Click here for a little extra reading if you are interested.

It appears this age old saying has therefore come from owners who don't know how to help their older dogs learn, and also impatience at how long it takes for them to learn something new. They quit early, just before progress was about to be seen, and then subsequently say it can't be done.

Pretty much the same goes for us as humans! It's not that you can't learn new things as you get older, but that it just might take longer to get the hang of it. You'll just need to be more patient with yourself in order to do so. If you have another excuse up your sleeve, such as saying you don't have the extra time in your day needed to learn, then please see my recent post I Wish I could…But I Just Don’t Have The Time.

How can you move forward with learning a new skill? 

1.Ask yourself what you current explanation is for not wanting to/not be able to, or avoiding learning the particular skill. What can you say to yourself to replace the negative thought with a positive one?

By no longer making excuses and relying on a debunked saying of likening yourself to an aged Labrador, you'll definitely end up further along the road of learning than if you hadn't started on it in the first place. Although we both have the ability to learn new things at any age I'm quite confident that none of you have done a shit on anyones front lawn recently, drooled all over your friends favourite top or chewed on a shoe (unless you got up to similar escapades after having had one too many pints at a bar on a Friday night and mistakenly thought the shoe was a burger, in which case I stand corrected!).

2. I challenge you! I challenge you to find something that you want to do. After you've decided on something, then ask yourself - what are the first steps you need to take to start learning? For example you could start a hobby or an activity (something small to begin with) that perhaps you used to do as a small child but havent done in years. Something you always wanted to do but thought you were never very good at, or didn't spend enough time practising. Try a new old thing!

Once you've proven to yourself that you do have the ability to improve and acquire new skills it will then show you that you're capable, and this will help build your base of confidence as you go on to tackle other new and bigger skills that you want to pursue. Start small and as your confidence grows so will the challenges you set for yourself! You can then go wherever the wind takes you - learning a new language, learning to cook, learning to dance, or learning about how to write a business plan!

3. Be patient with whatever it is you're trying to learn! It probably will take you longer to pick it up than when you were younger so cut yourself some slack, acknowledge this, go in with a clear mind and say to keep saying to yourself 'I can do this!'

4. Replace your 'old dog can't learn new tricks' thought with the saying 'every expert was a once a beginner.'

5. As you do points 2 - 4 create a self-made hypnosis tape with the phrase 'I am not a dog!' playing on repeat in the background, you know, just in case you're still not sure.

*If you would like information on the Business & Life Coaching services that I offer please do go to my Coaching Services page or email me via my Contact page.




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