The Puppiness Project – Don’t Be Paralyzed By Irrelevant Fears

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.

Golden Retriever with stuffed butterfly.

Yeth, I know ith almotht ath big ath I am. But I love her.

The well-dressed Golden Retriever…

A Golden Retriever feels naked without something in her mouth. When Honey gets up, she rushes out of the room to find a toy before jumping on the bed to go back to sleep. When we get home from work, she goes scurrying around for a bone before greeting us at the door.

One of Honey’s favorite toys is a butterfly stuffie I bought at the Salvation Army thrift store. She carries it all over the house.

But recently, her butterfly gave her a scare.

Honey carried the foot long, stuffed butterfly into the backyard. When she tried to climb the back steps to return inside, she stumbled on the dangling Lepidoptera and took a little tumble down the steps. Since then, she’s been hesitant to carry any soft item up the stairs, even when it’s very small and obviously not a tripping hazard.

Distracted by minor fears.

Humans evolved to be cautious. That’s what’s allowed us to stay at the top of the food chain for millenia. But do you ever think about what frightens us?

Most Americans step into a car with no fear whatsoever despite it being the most risky thing many of us do. And yet, speaking in public or changing jobs or letting go of bad relationships fill us with terror.

I have some wacky fears compared to many people. As my husband tells me, I have no idea just how weird I am. For instance, I am afraid of driving. I hate cars. I’m fearless in any urban neighborhood that has signs of life but get creeped out sitting alone in someone’s living room in the country with the blinds up. And although I’m a fearless (and entertaining, so I’m told) public speaker, if I thought I was actually going to earn some money at it, I’d probably puke.

There are any number of interesting and great things I could do that involve driving, being alone, and earning money. But I continually let little fears hold me back. And sometimes, I don’t even see that I’m sabotaging myself.

I’m like that Golden Retriever at the bottom of the steps scared of tripping over a ball of fuzz in my mouth.

Breaking through fear – Honey style.

I’ve done a few things to help Honey with her fear. The first one is to take the butterfly away from her before she goes down the steps. The second is to encourage her to keep trying when she’s frightened of something I know won’t hurt her.

The other day I watched with joy as she hesitated a few times at the bottom step with a small piece of plush in her mouth before galloping up with a look of pride on her face.

Honey has learned that she’s not going to fall every time she carries a soft object up the steps.

Breaking through fear – Pamela style.

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a link to an article in which a hospice nurse talked about the most common regrets she hears from her dying patients. Do you want to know what they are?

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Did you notice that three of the five regrets were caused by lack of courage?

I, like Honey, am also hesitating at the foot of the stairs. I worry that I’m going to fall without considering that a minor fall isn’t the end of the world (Honey never hurt herself either).

One of the most valuable traits a human can have is resiliency—the ability to pick up and move forward after a setback. If you’re a parent, the best thing you can teach your children is how to come through a bad experience and move on. And it’s something we all need to develop even if we didn’t gain it in our own upbringing.

For now, I’m keeping the five regrets of the dying in the forefront of my mind as a cautionary tale. I don’t want to be filled with regrets because I lacked courage.

And I’ll keep working toward climbing those stairs carrying an obstacle knowing it’s worth it to fall a couple of times if I get to soar triumphantly up to the landing in the end.

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  1. Honey looks so cute with her butterfly!

  2. What a great post this is. I’m going to bookmark it for encouragement every time I feel hesitant about trying something without any real reason for for feeling hesitant. Those 5 regrets are so true and have such impact. Thanks for writing this!

  3. Your post is positive and uplifting, I know what holds me back, it is my fear of failing. I don’t like to lose so I am often times hestitant to try something I don’t think I can do. I’m going to try and be like Honey, tell her I said that. She’ll make me accountable. :-)

    • I think you share a common fear with many of us. And yet look at all your successes.

      Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we’ve had more successes than failures. And that none of our failures have killed us yet. :)

  4. Don’t worry. I am afraid of driving too. I’m actually afraid of a lot of things, things that seem silly if I say them out loud but are really hard for me to work on. Logic doesn’t seem to help either. While I know I am holding myself back, it’s so so so hard to take that first step.

    Congratulations to Honey for being able to take the risk! I dream of being as brave as my dog. Maybe one day…

  5. Driving is an activity that I love to do and take every opportunity to do it. But crossing a four lane street even when the light tells me that drivers have to stop makes me feel frightened and vulnerable. I guess we all have much different fears.

    • So you and I are opposites. I cross the street boldly because I want cars to know it’s the law to allow pedestrians the right of way (they so often forget).

      But I find biking in car traffic much scarier. I don’t think the drivers are any more likely to see me and I’m even more likely to get hurt on a bike. After all, in my serious bike accidents the cyclist and the car never collide. The danger comes from the head injury when you fall off your bike.

      I guess I’ll put you on my list of people to do a road trip with. :)

  6. I’m so afraid of driving, I don’t have a licence (despite having had 22 real instructor lessons). Thanks to my fear of driving, I’m also afraid that something might happen in the middle of the night or the middle of nowhere that would require me to take the wheel, and I can’t. One fear leads to the next :(

    I love that picture of Honey with her butterfly. It’s enormous! It’s funny how she HAS to have something in her mouth before she greets you. A gift maybe? Just back to your reply to the last post, how IS Honey doing with the boat? That would be a big one to get over.

    • Here in the U.S. it’s considered unAmerican if you don’t drive. I’m afraid that if word gets out that I’ve gotten rid of my car they’ll revoke my citizenship. :)

      Our big problem with Honey and sailing is that none of the places we can sail allow a dog on board. It seems awfully small minded to me–after all, what harm can a dog do to a vessel that gets hosed off at the end of the day?

  7. Very interesting post. I do think there is a tendency for people to try to shield themselves/kids/pets from difficult or unpleasant experiences. It is those experiences that make us stronger and make the small accomplishments all the sweeter.

  8. You’ve expressed very eloquently some things that have been bouncing around inside my head lately. Nobody has ever said he or she regretted not having spent more time cleaning the house. It’s the moments with those we love that we truly cherish. I think I need to keep that list in my mind, too!

    • Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever read a post on your blog waxing rhapsodic on clean carpets. :)

      But taking pictures, hiking, training, spending time with your family–that seems to be where you get your joy. It sounds so medieval to say “Momento Mori” (remember you must die) but it’s a very effective way to remember your priorities.

      • Such a good point… I’m sure that I’ll never look back and think “I wish my house had been cleaner when guests came over” even though I spend a ridiculous amount of time worrying about that right now.

  9. I have always believed that the worst decisions we make are based on fear: fear of being alone, fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of change. Conquering fear is the hardest challenge we face. And not all of us are as brave as a Golden Retriever.

    • Speaking for myself, I have an amazing capacity to remain in awful situations because I fear the unknown. It’s horrible to think that I’m most afraid of doing something that will, in the end, be the better path.

      Of course, I assume you are fearless. If not, how could you have pursued so much education? :)

  10. I also have some fears that may seem irrational to others. I think it’s time to face those fears and understand why, then let go. I’m working on that in letting go of this job I have. It’s fairly secure, but I’m miserable.

    • Work is an especially tough place to be brave. Especially in these tough times with so many people out of work, it can feel selfish to pursue something new. After all, shouldn’t we just be glad to have a job?

      I hope you can find a new path to satisfying work.

  11. Fantastic post – those regrets are definitely thought-provoking. I definitely have a fear of change (I think because I have a fear of failure).

    Now I just need to channel my inner Honey and be brave.

    • You’re one of a few people who mentioned a fear of failure. That might be a topic for a future post. I sometimes wonder if I’m more afraid of success.

      I certainly sabotage myself enough. :)

      • I can understand that! I think a fear of success and a fear of failure are two sides of the same coin, in a way. Both of them keep can you from trying something new…

        • Or, I suppose sometimes it’s a fear of success, because that means you have to keep being successful, which leads handily into that fear of failure. 😉

  12. I’m certain that I have a fear of success . .it’s the reason I have changed jobs and directions so many times! I was doing a “soul searching” class once when I realized that I always make a change right before I “make it” to my goal- dang it! Awareness is the first step, right? Love this post – thanks for always making us think! Cali’s most favorite toys are from Goodwill (the bigger, the better!). She and Honey share some many personality traits! Cali always has to have a toy in her mouth :)

  13. Beautiful post Pamela. I saw that same article too. Maybe I need to post it somewhere to remind me of the regrets I might have if I don’t take risks and push past the fear. Good for Honey and for you for working to overcome your fears. Daisy and I will do the same. :)

  14. I love your posts – they always make me think. Of course, once I get to thinking, it gets difficult to write a comment that isn’t a book but I’ll try…

    I’ve always been afraid of failure – not really sure where that came from but certainly it was part of my childhood. Carrying it into my working life, it has made me an employee managers love to have but I’ve often made myself sick with worry. And burned out.

    Two years ago, I came to work for an employer whose motto is “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.” It’s a paradigm shift for sure but one that has allowed me to stretch myself. I’ve made a few mistakes but I wasn’t fired and I didn’t die. It’s remarkably liberating.

    Now, if I could only manage to apply it to my personal life. 😉

  15. Excellent post! I smiled, picturing Honey taking the steps while wearing a soft toy, and being PROUD of herself ! It’s so rewarding to help someone else (animal or human) or yourself overcoming a fear. Best wishes, Karen