08/07/2014 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Lesson From a Chihuahua About Focus

Do other people or situations change your focus and direction? Does the chatter in your head derail your healthy eating efforts?

Focus is where your attention is, and too often our attention is on the immediate, rather than our desired end result. While you may have one plan to get to your end result, you can successfully take numerous routes in different directions while overcoming obstacles to get there.

The lessons animals show us about our own nature is amazing, and the way they communicate without words is brilliant and simple. When my husband and I leave our house, we leave our little Chihuahua, Sen᷉or Flip, alone in the house. We always leave a dog biscuit with him. For some reason he will never eat the biscuit until we return. As we walk back through the front door, he greets us and then eats his biscuit. I assume his focus on the biscuit is "I'll eat it when they get home," and he never eats it until we arrive.


Recently we left the house to pick up our daughter who was visiting for the weekend. We gave Sen᷉or Flip his usual biscuit and gave him some kisses. We left the house, picked up our daughter from the train station, went to dinner, and then shopped at a local outlet shopping area. We had been gone about five hours.

When we returned, Sen᷉or Flip saw our daughter Megan enter the house. He lost his focus on the biscuit that he had just cradled for five hours in anticipation of our return. His excitement about Megan took over. He became so excited that he ran to Megan and back to his biscuit, over and over. It seemed he could not decide which he should do first, say hello to Megan or eat his biscuit. He accomplished neither!

As I watched this, I thought; the chatter in his head is taking him in too many directions and he is losing his focus on both outcomes. This happens too often to people. We know what we want but so easily something changes our focus. The chatter in our heads keeps us running from one thought to another, often leading us nowhere.

Sen᷉or Flip's actions are a commentary on what can happen to our focus, when we only direct our attention to the immediate. While this was happening to Sen᷉or Flip, we laughed. But really, the poor dog did not know what he wanted first. What he got was nothing, because there was no clear decision.

As an example: Often while working with clients, they want to make a plan for a dinner out. They plan for the immediate. They plan every step of the entire evening as they would like it to unfold. Sometimes what they neglect is their desired end result -- how they want to feel, or what they want to have achieved when the evening is over.

When focusing only on the immediate, anything can happen at a moment's notice to derail your efforts, and cause you to lose focus. It could be something as simple as a comment from another person, or a change of the dinner location. It could be aromas from the restaurant or the site of an enticing entrée as a waiter walks by. It makes no difference. You lose focus, and the chatter in your head begins. There is no clear decision.

When you feel this frenzy coming, take a deep breath. As you begin to calm yourself, change the chatter to talk. Choose words that remind you of your desired end result, and allow you to redirect your immediate plan. You don't have to stick to your original plan because there is more than one way to your end result. Think it through, calmly.

Picture Sen᷉or Flip's little body, physically running from Megan to his biscuit, and picture the chatter in your head doing the same to you when you encounter unexpected outside stimuli.

What we did with Sen᷉or Flip was calm him down, and once he was calm, he ran to Megan and showered her with kisses, and then sat and ate his biscuit happily. He was able to make his plan. His direction changed, and it may not have been his original plan, but it was one that worked. He achieved his desired end result-eating his biscuit.

Have a plan for the immediate but always focus on your desired end result. Know that there are various ways to get there. As the saying goes, "All roads lead to Rome." You can get there many ways if you are flexible with your immediate plan, stay calm, and keep your focus on your desired end result.