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Learning New Tricks

Image of a white dog looking through a wire fence. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, change, Katherine Broadway

They say old dogs cannot learn new tricks. Not true. Coco is learning new tricks in a new life. Coco was a terrified homeless dog who cowered and hid anytime she saw a human. Then she found a home in a prison in Sydney, Australia. She is one of 1000 dogs who live in prisons as part of a program that rehabilitates rescue dogs and teaches inmates animal handling skills. Coco is now calm and friendly.

Hardship brought her to a new life where she could heal and learn new tricks. Throughout life, there is the possibly of growth and change. Motivation for that change comes in several ways: from an outside source that provides a

new and interesting opportunity, internal desire to have more, and from personal loss. The motivational force I want to focus on is loss. Loss can be a powerful catalyst to move us forward in life.

Jim's brother died suddenly from cardiac arrest. He was stunned, and so was the family. Wayne was a healthy 52 year old man…or so it seemed. As Jim worked

through his grief, he realized that Wayne had always spoken for him. As children,

Wayne would speak up and talk to their parents. He would make Jim’s decisions for him. What Jim realized was that he did not know what he wanted…when a decision needed to be made, he would talk to his brother and Wayne was the one who made the final choice. It took the loss of his brother for Jim to realize this.

Loss is usually viewed as a negative. Loss is painful, causes mourning and takes time to heal. When you lose someone or something of value to you it can be tragic. It leaves a void in its wake. Where there is a void, it must be filled.

Can Lead to Something Positive

It doesn't have to be a negative, though. Loss can be motivation for change and leads to growth. Loss characteristically involves letting go of emotional ties, giving up the familiar ways of functioning and stepping out of our safe ways of living, thinking and behaving.

Martha’s company went bankrupt shortly before she was to retire. She decided to reinvent herself and went back to school to become a minister. The process took several years to accomplish. What caused this woman to change was a tremendous


Amanda and her son were close. Even when he went away to college he would call home and tell her his news. His father cared deeply about him but was remote. The father became more available and developed a close relationship with his son after the death of his brother. Instead of calling home to talk to his mom, he would call his dad. Amanda was crushed and felt lost. In response to the situation she decided to take a year-long training program. The training program took her away from home and demanded a lot of her time. It helped fill the void she was feeling with the shift in her relationship with her son.

Janie was an introvert and spent much of her time at home with her dog, Skip. They had been companions for 13 years. Skip died, and for the first time in 13 years, Janie felt lonely. She joined a social group in order to find friends.

Learning New Tricks

In these examples, loss and mourning serve as the avenue for change and growth.

Our first response to loss is often denial. “No! What? You don’t mean it. I can’t believe this” are common responses. So are stunned silence, a blank mind and numbness. When the loss is less severe, most people discount it as worthy of grief. Convincing the mind that the loss is real and significant is the first step.

Can I do this?

Change is hard and frighting. Who will we be and how our lives change? We ask

ourselves whether we will like the changes. We hold back from change for several reasons. The feelings from the loss seem too big to face; the gap between what we want and what we have can be overwhelming and discouraging. We have a fear of failure and any real or imagined delay in progress discourages and tempts us to quit.

On the flip side, there is a fear of success and imagined negative consequences it will bring. The future looms large. It is possible that the void will be filled with a new identity, a new way of seeing yourself, new approaches to your life or new skills to enrich your life. Possibilities bring fear and uncertainties with them. Who will I be? What will my life look like? Will I like the changes?

Let go of the old in order to welcome the new

Vicki knew she had to make a change. The house that she lived in with her husband of 30 years was too big for her manage. She had known this since his death five years before, but could not face it. She had moved there as a young bride, had her children and raised them in this house. It had been her home and the keeper of her memories.

By avoiding the grief of letting go of the house, she was getting in the way of moving forward into the rest of her life. When she was able to embrace the loss of the house, she was able grieve and move forward, taking her memories with her.

Again, Vicki’s loss led her down the path to change.

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