A Boundary That Can’t Be Broken

Training a puppy––and by extension, romantic partners, co-workers, and family members––is all about setting boundaries.

Some of these boundaries are obvious.

Take, for example, successful housebreaking rules.

Others––such as exuberant greeting jumps––feel more nebulous.

Many are wildly delighted by such behavior, yet nonetheless one should really consider curbing it before a St. Bernard is fully grown.

You may recall that Vlad is a double rescue.

His first adopters returned him to the shelter for unknown reasons, all to my enormous good fortune.

(Just FYI: One very telling fact about them is they taught Vlad how to give his paw before they housebroke him, which is, to say the least, an extremely odd set of priorities.)

In any case, young Vladimir is beyond perfect and my highest priority––after establishing clear boundaries––is making sure his first Christmas soars.

I’m inspired to write this because many of you may be having holiday moments where you also need to define, if not actually defend, your boundaries.

And I do have a few thoughts on the matter.

Simply put, with puppies…it’s wise to adopt the philosophy that it’s always your fault.

They’re always doing the best they can.

It’s your training that needs upgrading and refinement.

To extend this concept to humans is enormously generous, perhaps even ridiculously so.

And yet, if you can patiently sigh when exasperated at the bad, if not inexcusable, behavior of others,reframing this as a situation where they simply were not properly trained by you…it might make your life easier.

There is, in fact, a hilarious New York Times Modern Love essay HERE where the author credits techniques learned from exotic animal training for dramatically improving her marriage.

Here’s the central lesson: reward the good behavior while giving minimal responses to the bad.

Who knows…?

If it works with dolphins, it might just work on your family.

Another lesson I’ve learned about boundaries involves the power of silence.

We’re so conditioned to respond to every verbal stimulus, particularly those of us who are delighted by banter.

And yet there’s enormous power in allowing an awkward silence rather than filling it.

I learned this years ago during a coaching session about marketing and sales.

The hardest part of selling any high-end item, the trainer shared, is stating the price and not immediately rushing in with apologies or explanations.

You simply need to stop talking.

(Taking a deep breath helps).

I remembered this a little too late recently, when someone began pursuing a line of questioning that was borderline inappropriate but more importantly just something I didn’t want to talk about then and there.

I so wish I could get a cosmic redo and just say, “I’d rather not talk about that” and then ignore any entreaties to engage and simply allow the awkward silence to linger.

It’s odd, but I’m actually looking forward to my next inappropriate inquisitor, eager to demonstrate that “No” is actually a complete sentence.

Here’s my favorite story about setting boundaries that cannot be broken.

Fittingly, in some ways it’s a reversal of everything I’ve said before about animal training.

Namely, more than a decade ago a dear friend––let’s call her “Gertrude”––often consulted with an animal communicator / psychic about her cat––let’s call him “Loki.”

The thing is that Gertrude’s sessions with the animal communicator (at a few hundred dollars an hour) were focused on––and I swear this is all true––her PhD thesis at a prestigious university.

She honestly wanted her cat’s intellectual take on her material, allowing Loki to heavily influence her work.

Loki had strong opinions about post structuralist literary theory (perhaps most cats do) which ultimately resulted in an acclaimed honors thesis.

At one point, however, Gertrude requested the communicator ask Loki questions about her even more complicated love life.

An awkward silence followed.

Then, the communicator reluctantly informed Gertrude that:

“Loki says he has no comments on your love life at this time.”

Say what you will, that cat really new how to set boundaries.

Since setting your boundaries might just stress you out, I want to give you a holiday gift.

Namely, my bestselling DVD YOGA IN BED––the one that got me into People and Oprah’s Magazine–-for a free download HERE.

(You just need to enter the code “yoga gift” and the price turns to $0.00).

And if you’re still struggling for the perfect gift for someone who really needs the yoga on a more serious level (and that could just be you), the January 12 Minute Yoga Course is HERE.

($100 Discount code: LoveLanguage)

I sincerely hope we all experience minimal stress and maximal joy during the holidays.

And a key component of that is definitely setting and maintaining boundaries.

If yours are being challenged, again perhaps it might be helpful to conceive of yourself as an exotic animal trainer:

Assume total responsibility, then reward the positive and ignore the negative responses as best you can.

Ultimately, I wish all of us when challenged develop the quiet confidence of Gertrude’s cat Loki to allow the silence, responding only that we have no further comments on this topic at this time.

Namaste for Now, 

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