I’ve recently added a member to our family… a puppy. Although currently 6 months old, she weighs in at around 60 pounds and being a “Heinz 57”, is a mix of Black Lab and German Shepherd… goofy and puppy-like much of the time, she can certainly look somewhat intimidating,. Much of her day is spent sleeping and finding things to chew on, and the highlights come when she hears the work “walk”, as in “Do you want to go for one”. She does her doggy happy dance, and once we’re geared up with the appropriate collar and leash, out the door we go! What I’ve observed once we leave the confines of the house is that, although she is the exact same dog for the duration of our walk, our neighbors and those we encounter have a variety of reactions to her. Some smile knowingly that life at home with her is often chaotic… they’ve been there. Others will speak to her, reaching out to give her a pat on the head. Many will give a stiff look out of the corner of their eyes as if to indicate that there is trepidation and would just as soon scoot by unnoticed. Finally, there are a few folks that will see us trotting up the sidewalk and make beeline for the other side of the street. Whats up?
Has my precious pup changed so dramatically from moment to moment that she displays as many personalities as there are blades of grass at our favorite park? Certainly no… so what is it? I’d like to think that what each person experiences with the furry apple of my eye is based on their cognition. So what is a cognition and why is it helpful for us to be aware of them? A cognition is defined as “the act or process of knowing; perception”. Its the perception portion that can get us mixed up at times. So, back to puppy walks…
My dog is relatively the same with each four-legged step she takes. It is the perception, or cognition of each passer-by that is different. Lets say that a person has had a poor experience with a dog in the past, it could then be that their perception is that all dogs are dangerous and not to be trusted. On the opposite extreme, another fellow walker may think that all dogs are wonderful and should be petted. Both perceptions, or cognitions, are based on the past. Neither is fully true nor fully false.
So why do I write about cognitions? Because many times, our cognitions can get in our way, creating false perceptions and inaccurate “stories’ of how things are. As humans, we all do this, and awareness is our ally in addressing our cognitions… by becoming aware of what we are thinking, we are then able to “fact check” them… is what I’m thinking (or my cognition) true, or is it distorted? We can then move forward in a healthier way, stepping out of perception into reality.
Next time you encounter a puppy or dog on your walk, ask yourself, “What do I believe to be true about this animal, and where does that belief come from? How accurate is my belief?”. You may be surprised.
The following is a listing of common distorted cognitions… check it out: