Change and Mindfulness Lessons from a Kitten

Every day provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness. As we welcomed a kitten to our family and introduced him to his new home this week, he reminded me of lessons in change management and gave us an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Here’s our story. . .

How did a “non-cat” person end up with a kitten??

First of all, for those who have known me since my teenage years know that I have never been known as a “cat person”. I lived with cats growing up, thanks to my sister Heather, who brought home any animal she could get her hands on, and my post-university roommates, Janis and Kate. Mainly though, I accepted the cat’s presence in my house but kept them at an emotional distance. I saw myself more as a “dog person” but mostly as a “people person”.

As I’ve learned and I’ll talk about more in an upcoming blog, judging and labeling ourselves can be extremely limiting in our lives. With this in mind, I’ve dropped the idea of me being a “non-cat person” or a “dog person”. Now, I’m simply a lover of all creatures. This includes cats, especially cuddly, kind and affectionate ones!

So when Janis and Kate recently brought home Ragdoll kittens that were extremely affectionate and cuddly, I couldn’t help but adore them. And then Carter, struggling with finding joy in online school during the pandemic, started asking for a pet. That is when the stars aligned as we learned Janis’ new kitten had a brother looking to be adopted. Our family has not had any pets yet, and now, within a week of starting a discussion about adopting a kitten, we brought home little Jackie.

Change Management is easy right?

From studying change management (CM) at my work over the last few years and as a member of a CM leadership network, I understand the behavioural effects of change on people. I also know that learning the theory can be very different from applying it. The effects of and responses to change seem like common sense when learning about it in a classroom. However, like mindfulness, it’s all about the practice!

Not adequately thinking through how change will impact others is something that happens all the time in workplaces – for example, when a new project is introduced. Questions that should be asked include: how are all the people impacted going to respond? what’s your plan for preparing people for change? is there a communication strategy?

You see, the people initiating the change usually understand it and have already accepted it. Without thinking through the impact on others it’s easy to think, “What’s the big deal? The change isn’t going to be bad, so let’s just get on with it and get it done!” It takes a mindful approach to think about all the stakeholders that the change will affect. Putting ourselves in others’ shoes is a key step in this process. What will their concerns be? Likely concerns are very different across stakeholder groups and from the people involved in the project and initiating the change.

And this was my mistake with Jackie.

Welcome Home! Hiss.

This is our family’s first pet, so it is a change for our family. We did some research, I talked to friends and borrowed or purchased what we thought we would need. We had seen pictures, and Carter had even come up with a name for the new kitten. So when we arrived to pick up Jackie, we thought we were prepared and had visions of the cuddles and snuggles we’d all have when we got home. Let’s not forget we are the change initiators.

Therefore, when we arrived home we excitedly brought Jackie in to show him his new surroundings. We brought him in to the living room ready to settle in to the sofa with him for cuddles. Unfortunately, rather than cuddles we got the look of a terrified kitten who darted under the couch. No worries, just reach in and scoop him out. Hiss. Yikes, this isn’t the cute, cuddly kitten behaviour we were expecting. What have we done?!!

Of course, what I missed was thinking about this change from Jackie’s perspective. What a rookie change management mistake! While we were prepared for the functional part of owning a new kitten, we hadn’t prepared ourselves for the behavioural aspect of the change from Jackie’s point of view. Kittens have feelings too you know!

How does it feel?

After speaking to my friends and watching YouTube videos by cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy, I started to understand my mistake. While my instinct was to get Jackie out from under the couch immediately, I realized he likely just needed some space. And some time to adjust. Forcing him out would scare him even more.

The boys and I discussed how Jackie must be feeling right now being away from his mother for the first time and all the other cats he was used to. Now he is with people he doesn’t know, in a big, strange house with different scents. Of course he would be scared. We agreed that we would be scared too if we were in his place. Austin felt sad thinking about Jackie’s point of view. The empathy started flowing.

We played some relaxing music and quietly sat in the room with Jackie, who was still under the couch, so he could get used to our voices. It gave him the space and time he needed to adjust to his new surroundings.

Mindfulness and Change

Jackie gave a gift to all of us when he went under the couch. It was a chance for us to slow down and practice mindful awareness (and patience). We got out of our practical doing mode and took some time to be present with each other. While we enjoyed each other’s quiet company while listening to soft music, it was a chance for us to adjust to the change as well.

Change is a funny thing – it’s helpful to plan for it and think through outcomes, but you never really know entirely what it will bring. Everyone reacts differently to change. Change can feel scary, but it should never prevent us from embracing it. By its nature, life is full of change. Change is what helps us learn and grow. Oftentimes we just have to prepare for it as best as we can (recall Do Your Best from the happiness formula in Good Morning, Life!) and dive in and figure it out as we go. And as Ross from Friends would say, pivot as needed.

I’d love to hear from other pet owners – have you had mindfulness lessons from your pet? Do you find your furry friend helps you slow down the pace of life to help you enjoy the moment or do they add to your busyness?

Dandelions and Mindset Shifts

This spring I was reminded of the importance of awareness, curiosity and openness, which led to a mindset shift.

When the spring arrives, so does a subtle dance that my husband and I have when it comes to our lawn and the dandelions that seem to enjoy it. As the yellow plants start to emerge one by one, I find a quiet afternoon day and, with my garden trowel and gloves in hand I descend upon my backyard.

I start the arduous job of digging them up, one by one, being careful to get as much of the root as possible. I spend hours slowly and methodically combing through the backyard, foot by foot, extracting these “unruly, ugly weeds” from the lawn.

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The Secret to Sticking with Good Habits

Despite practicing mindfulness for almost twelve years, I still need reminders to stay mindful. Even more important than these reminders is remembering the “why” – why am I doing this? Why is it good for me? Understanding the why can have a positive impact on whether or not we stick with healthy habits such as mindfulness, healthy eating and exercise.

Throughout my life I have read countless articles, attended numerous talks and heard time and again the importance of a balanced diet, regular exercise and getting eight hours of sleep. Even so, it’s easy to fall out of good routines with all of these things. And based on the industries that have formed around diet and exercise, I’m not the only one this happens to. I experienced a game-changing moment when my son Carter was 18 months old, about eleven years ago.

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How a Powerful, Simple Question Changed My Life

A few years ago, I learned the power of a simple, well-placed question when combined with an honest response. It can quite literally change a life.

As a bank regulator, I ask questions for a living. We query bank leaders – senior management and Board members – about the business to understand and explore its safety and soundness. I know how powerful questions can be. Questions can create an opportunity to get at the root of a problem. What I didn’t realize was how powerful one simple question would be in my own personal life.

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Happiness Superpowers – Part 3: Gratitude

When I was about to get married a common piece of marriage advice that I often received at bridal showers and pre-wedding events was, “Never go to bed angry.” It’s great advice. A similar piece of wisdom for anyone who chooses to embark on the goal of living a fulfilling and happy life is, “Never go to bed without being grateful.”

Gratitude is one of the key happiness superpowers that we have as humans. It’s one of the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal to truly change our lives for the better. The importance of gratitude for happiness and well-being may not be new to you. I know I’ve talked about it in previous blogs, as well as in Good Morning, Life! – it’s part of my happiness formula! The amazing thing is that gratitude literally has the power to rewire our brains. It’s truly remarkable.

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Happiness Superpowers – Part 2: Curiosity

In my last blog, we discovered that ordinary humans, like Avengers, have superpowers. I learned that trust is a superpower for happiness, and now let’s delve into another happiness superpower – CURIOSITY. And just like trust, the power of curiosity transcends all facets of life – at home and at work.

About three years ago, I was exploring different guided meditations to listen to during my morning train commute to the city. As detailed in Good Morning, Life!, I was in the midst of a journey to happiness. I came across a meditation that intrigued me called The Meaning of Life. What a bold title, I thought to myself. As if there is one answer! But as I listened that bold title didn’t disappoint. The meditation lesson outlined three main qualities that bring meaning to our lives and they are: loving, learning and being happy.

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Happiness Superpowers – Part 1: Trust

“If you were an Avenger, what would your superpower be?”

This is a common question I get from my boys. Like a good mom, I immediately delve into my imagination but nevertheless come up with an unoriginal answer like “fly”, “read minds” or “be invisible.”

What I never contemplated is that maybe I actually have a superpower. Maybe you don’t have to be an Avenger but just a normal human being. In fact, I think we all have a few superpowers. Today, let’s dive into superpower number one – TRUST.

I first discovered the real power of trust when I had no other choice. I was in the hospital, in the ICU. As detailed in Good Morning, Life!, it was not long after the birth of my first son. Without realizing it, I was hanging on to life so tight I could feel it. I can’t remember details as everything was foggy to me at the time. But I remember clearly the moment that I let go. I had a vision. It was a giant hand and there I was, a small figure in the palm of the hand. Instinctively, I knew that I no longer had control. I metaphorically curled into a ball and just settled.

Let Go.

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Who’s More Important, a Doctor or a Priest?

The moment when I truly realized that I am just as important as anyone else was one of those life-changing perspective shifts for me. The lesson started for me one wintery Sunday morning.

The Game

We were gathered in the large gym at our church for Sunday School. My boys were quite young at this point and I volunteered at the Sunday School, along with other parents. This week I was working with Nancy, a teacher, and she shared a great exercise that I helped prepare. We had cue cards with a different title or role on each one (e.g. doctor, lawyer, mom, grandpa, teacher, 5 year-old, 18 year-old, movie star, etc.). We put the kids into groups and they had to organize the cue cards in order of the importance of the imaginary person on the card.

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You are the CEO of Your Life: Perspective is everything

Do you ever feel like you have little control over things in your life?

In a previous blog post, I share how the current pandemic has taught me that I don’t have control over many things in life outside of myself. Happily, I’ve realized that there’s something I control. In fact, I have a very important role. I’m the CEO of my life! I control my actions, set intentions, express my values, needs and talents and set boundaries. It doesn’t matter if I’m working for a company, looking for a job, homeschooling my kids – whatever my situation, I’m the CEO of my life. I gained this impactful perspective about two years ago as a result of a talent management exercise at work.

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The Power of a Dream: One Step at a Time

Have you ever had a powerful dream? A recent dream reminded me that all I can do is live life one step at a time.

The Dream

In the dream, I was on vacation in Italy. Even though the coronavirus is running rampant, I flew halfway around the world. I was with an older woman, also named Barb, and her grandson.

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