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?