If the cat would only change

Making life choices and learning how to get along can be hard work.  Let’s try a light-hearted approach for a change. After all, according to reality therapy, everyone has a basic need for fun!

If you’re familiar with households that have both a cat and a dog, you know that pets develop their own ways of interacting. The cat may be dominant; the dog may be dominant. (Yeah, right.)

Consider the dog’s point of view.  Begging for attention and the mere promise of a cookie, she’s ordered around: come, sit, stay, even roll over. Meanwhile the cat runs the house, with prime food, the best sleeping arrangements, the most attention. The worst affront—the cat doesn’t even seem to care!

From the dog’s perspective, she thinks her life would be better if the cat were different. That is, the dog thinks, “If the cat would only change, everything would be perfect.”

Where’s the reality therapy connection? Have you ever heard (or said)…

“If my spouse would only pay attention, then everything would be better.”

“If my children would only listen, then everything would be better.”

“If my boss would only smarten up, then everything would be better.”

Notice any similarity to the dog’s perspective? It’s that enticing sentiment, “If only somebody else would change, then my life would be better.”

It’s appealing because it may be true! If somebody else were perfect, then perhaps your life would improve! If your spouse lavished you with love and attention, maybe you would have a better marriage. If your children behaved perfectly, maybe you would have a happier household. If your boss suddenly became a leader instead of a dictator, maybe life at work would be better.  All manner of things could improve if only others would improve.

So what’s the problem? If you’ve been reading reality therapy, you already know, don’t you? Yes, the reality is, we can only control ourselves. The only behaviour we can change is our own. It would be so much more convenient if people around us would act the way we know they “should,” but that’s not what we control.

Is there any good news? Yes! The reality is: we can control ourselves. We can change our own behaviour. And if we become clear on what we want, how we want to live, how we want our relationships to be, then we can choose behaviours that will at least open up the possibility of a more satisfying life.

Next time we are tempted to blame somebody else for our unhappiness and dissatisfaction, remember the dog. Wishing someone else would change is about as futile as the dog wishing that the cat would change.

“If the cat would only change, then everything would be perfect.” Remembering that won’t solve anything, but maybe it’ll bring a smile. And a smile might be just enough to remind you to choose a more effective behaviour. What do you think?

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