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What Stray Cats Taught Me About Change

I feed stray cats.  My husband isn’t terribly happy about it, but I do it.  I didn’t bring the cats to the neighborhood.  I didn’t ask to have cats.  I didn’t want cats …. but I still order gigantic bags of Kit and Kaboodle, keep a storage container of food in my living room corner, and even have the strays on a feeding schedule based on when I leave and return from work.

There’s a big, fat male cat I’ve lovingly dubbed as “Crackhead”, which came from him weaving between my legs while I’m trying to walk and me saying “stop being such a crackhead”.  It’s not nice … I know.  blah blah blah

There was also one (the one pictured) I named “Pretty Kitty” for obvious reasons.  She is stunning.

At first she was extremely skittish, ducking under the cars whenever I came outside.  Her only interactions with me were meowing outside the door if I was a few minutes late with the food.  Then she’d take off and hide when I came outside until I poured the food in the bowl and stepped away to her safe distance.

Then I decided that since she wasn’t “fixed”, I was going to have to tame her and try to find her a new home.  The LAST thing we need is a litter of kittens running around.

Each feeding time I would stand on the porch in the same spot, more or less forcing her to acknowledge my existence, becoming gradually used to it.  Each week I’d move just a little bit closer to the food bowl, standing very still while talking in a slow, low, calming voice while she gingerly padded her way up to the food.  After a few months I was able to sit on the steps next to the bowl while she ate.

A few weeks after that I was able to reach out and touch her.  She would jump at first, but it didn’t take her long to realized I wasn’t going to hurt her.

Eventually she became so tame she sat on the porch with us in the evenings, begged to be petted when we were outside, and even tried to come in when we opened the door.

So when the time came to take her to the Humane Society to be spayed, have shots, and find a new home as an inside cat (which she did after only 3 days in their care), it was pretty easy to get her into a crate.

It took some time, but in the end it was worth it.

It occurred to me the other day that the approach I took to taming her is the same approach we need to take when we want change.

If I had tried to grab her soon in the process she would have either run away, never to trust me again, or ripped my face off with her teeth and claws.  It wouldn’t have worked.

So why do we make these huge declarations of change in our lives?

“I’m going to clean out all my cabinets, closets, the basement, the garage, the neighbor’s garage, my car, the neighbor’s car, and my purse THIS WEEKEND!”

“I’m going to never drink again!”

“I’m going to exercise at least an hour every single day!”

“I’m going to journal every night!”

“I’m going to completely give up sugar!”

Lasting change for me has never come from drastic changes.  I don’t subscribe to the all or nothing approach to self improvement …

because I KNOW it won’t work (at least not for me).

Change is hard.  Why make it harder?

If you’re trying to stop bad habits or start good habits, please take the stray cat approach to taming yourself.  A little bit of change at a time really does add up over time and you’ll be much less frustrated with the process.

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