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Do You Treat Yourself Like an Ox or a Puppy?

A man raises a stick as the oxen plough the land. Watercolour by an Indian artist. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Our culture has underlying assumptions and belief systems that infiltrate our minds and determine our attitudes. One of them is the “never enough” attitude towards productivity and growth. Even though my life’s work is about helping leaders grow, I think there is a healthy approach and an unhealthy approach towards it.

I see many treating themselves like an ox, a work animal. The goal is to plow the land as long and as possible. They put themselves in a mental harness and try to push and control themselves. If the animal doesn’t cooperate harsher methods are applied.

I believe it’s not a fit treatment for self (or others). It presupposes unless we harness and force the animal (self) it won’t to what needs to be done. It has an underlying belief that like it’s not in the nature of the ox to plow the land, it’s not in our nature to produce, grow, and improve. We need to be pushed and forced to do so.

I prefer to treat myself as a dog. You don’t need to force a dog to do its job. A guard dog will guard, a watchdog will watch by nature. Good training makes the dog perform better and allow it to have better harmony with its owner, but no forcing is necessary. The better bond we have with it, the better we treat it, the more the dog will try to serve us.

As human beings we are born with inner-directedness; an inborn desire to grow and improve. We are wired to contribute and create value as highly social animals. Freud famously said

“Love and work are cornerstones of humanness”

If work is in my nature, I don’t have to force and push myself. On the contrary, I believe the more love I show to myself, the more I’d be willing to work…just like a dog.

Try for yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat your puppy for a week and let me know how the quality of your work changes.

-Pet it: There are numerous studies that show how crucial is to be touched for human beings. Self-touch also allows us to tap into these benefits.

-Feed it: Give yourself the best quality of food

-Let it run around: Make time to let yourself be. Whatever your nature demands at that point, let yourself have it. Exercise or dance if you have unused energy. Rest if you need rest. Learn or create if you need mental stimulation. Socialize if you need connection.

-Play with it: Like dogs love to play, humans love to play. Make sure you have enough play in your life, whatever that may mean to you.


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