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HALT: A Masterful Technique for Working with Yourself and Others

My German Shepherd-mix rescue pup, Baer, is a great dog. He’s all legs and energy, so sometimes I think of him as Fred Astaire, and sometimes more as the Energizer Bunny on steroids. Especially near mealtimes.

 

I feed my dogs twice a day, and I’m convinced they have clocks in their stomachs, because right around 5:30 p.m. (a half hour before their 6:00 p.m. meal), they get antsy. In particular, Baer. But around 5:30 p.m., I may very well still be working—as I am today, and Baer shoving my arm up off the computer keyboard to get my attention is just getting me annoyed. Even more so when he does it repeatedly.

 

That’s when I have to HALT – as in remember that my sweet pup isn’t deliberately trying to annoy me, he’s just hungry. And that I don’t need to let my annoyance grow into irritation, or worse, anger, I can just halt. Take a pause. Breathe. Recoup.

 

HALT is an acronym used often in the treatment of various addictions, “Hungry, angry, lonely, tired” to help people remember not to rush into behaviors or words they may regret when they are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Or to recognize that those we are interacting with may not be deliberately rude, difficult or otherwise challenging, but simply be hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

 

Think about it. When you’re hungry, you’re less patient. When you’re tired, you’re cranky. When you’re lonely, you may be tempted to drink, use various substances or otherwise soothe the pain in what may not be the most beneficial ways. And when you’re angry? We all know too well how easily it is to over react or act out when we’re under the influence of angry feelings.

 

Halt. Just stop. Get quiet. Be still. Count to 10, or whatever helps you hang with yourself for a moment. Breathe. Slowly. Recognize what’s really going on with you: are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Acknowledge the underlying feeling. Deal with that as best you can, and wait until you feel more like your normal self before you interact with others.

 

When someone is exhibiting less than what you consider to be appropriate or desirable behavior, first ask yourself: might they be hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Try not to judge, but rather to understand where they might be coming from. Not so you can be their “therapist” and certainly not to tell them what’s “wrong” with them, or what they “should” do. That’s not the point. But so that you can have some compassion for the person, and thus deal with them in a more humane manner.

 

Like with my pup. When I remember to halt, take a breath, and then say, “It’s OK, Baer, I’ll feed you shortly,” accompanied by some petting, he’s easily soothed into waiting those few minutes. Far better for him—and me!—than getting irritated with my sweet dog.

 

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