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Joy Wilson

Spectrum Training services

Learning and Development Consultant

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Learning from Squirrel Behaviour


I received a call from someone who had attended our problem solving and decision making course yesterday, his opening comment was My Head is in Bits”!

This individual has had a tremendous amount of work on his radar recently, amongst a whole variety of demands he is also reorganising his department and implementing a new procurement system, and now faced with writing an assignment which was already a week overdue, he found himself stuck, cluttered, unable to see woods for trees.

While tackling the issue I was reminded of the example of the squirrel and the trusting mindset a mindset of accomplishment discussed in John Eliot’s book overachievement.

Take the Leap of Faith

The squirrels scurry along the fence at the back of my garden, they always appear energised by a sense of purpose, as they traverse without hesitation across the fence leaping back and forth into the trees do you imagine that they are thinking

“Careful now think about your technique, because you could fall”?

No of course not, in fact the squirrel isn’t thinking at all His response is automatic and based upon trust of his experience, skill, training and knowledge to successfully see him through his leap of faith.

This is what John Eliot describes as the trusting mindset; the trusting mindset is empty of anything except the target that presents at that particular moment.  The trusting mindset is confident instinctive, accepting, patient and happy to allow things to develop.

Avoiding Self Sabotage  

Unlike the squirrel our brains are a little more sophisticated and this can work against us. Relying on a closed loop process the squirrel is reactive to the environment. We share this ability but our well developed cerebral cortex also contains open loop processes and these open loops allow incoming stimuli and thoughts that can sabotage our thinking. Eliot describes this state as The Training Mindset in this state we are focused upon the goal yet we are being judgemental, analytical and critical while we are working, evaluating every move to see how it can be improved. While these behaviours are helpful if we are practicing, they are a distraction when actually executing the task. This is where my client was yesterday.

Think Less – Act More

When the stakes are high whether you are delivering a presentation, or promoted as an expert the ability to rely on your training, experience, and instincts, will serve you much better than constantly thinking about your performance. We tend to have a long memory for mistakes and a short or memory for successes being over analytical can be a guaranteed way to develop fear of failure.

Thinking Cap

Although squirrel behaviour is fluent and filled with purposive energy, it can appear rather chaotic and to avoid chaos a little thought before execution is best. You see, this is where we have an advantage over the squirrel and that advantage is foresight the ability to plan and think ahead. Squirrels do not have foresight because squirrels have eyes on the sides of their heads. They cannot see what is in front of them.  Apply your inner squirrel at the right time!

 Good, better, best, never let it rest till your good is better and your better is best

2 Responses

  1. Me – a squirrel?

    Hello spectrain.

    Your muse set me thinking (probably proving I am not a squirrel) but yes, there have been times when I have had so much on my plate but my inert trust that I will do what I need to do when I need to do it has kicked in. 

    For example – a typical day and I was juggling all sorts of projects and admin, trying to complete all but really getting nowhere fast.  From left field I suddenly realised that an employee’s first aid certificate was probably about to run out – I cannot explain why I thought of it at that particular time but I managed to book him onto the last available place on a renewal course and just within the relevant deadline.

    I therefore consider myself to have some of the squirrel mentality that you write about – or maybe its something to do with my name (I know squirrels prefer acorns and peanuts rather than Hazel nuts, but the former carries more humour!)

    Thanks for the thoughts.


  2. Learning from Squirrel Behaviour

    Dear Hazel, many thanks for your comments as you clearly have a great sense of humour I thought you would appreciate the folowing: ūüôā

    A couple of squirrels walk into a public library, they find the librarian and say…

     “Buk Buk BUK”

     The librarian decides that the squirrels want three books, and promptly gives them some. Without further ado, the squirrels walk out.

    Around midday, the two squirrels are back and looking quite annoyed. One leans over to the librarian and says…

    “Buk Buk BuuuuUUK!”

    The librarian decides that the squirrels want another three books and promptly gives them some more.

    About an hour later the two squirrel march back in, approach the librarian, looking very angry now and nearly shouting…

    “Buk Buk Buk Buk BuUUUUKKKK!”

    The librarian is now starting to get worried about where all her stock is going. She decides to give them more books but also to follow them and find out what’s happening.

    She followed them out of the library, out of town, and into to a park. , she hid behind a tree, not wanting to be seen.

    She saw the two squirrels throwing the books at a frog in a pond, to which the frog was kept repeating, "Rrredit Rrredit Rrredit…"


Author Profile Picture
Joy Wilson

Learning and Development Consultant

Read more from Joy Wilson

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