The other day during a leadership seminar I’m taking, the instructor said something that really struck a chord with me. We were discussing motivation. He noted that, while people really need to motivate themselves, it is possible to create an environment that is conducive to motivation.
“Catch them when they’re doing something right,” he said.
As a parent, I needed to hear that concept. All too often, I find myself spending way more time correcting my kids than I do praising them. For some reason, it always seems easier to say, “Stop arguing with your sister,” than it does to say, “Thank you for playing so nicely with your sister.”
For instance, the other day I was putting clothes away in my girls’ room. Seven-month-old Kacey was playing on the floor. Suddenly, my 5-year-old daughter, Riley, came into the room looking for one of her toys. Now before I go any further, let me give you a little bit of background here. Riley loves Kacey. I mean, really loves her—as in the constantly in her face, trying to hold her and play with her even when Kacey’s not interested kind of love.
So when Riley walked into the room, I was on high alert, ready to once again sternly remind her to leave her little sister alone. But before I could even get the words out, Riley pulled out one of her storybooks, plopped down on the floor next to her baby sister and started to read to her. Kacey was captivated.
As I watched the two of them together, I scolded myself for automatically assuming the worst. I then reminded myself to compliment Riley on how nicely she was entertaining Kacey so I could finish what I was doing. And I thought of how often I forget to praise my kids when I catch them “doing something right."
I suspect I’m not alone in this struggle. A lot of times it seems as if our automatic default is set to the negative side of things. The news certainly bears this out. We have become so inundated with stories of crime, suffering and hopelessness that we begin to assume that mind-set.
If someone is attacked, we wonder if they did something to provoke it: What did he or she say? How was the person dressed? Why was she at that place at that time? Or if someone is accused, then they certainly must be guilty, right? I mean, innocent until proven guilty is a nice concept, but...
We try to be positive, really we do. There are books upon books to try to help us to be more positive, think more positively and live more positively. So why can’t we seem to make it stick? It’s been said that, in order to either break a habit or make something become a habit, you have to do it for 30 days.
So for the next 30 days, let's make a concerted effort to be more positive. I’m not just talking about offering positive feedback within your family, either. Make an effort to take your positive attitude to the streets and spread some positive energy. For instance, if you like your pastor’s homily on a given Sunday, let him know. Or just let him know you think he’s doing a good job. In these days when priests as a whole have taken quite a beating for the horrific actions of a few, I’m sure he would appreciate the positive support.
Or if a colleague helps you out with something, alert that person’s supervisor about how he or she helped you. If the waiters or waitresses do an exceptional job serving you, leave a brief note with your tip letting them know and also alert the manager.
Try to see if you can do one positive thing a day for the entire month. It doesn’t have to be big, just enough to change the tide of negativity a little bit. The possibilities are endless, and the paybacks are definitely huge.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch my kids doing something right.