November 4, 2014

Why Don't We?

The culture we live in has a tendency to prefer the negative over the positive.  Even if we aren't meaning to, and we don't intend to think that way, we lean towards seeing things in a negative light, towards seeing what is missing rather than looking at what is already there.  We focus on what we still haven't done, rather than taking more than a brief moment to appreciate what we have accomplished.

It makes for a stressful and tiring world at times.  As human being we long for praise and recognition, to be given attention and told that we did something good and right.  When we are continuously told that we did this wrong, or we need to go and fix that now, or we need to buckle down or else we'll never reach that goal that is somehow always one step ahead of us.... it drags us down, and discourages.  This isn't to say that we shouldn't get (constructive) criticism, or we should ignore instruction or be reminded of what we hope to attain but these only motivate us for so long.  After a while, what used to get us going makes us sit back and think "Well why on earth am I even doing this any how?"

Why don't we give the positive as much screen time as the negative?

When we are learning something, we are given instruction and coaching, told when we did something wrong or that next time there's a better way, and we are occasionally given praise for a job well done.  As we master the skill or lesson, however, commentary goes away and we are left with "If I'm not saying anything, it means you are doing a good job".  I am as guilty of this as anyone else, but I know from my own experience that instruction slowly stopping is far from being the same as being told "Hey, you're doing a good job with this and learning quickly!"

When I was learning to drive, I remember getting very frustrated a couple of months in.  When I first started, I was of course receiving a lot of instruction and correction.  Gradually it went away, but I didn't take this to mean I was getting the hang of it.  Instead, I got upset because I didn't know if I was doing it right yet.  I remember crying one time because I didn't know if I was getting any better at driving or not, and my mom being surprised because, since I was getting better, she didn't need to correct me any more.

A month after I started my job at the hotel, I sat down with my GM and AGM and reviewed my progress.  They did point out the areas where I was doing really well, and mentioned some specific examples of times where I did a good job, and it was great.  At the end, they pointed out some areas I needed to work on, and I made a conscious effort after that to fix and grow in those areas.  I wasn't sure if I was improving though, and I waited for someone to either say "Hey you need to keep working on this," or "It looks like you've got it!"  Neither came, and finally I went and asked my AGM if I'd gotten any better.  She told me that I was doing a great job now, which was good to know... but left me wondering if anyone would have ever mentioned it if I hadn't asked.

Humans are a bit like flowers in that we need the rain to grow, but if it rains too heavily and for too long we end up wilting and drowning in it.  We need the sunlight too in order to really blossom and be beautiful.  Positive encouragement means so much to us, and I know that personally I have often written down or printed out words of praise that I have been given so I can treasure them and go back when I need to hear them again.  Yesterday, I had my wine professor tell me I had a talent for tasting wine and I was actually better at picking scents and tastes out than he was.  I've been struggling a bit in that class to get (by my standards) a good grade, so hearing that from him brightened up the rest of my day and made me feel wonderful.

We all know how good positive comments and encouragement makes us, we all value and treasure and hold on to them.  So why then, do we automatically tend towards the negatively phrased critiques and instructions, why do we forget to give credit and praise when we see someone overcome a goal or master a skill.

Why don't we tell people when they are doing good?

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