In a book I am reading called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, the authors write about effective strategies for getting people or groups to make major shifts in behavior. One is to identify “bright spots,” or the things that people who are achieving the results you desire are doing. If it’s our own behavior we seek to change, we can start by writing down some of our own bright spots – when we were successful in producing a desired outcome in the same or similar situation – and figure out how to do more of that.
This strategy reminds me a lot of the training I received as a writing coach some years ago. The educators had developed an approach they called “strengths to strategies.” The idea was that the traditional way that high school teachers provide feedback to students on their writing (think a paper covered in red ink) was not very effective in getting students to improve their writing. Most often, a teacher who is pressed for time in grading papers will focus on marking up mechanical errors, and the students will just make the spelling or punctuation changes suggested by the teacher, without understanding why. Other times students will read comments to the effect that their topic sentence was poor or their supporting examples were weak, but again have no idea what they did “wrong” or how to make it better. I was trained to read a student essay and identify what the student did well, show them where they did this, explain WHY this is an example of strong or effective writing, and then help them to see where they might employ that in other parts of the paper that are less effective.
Looking for the positive, for evidence of success rather than failure, is a great way to get better at something. Rather than thinking about where you messed up or what you should stop doing, it is much more effective to focus on everything you are doing right and do more of it. If something has worked really well when relating to people at home, try it at the office. If you went a month without eating much sugar, and you felt really great about it, try to duplicate what worked.
Next time you think about red-inking yourself…stop. Your past is full of bright spots and gold stars. Use what you know to shine brighter!
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