Don't think of a red apple. Don't think of a red apple. What just popped into mind? You probably thought of a red apple, right? Why? Because the brain cannot work on the reverse of an idea. Neuroscientists tell us that we move in the direction of the dominant images that we place (or let others place) in our minds. Therefore, it is important when communicating with your team about change that you focus on what you want more than what you don't want. This does not mean you totally ignore problems, obstacles, or mistakes. According to a 127 women bowlers in Wisconsin, it does mean that you should emphasize the desired behaviors, skills and outcomes that support the change you want...
Professor Kirschenbaum and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin assessed the impact of positive versus negative self-monitoring in 127 female bowlers. (1)
These women were instructed on the seven key components of effective bowling (called “Brain Power Bowling” in this study). They were then divided into two groups for the next five weeks, given rating sheets and the following instructions:
Group 1- Positive Self-Monitoring. After bowling each frame, review the seven components of Brain Power Bowling. For those components that you did well, put a number from 1 to 3 in the box corresponding to that component. 1 = good; 2 = very good; 3 = excellent. If you did not do a good job on a particular component, leave the box blank. Before making your approach, it is very important to remind yourself of the correct way to complete the final 3 components...
Group 2 - Negative Self-Monitoring. After bowling each frame, review the possible errors you could have made by not following the seven component principles of Brain Power Bowling. If you made any of these possible errors, put a number from 1 to 3 in the box corresponding to that error, denoting how poorly you did. 1 = terrible; 2 = very poor; 3 = poor. If you did not make an error on a particular component, leave the box blank. Before making your approach, it is very important to remind yourself of the errors you could possibly make on the final 3 components...
Thus, group 1 (positive self-monitors) focused on effective execution, and group 2 (negative self-monitors) focused on avoiding errors. Five weeks later, group 1 improved their scores 100% (an average of 11 pins) more than group 2.
How much would you and your team improve if you focused on the positive (i.e., desired outcomes) more often?
1. Daniel Kirschenbaum, Arnold Ordman, Andrew J. Tomarken, and Robert Holtzbauer; Effects of Differential Self-Monitoring and Level of Mastery on Sports Performance: Brain Power Bowling, Cognitive Therapy and Research, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1982, pp. 335-342.