The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK


August 16, 2011

The power of positive reinforcement

Don’t you like to be praised? Think about it.

There is nothing in the world that can turn our attitude and emotions around like a good honest compliment and praise for a job well done. Too often they are few and far between when we really deserve them, but it is OK for our efforts to go unnoticed by others. We always have the joy of satisfaction at our own accomplishments.

There is a heap of difference between a compliment and flattery. Flattery is good sometimes, but too much of something becomes fake and unwanted. Then, we question the sincerity and motives behind the remarks. Praise that comes from love does not make us vain, but instead makes us humble and want to try harder. We can readily detect flattery from genuine praise and help.

When I was a kid, I never remember being hounded about my grades when I was in school. I do, however, remember the compliments for good grades and  good work accomplished. Praise and recognition by my parents, grandparents and teachers encouraged me to try as hard as I could to bring them up or keep them up. If I were to take a class right now, I could still hear my parents compliment me on good work well done.

My sister three years younger than I was exceptionally smart. She was only one grade behind me in school — not because I had failed, but because she was able to skip some grades. She graduated from college at 15 and went on to become a practicing physician. I always knew she was intelligent, but it was not because my parents compared us. All seven of us kids were appreciated for our accomplishments and giving our best. We were praised for giving our all.

Determination to succeed must come from within a person ... with lots of support from others. Whether a person is successful depends on the enthusiasm and drive of the individual. Praise does encourage perfection,  but nagging or pressure does not help in the long run. In fact, in my opinion, treating people like they were in boot camp does more harm than good in the civilian world.

It seems to me genuine praise is much more effective than paying money for an accomplishment. I was raised before people used money for rewards and for jobs well done. Money may talk, but it soon is gone and the feeling derived from a compliment lingers for years and years.

Isn’t it surprising how a single compliment can change how we feel about ourselves? If someone comments on our appearance and says what a lovely scarf we are wearing and that our hair is especially pretty today and that  we are wearing a beautiful dress ... but, oh, those shoes have a lot to be desired, what do we remember? Do we remember the three kind compliments, or do we agonize about the shoes all day and completely ignore anything else said? That is what praise can do or undo about a person.

Jim is very lavish with praise.  I wore earrings to church a few Sundays ago that were not even matched. One was silver and the other gold. Jim had complimented me on my appearance, so I felt OK about myself. It was only after I got home from church and eating dinner out that I realized my error. The compliment helped me think I looked all right, but Jim had not noticed. I hope all those people I saw that day did not notice either. I felt so foolish and silly. Praise can be deceiving sometimes.

I have always felt a person lives up to the opinion we have of them. If we constantly degrade our kids, our spouse, or people in general and tell them they are shiftless and worthless and no account, then eventually they come to believe it. However, if we tell them how valuable and meaningful they are in our lives, they believe that, too. They will live up — or down — to our expectations we convey to them, and behave accordingly.

The old saying, “You can attract more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar” certainly is true. Not that people are flies, but you get the idea. Praise is much more attractive and effective than sour words and scowling or rolling your eyes to the ceiling.

The best trainers in the world are those who give honest critique and not criticism while a person is learning a new job. They find the smallest improvement and praise it. We were not born knowing everything, so have to be carefully taught. It is a wise supervisor who builds confidence by praising and working alongside a new worker until the worker is comfortable. When I was learning to crochet, the first cancer cap I made was called a “frog cap”. Why you, ask? Well, it was because I ripped more than I crocheted. I said “rippet, rippet, rippet.” Soon, I learned. The learning was as fun as the actual  work I accomplished because I had a patient, fun teacher. Kim knew just what to say and when. Praise paid off.

When I and my sisters were learning to cook, we had some failures, but Daddy never let on. He praised everything we cooked and acted like he enjoyed each and every cake and pie and loaf of bread we made. Because of his praise and patience, we all turned into good cooks and enjoy it. We all enjoy entertaining and never let a large group throw us a curve. I just try to keep everything not too complicated and enjoy the company.

If you and your family like squash, you will love this salad given to me by my friend, Jane, who received it from a friends of hers in Dover. It is worthy of praise. It is easy and tastes even better the next day or so after it is made.

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