Monday, January 5, 2009

3/5 Accentuate the Positive

Day Off

Today's lesson is to redirect towards positive actions whenever you catch yourself doing anything negative.  Gate's says its a kind of universal prescription when you find yourself going astray.

The Gershwin song says "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with Mr. In-between."  But that's not right.  Instead, Gates says to accentuate the positive, and just don't mess with the negative or Mr. In-between.  Acknowledge it, and let it pass by.

The thing to avoid is beating yourself up.  It's productive of anything.  That's why I'm not chastising myself for not going to class today.  Or did I just do that, by mentioning it?

The odd thing is that for people, we consider this idea to be kind of unique and spiritual.  And yet, its entirely second nature now in the world of animal training and positive reinforcement.  My sisters would reduce this idea to:  "You get the behavior you reward."  You get positive behaviors from animals by consistently rewarding it.  And you get rid of negative behavior by ignoring it.  And the way to stop an animal from doing something you don't like, but it finds rewarding, is to redirect its energy to something it finds even more rewarding.  Punishments have gone out of style because they are less effective, and because they tend to kill the relationship between the trainer and the animal.

So, it looks like what works for animals could work for people as well.  I'm not surprised.  And taking my side of the analogy a step further:  if punishing an animal can kill your relationship with it, then just imagine what we do to ourselves when we punish ourselves over little things.  

Gates also talks about how he learned to redirect his energies to the positive by asking "How can I help?" instead of "What's in it for me?"  This is a great idea as well, though I suspect there are many other ways to redirect energies in a positive way.  What strikes me is that the nature of the question he decided to use seems to have determined his later direction in life.  He started asking "How can I help?" and became a teacher.  Pretty interesting.

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