Life Advice: Catch People Doing Something Right

April 30, 2017
DFI Blog - Life Advice Catch People Doing Something Right

Life Advice: Catch People Doing Something Right

One of the oldest and wisest sayings I’ve learned in my career is, “Catch people doing something right, and then acknowledge it”. At first, I thought this phrase was about changing other people. The idea to me was to encourage the best in children, family friends and employees. I continue to see that this works in all aspects of life. It is a highly effective technique.

What I didn’t recognize for years was that this worn out homily also has a profound influence on the one who is catching people doing something right.

Once you start looking for what’s right in the world, it begins to change the way you look at the world around you and actually changes your brain. There is even growing evidence that these changes can be genetically passed on to your children.

Neuroscience has developed rapidly in the past few decades. What we think about how one gets a positive attitude has been enhanced.

We have always known that the more you continue to think positively the more easily those thoughts come to you. Norman Vincent Peale’s, The Power of Positive Thinking, first published in 1952, was one early and important contribution to theories about how thinking affects behavior, happiness and success.

The opposite is also true, the longer you persist at looking at things negatively the more you will see in that dim light.

Practice makes perfect. The more you do anything the easier it is do and continue to do until you tire of it.

In family relationships, we can both change our brain and our behavior by practice.

Here’s an example from my professional life. A woman came to me complaining that her children were taking their father’s “side” in the couples contentious divorce. The youngest daughter, a 12-year-old, was refusing to visit the mom and complained that her mother was abusive and drinking too much.

Investigators from the county checked the story and the kid admitted she was lying. The lie was suspected because no one, not even the dad, said mom had ever been seen to be drunken or abusive to anyone. When I discussed this with the mom, she was furious at her daughter. I would be, too.

She said she wanted to confront the daughter and ask her why she’d lied, question her motives, and generally give her a piece of her well-offended mind. It probably would also be asked, “Did your dad put you up to this?” (He didn’t). By the time she and I were done discussing this, she asked the little darling merely for an explanation. She said it something like this, “Honey, I know this divorce has been rough on us all, but I’m wondering what that last bit was all about. Can you help me understand it? I want us to stay close, but I really would like to know what that was all about.”

Rather than attacking her child and putting her on the defensive, she called upon all the good times the two of them had and asked how to get back to that. It was a long and emotional discussion. It worked.

Life Advice: Catch People Doing Something Right - Denver Family InstituteWhen this kind of struggle comes up in any relationship, think about your response at least overnight.

What is the most loving and positive thing you can say?

That’s what you use. It will change the relationship, the child and you. The thoughts of ripping them a new one are OK if you never voice it.

We have a right to be mad, but not ineffective and mean. Be Positive like these two above.

Article by Steve Litt, LCSW