A few months back, my mother was getting up from an illness and I was helping her back on her feet walking. While walking, the step she took with her left foot was nice and steady. But the step she took with her right foot was short and to the side.
A few times I pointed out to her that her right foot is off. She felt irritated and she insisted that she was trying her best.
At one point, I switched the strategy and instead of telling her that her right foot step is off, I told her that her left foot step was perfectly straight. Same observation, but focused on positive instead of negative. I changed the criticism in compliment, sort of, with exact same message.
The change in her response was noticeable. She felt motivated by the fact that she was doing something right. And she was motivated to do more things right. Eventually indeed her right foot step improved.
It was a huge lesson for me in human psychology. When you change, your body goes through a series of states. And just to propel your body through this state transition, your mind goes through its own state transition as well. And the way you need energy to move your body, you need energy to move your mind. That mental energy comes from self-esteem, validation, feeling of appreciation and desire to get even more appreciation.
You may be able to push someone for a short term by creating strong negative energy, like fear of reprisal. But that does not work in the long term. The secret of making a long term change in behavior is to use right amount of right compliments. The person being complimented should not feel that you are faking it or you are trying to manipulate them.
Indeed my mother was using her left foot correctly. It’s just that I had trained my mind to look for the problem so much that I almost forgot that there is an area where there is no problem. It’s just the how human mind is conditioned that it is much easier to spot a problem than to spot something that is going right. Perhaps it is a survival technique. The value of spotting the problem is much more for survival than the value of spotting a good thing. It’s important to spot a dangerous thing in the jungle than to spot a good thing. That dangerous thing could be the tiger lurking behind the bushes.