A number of motivational psychologists have asked the same question: “Which gives better results: focusing on positives or negatives?” (Another questions they ask is “Why do people enjoy bowling?” – just kidding.)
Four researchers at the University of Wisconsin decided to find out (about focus that is). They used one of America’s most popular adult sports, bowling, to do the research. The experiment involved monitoring the scores of low-skilled bowlers in four leagues over a few months, and two leagues showed something startling. One league had been asked to track only what they did right and focus on doing those things more; another league had been asked to track only the mistakes and focus on avoiding those errors in the future. While both teams improved, the team tracking what they did right had 100 percent greater improvement than the team that was tracking its mistakes!
The researchers go on to say that when people are new at skills lots of positive feedback and ideas are the most helpful. Once someone has mastered a skill set a higher ratio of negative feedback is more helpful for improvement. In other words, keep newbies focused on how to do the skill. Distracting with too much negative takes them off course and can diminish important confidence-building.
The bottom-line is that focusing on both positives and negative are important. Both prime people. But prime well, so that they are clear about what how to do the skill well, and they motivated to keep improving. This calms the caveman and energizes the artist.
Whoop it up! Celebrate the positives. At first, only point out negatives that will make a big deal if not fixed. Then quickly get back to what is working, and what is best to do next.
Go bowl nonstop strikes!
Research Note: Kirschenbaum, D. S., A. M. Ordman, A. J. Tomarken, and R. Holtzbauer.
“Effects of Differential Self-monitoring and Level of Mastery on Sports Performance: Brain Power Bowling.” Cognitive Therapy and Research 6, no. 3 (1982): 335–42.