I counsel lots of people who are trying to get other people to behave differently. This may be a parent who is trying to get their kids to behave better or do their chores. It may be someone who is trying to get their spouse to treat them more with more respect. It may also be someone who is trying to change their own behavior.
Whether you’re trying to change your own behavior or someone else’s, you’ll usually get better results if you focus on rewarding or celebrating the things they are doing right rather than criticizing the things that are going wrong. For example, if your spouse is on the sloppy side and tends to leave things laying around, watch for the next time they put something away without being asked and make sure you compliment or thank them for it. For example, “I love it when I see you put things away! That’s so helpful”. I know it sounds kind of cheesy but it works. The more you do it the more likely they are to keep putting things away. Then you can start asking them to do small things and compliment that too. For example, “Can you do me a big favor and put away those tools you have on the counter”. If they do it, show appreciation.
If we try to get someone to change behavior by nagging or criticizing, they might develop a habit of doing it, but only because they think you’ll be negative if they don’t. You really don’t want your teenager to constantly remind themselves of how you’re going to complain if they don’t pick up their room. It’s better if they have the memory of you being appreciative when you walk by and notice how clean their room is and comment on how mature or responsible they are.
This works on yourself as well. If you’re trying to develop a new habit, take reading for example, try to set a time when you will read for at least a minute or two, then give yourself a mental pat on the back for doing the thing you said you were going to do. I’ve been working on this myself. I have several habits I’m trying to train myself to do. Rather than berating myself for not doing something, I focus on celebrating myself when I “do the thing”. It works. When I feel successful for doing one thing, I’m eager to keep doing it and I usually do even more constructive things while I’m in such a good mood.
Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan. He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults. He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more. For more information, please visit the website at www.turnaboutcounseling.com.