Solicit the Positives


cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Emma Line

Even with having close friends and family whom suffer from depression, I don’t know that I will ever truly understand how debilitating it is unless I was to suffer it myself. What I always endeavour to do, is listen, read and educate myself as much as possible and continually develop my own well being.

In saying this, I recently watched this TED talk by Andrew Solomon; Depression, the secret we share (it is 30 mins, but well worth viewing). It reminded me that depression can strike at any time for anyone and that each individual’s experience is as unique as themselves.  It made me conscious of those I know whom suffer from depression and their loved ones and families. It also made me think about the people I work with both young and old and how we can be oblivious to much of their own secret suffering.

George Couros recently shared this HBR article When You Criticize Someone, You Make it Harder for that Person to Change which reminded me of some experiences I had many years ago.

The article addresses research conducted by Richard Boyatzis on “how coaching affects the brain differently when you focus on dreams instead of failings.”

The research suggests that when you focus on positive goals and dreams, your brain is open and ready for change whilst any focus on what is deficient will result in the shutting down of these same brain centres.

Throughout my sporting endeavours, I was fortunate to be involved with elite athlete programs where I participated in sports psychology and physiology training. One particular program I was involved in showed how this understanding of positive vs negative input can effect performance.  As my sport was basketball, the activity I was asked to perform were foul shots. I was required to shoot six rounds of foul shots (I believe each round I took 20 shots with breaks in between).  The first two rounds were under “normal” conditions. The next two rounds I wore headphones. The messages I heard during this round through the headphones, were extremely negative and included general put downs that were not specific to basketball. Things like “you always let the team down”, “you will never be successful”, “why do you even bother”. The final two rounds had me again wearing the earphones, but this time the messages were extremely positive. “You can be what you want to be”, “you will be successful”, “you can win” and so on.

The results were no surprise, my shooting percentage rapidly declined under the bombardment of negativity and increased when receiving positive messages. This experience taught myself and my peers at the time, how important it is to remain positive and maintain self-belief.

For me, the TED talk and this research article express the importance of always focussing on the positive. Not only is criticism not going to elicit change in anybody, it may be that on that day, at that moment or in that space, it may be something that has a detrimental impact on a student or an adult, greater than you will ever know.

So my takeaway is – Don’t spotlight the deficits, always focus on the hopes and dreams and work towards finding ways to achieve them!


  1. Andrea

    Your post reinforces my belief that it’s what you believe about yourself that is important BUT unfortunately negative comments can shatter that confidence. I think students need to know that you believe in their ability and the results will follow. I wrote to my students before Christmas telling them how I know they will do something wonderful. The next day many of them just smiled at me- no words spoken … but I knew and they knew. They appreciated me and I believed in them. Thank you for always making me reflect.

    • rhonimcfarlane

      Agreed, negative comments can be extremely shattering. That is not to say we shouldn’t hear what we need to work on, it’s just that the approach needs to be focussed upon what is trying to be gained. “No one wakes up in the morning looking to perform to the worst of their abilities.” – @TSNall I believe high expectations are essential; of ourselves, of our peers, of our leaders and our students. The difference between eliciting exceptional performances and not, is in the way we support and develop this. Starting with the positives is always going to be more beneficial. Not all your students will do something wonderful, that is just reality, but your model, the belief you express, the encouragement and support you give will mean they have a much greater chance! Your students are extremely lucky to have you.

  2. Luke Jay

    You’ve always had a can do optimistic attitude, I believe it is why people are drawn to you. That and the way you are always giving of yourself in all situations. The only person I have heard you ever be critical of is yourself. My only criticism is that we don’t live in the same state!

  3. Lynne Edwards

    Thank you Rhoni for your post highlighting the positive. At this time of the year, in midst of so much well publicised and inescapable community celebration, many have little to be happy about.
    This week as I embark on the later stage of volunteer telephone crisis call training, your post covered it all.
    After a full time professional career working with young people and families, I am well acquainted with the unpredictable impact of distress. Most of us have experienced our own disappointments but it is the connection with others who stand willing to generously offer understanding and care that make the difference when it matters most.
    As we move into 2014, I can only hope that we are all in a position to notice those who struggle and lend a non-judgemental hand that well understands the vagaries of human existence.

    • rhonimcfarlane

      So true Lynne. I just spent some time volunteering over the past few days and took my 13yo daughter along for a day. It is only when we can see, hear and feel the circumstances of others that we have even the slightest insight. It was heartening to talk with her as we travelled home afterwards as she recognised the pain other people experience from all walks of life and how she has greater appreciation for what she has in her health and the love and support of her family. Christmas can be a time when we become so indulged in ourselves that we forget. Thank you for sharing and have a safe and loving Christmas.

  4. Lynne Edwards

    All good wishes to you and your family, Rhoni. Our next generations are a credit to us in their understanding and ability to accept things as they are, yet to envisage potential better ways to connect and move forward.
    I’ve appreciated your online presence, having learnt much from it. Thank you. Twittering @lde164

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s