Whatever You Recognize, You Increase

doing something right

When I was a little girl, my dad was in the military, so we moved several times. My dad got a new role as Chief of Surgery at Fort Leonard Wood, so we packed up and left San Francisco and moved to Waynesville, Missouri. Back then, Waynesville was a backwoods town; so much so, that when a farmer shot my dog in my front yard for chasing his cows, my dad went to the police station to report it. The police chief’s response was, “Well, I don’t see what the problem is. It wasn’t a purebred.”

As backward as the town was, the K-12 school that I went to for two years, starting in first grade, was rather progressive. It was a normal practice of teachers across the country that when you misbehaved in class, you got your name on the board. Remember that? You misbehave again and you get a check mark beside your name. Too many check marks and you go to the principal’s office.

As someone who worked as a behavioral therapist for kids with autism (back when I was studying psychology at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill), I understand that there is a problem with that system. The problem is that whatever you recognize, you increase. Whatever you draw attention to, you get more of. If you point out to your wife again and again that she is nagging you, you will get more nagging. When you are constantly telling your kid to stop doing x, y, and z, you will get more x, y, and z. If you tell yourself to stop worrying, your focus on your worry will make you worry more.

You probably remember that there were kids in your class who would act out just to get their name on the board. Just to be noticed. Being noticed for something negative was better than not being noticed at all.

The way that the little country K-12 school was progressive was that instead of training teachers to look for kids misbehaving in school, they were taught to catch us doing something right. All day long, we would be saying our pleases and thank you’s. We would open the door for our teacher, volunteer to beat the erasers, share with our classmates, sit quietly in our chairs. We would do all of this because if our teacher noticed, then we would get publicly recognized. If we were really good, we would get a sticker with a tiger cub on it that said, “I was caught being good today at school.”

Are you taking the time to catch what your people are doing right? Are you noticing when their effort improves? Do you catch it when they have their best week ever in referrals? Are you pointing out where their ratios are strong?

There are 3 things that you should be noticing: trends, ratios, and bests.


Maybe they are not leading the pack in a particular activity category. Maybe they are not even doing their best in a particular category, because they are recovering from a dip. But, you need to notice when they are trending in a good direction in a particular category.


Maybe this person does not have huge results number or activity numbers to celebrate. But, it would still make them feel good for you to recognize the fact that when they do set appointments, they stick or that they have a high closing percentage. Maybe pointing that out and challenging them might just motivate them to set more appointments or run more meetings because they know that when they do they will be successful.


Do you notice when someone has their best week ever in contacts, appointments set, referrals, or customers? When someone works hard to do better than their prior best, you better notice or they are going to stop trying. Keep a record of all personal bests so that you can help people measure themselves against themselves. This will also help prevent unhealthy comparison.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure you come into any meetings with your team members prepared to give praise. It is also a good thing to ask, “What are you most proud of this week?” or “What do you feel really good about in terms of your activity?” We want to train people to catch themselves doing things right as well. What you draw attention to, you will get more of!


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