Puppy training courses emphasise the importance of rewarding the behaviours that you want your dog to do more of; a focus markedly more effective than simply punishing unwanted behaviours. Once the dog has learned what’s expected, it doesn’t need a ‘treat’ every time, but an approving nod or pat will let your pet know that it’s on the right track.
Parenting courses use the same principle, highlighting how smiles, thanks and praise encourage the child to keep doing what you want and expect. They also tell us that as parents we can unwittingly reward bad behaviour, by ignoring our children when they’re being good, and giving them attention (albeit in the form of anger or yelling) only when they misbehave. Children then learn to ignore the parent who is asking them politely to tidy their room, responding only when the parent gets angry. The inevitable result: an unhappy household.
We take courses to help us with pet training and parenting because to bring out the best in our child or pet, we need to modify our own behaviour. Specifically, we need to notice, encourage and reward the things we want more of. Otherwise, our attention tends to be drawn towards the things we don’t like, and we end up accidentally amplifying them.
The same principles apply to life in general. In a relationship, remember to thank your partner for the little things they do for you. As an employer, don’t focus on the one ‘difficult’ staff member, but actively appreciate the work done by the majority. In business, take prompt action when your customers ask politely, rather than responding only to angry complainers. Lack of appreciation can lead the ideal partner, employee or customer to drift away, leaving you immersed in the conflicts that you have been focussing on.