Celebrate — Every time you fail!

high jumperOkay Debra, now you are taking this pat yourself on the back stuff a little too far! What do you mean — celebrate every time you fail?

When I first started into this field of personal development I was lucky enough to have a friend and mentor who was (and still is) one of the best in the industry. You may know that tall guy with the big teeth who does firewalks 😉  Well, back in the day he used to do a lot of personal coaching and had been called upon to work with an Olympic High Jump hopeful who was struggling badly.

Tony watched him for a few minutes and saw the pattern the young man was in which was to jump, miss the mark, come down to kicking the mat, muttering curses and generally being as frustrated and angry with himself as he could muster. Well, that makes sense as a response to “failing” right? But does it help you progress?

My friend challenged the high jumper to shift that pattern immediately. He told him that when he hit the ground he was to IMMEDIATELY jump up and CELEBRATE  for a minute, then stop and say what he had learned. The young man was very dubious about this approach and had a very difficult time with it at first but finally gave into the big guy and did it repeatedly.

Within about one hour our young high jumper had BROKEN HIS OWN RECORD! And that was the ONLY thing they did!!

Hummmm, something to think about!

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Now, Later, Never – When to Use Positive Reinforcement

0DelayPositive reinforcement can be very effective whether that means giving yourself a simple pat on the back or using some other type of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is widely accepted as a powerful method of teaching, training and building positive habits and behaviors.

But WHEN should you give it to yourself (or someone else)?

Utah State University published a behavioral guidelines checklist which confirms that  positive reinforcement is most effective when it occurs immediately after the behavior. The guidelines also recommend the reinforcement should be presented enthusiastically and should occur frequently. One of the beauties of a pat on the back (and the iPhone APP that makes it even easier) is that it can easily be done in the moment and the applause setting on the app definitely adds a fun sense of enthusiasm!

The shorter the amount of time between any behavior you want to reinforce and the subsequent positive reinforcement, the stronger the connection will be in the brain — remember the brain tells us to move TOWARD pleasure and AWAY from pain.

Delay of positive reinforcement…

If a long period of time elapses between the behavior and the positive reinforcement, the connection will be weaker from the behavior to the brain and heart. So as the delay increases, the effectiveness of the reinforcement decreases. The scary thing is that I find many people aren’t giving themselves much, if any positive reinforcement, ever – urghh! And then they wonder why they aren’t feeling motivated!

So the important message here is catch yourself (and others) engaged in behaviors you want and find lots of ways to enthusiastically reinforce them as quickly as possible.  You’ll be building connections from the behavior to the pleasure center in the brain. It just makes sense 😉

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But I Need a Kick in the Butt

kick_in_the_buttMaybe you do – I suppose we all need a swift kick once in a while but I guarantee you that a steady diet of kicks in the ass will not work!  There are two primary motivators that we all deal with which are 1) pain / consequences and 2) pleasure / rewards. Which is more powerful? Well that depends. Pain or consequences can be very powerful in getting us to start or stop something. I definitely utilize this power in my coaching but SPARINGLY!

Here’s the thing, pain works in short doses at the right time. If you are right on the edge and you want something and you are capable (whether you know it or not), then a swift dose of immediate consequence can be perfect to get yourself moving. However, if you use this tactic consistently it loses it’s power and it takes more and more pain to get you to take action and that’s a very unfulfilling and unhappy game to play in life. And unfortunately, if you consistently use negative consequences as a motivator then at some point it will likely backfire causing you to become disempowered or hopeless.

When writing my book, I Almost Missed My Life, I knew that some pain / consequences would be necessary to get me started. So I intentionally set up a consequence to get a positive result. I wrote to several people whom I greatly respected and told them I would send one “secret” (there were 52) to them each Monday morning until I finished. I know myself and I would have felt terrible to not keep my word to these people. Sometimes I found myself starting at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday night but I got it done. But I also gave myself pats on the back each time I sent a secret out!  After about seven weeks I started to get momentum and I no longer needed the “pain.”  The good feelings I gave myself for the progress started to kick in and I was able to complete the entire 52 Secrets in about four months instead of twelve.

It’s amazing to me how many people though are still stuck on kicking themselves constantly to get themselves to do what they want or for not doing what they wanted to do — in spite of the fact that it doesn’t work most of the time. Even the old adage about mother birds pushing their babies out of the nest is a myth. For example, Ornithologists have observed eagles coaxing, their young from the nest, rather than just giving them a shove. When the fledgling eagle is almost ready to fly, parents have been observed to swoop by the nest with a fresh kill. Instead of landing in the nest as usual to share the meal, the parent lands near the nest and eats in plain view of its squawking, hungry teenager. This behavior continues until the fledgling is decides to venture out of the nest, at which point the parent will share its food. REWARD!

So if you REALLY need a swift kick in the butt — go for it! But make sure you also give yourself that pat on the back when you take the action!

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The Deep Fear of Not Being Good Enough

Not Good EnoughThere are experts who propose that our two greatest fears are 1) Not being good enough and 2) Not being loved.

Really those fears are one in the same because what we’re really afraid of is that if we’re not good enough, competent enough, smart enough, “fill in the blank” enough, then we won’t be loved.

Think about this…

We are humans (big surprise right?) and as infants we depend on love, attention, and care for our physical survival.  Therefore, somewhere deep in our psyche is a fear that if we aren’t loved, we could die — overly dramatic? Maybe, but haven’t you ever noticed that the intensity of some of your fears frequently are just not supported by the reality of the situation? The girl rejects you when you ask her out, or someone doesn’t agree with your opinion, or someone simply says “no” to you —so freakin’ what? But how many of us avoid experiencing rejection at all costs? It just doesn’t make sense! Oh yeah, it actually does make sense but what to do about it.

I’m certainly not here to say that patting yourself on the back and living a strengths focused life is all there is to it but building an internal foundation of personal acknowledgement and focus on what’s RIGHT about yourself can go very far in strengthening your certainty and confidence in yourself and lessen your concern of not being enough.

Just start small with noticing. Notice ANYTIME you do something remotely in the direction of being, doing, having, creating what you truly desire and then build on that by consistently giving yourself credit / acknowledgement for whatever you noticed. Here’s a simple, personal example.

I’m not sure why but I just never was comfortable giving people compliments. I would think a nice thought about someone in my head and then not say it aloud to them. I decided I really wanted to learn and get comfortable with expressing these thoughts to people. One day (not really all that long ago — this is an ongoing habit I’m building) I went into a restaurant and the hostess was a girl of about 19 who had the most beautiful, bright face I’d seen in a long time. As she was escorting us to our table I realized what had just happened — I had had the thought and didn’t say anything. Right then I stopped and turned to her and said, “I was just thinking that you have one of the most beautiful, bright faces I’ve seen in ages. How do you do that?” She beamed even brighter and started talking about how she loved her job and was having such a good time with it and school, etc.  She felt GREAT and I felt GREAT.

I must have given myself a dozen pats on the back over the next few days for that little progress in being a person who expresses compliments to others and it just made me want to do it more! The Pat Yourself on the Back iPhone App is a great little tool for helping you acknowledge yourself but you can certainly do it on your own.

When you focus on progress, on little and big accomplishments, on what you like and / or appreciate about yourself, you will be more likely to enjoy the acceptance and love of the outside world but your fear of not having it will diminish greatly – ahhh what a relief 😉

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Are You a Closet Pessimist?

pessimistMany people I speak with think of themselves in general as optimists, however the behavior they engage in on a regular basis suggests they may really be closet pessimists.

How do you know whether you are being an optimist or a pessimist?

In a book I read eons ago called, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, the author offers a scientifically proven argument for the importance of optimism for health, happiness and success. Seligman breaks down optimism and pessimism into three general categories:

  • Permanence
  • Pervasiveness
  • Personalization – this one is most connected to Pat Yourself on the Back!


  • The pessimist views bad events or more accurately, events they don’t like as permanent. “This always happens and won’t ever change.”
  • The optimist views the same events as situational or temporary. You’ll often hear them expressing the sentiment of ‘this too shall pass.’


  • People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one area, but not in any others.
  • Optimists believe that bad events have specific causes and are compartmentalized, and that good events enhance everything they do. Pessimists believe that bad events have universal causes, and good events have specific factors.


  • People who blame themselves or who are always finding something wrong with themselves inevitably will create low self-esteem and / or unhappiness. People who blame external events preserve their self-esteem and like themselves better. 
  • Optimists internalize good events and externalize bad events. Pessimists do the opposite.

In my coaching work, I find a lot of people who have turned self-responsibility into self-blame. There is a big difference between the two. I absolutely encourage taking ownership and responsibility for our actions and for any corresponding consequences – it’s very empowering to do so. But self-blame damages your well-being and creates disempowerment and even hopelessness and depression. Where self-responsibility is empowering and focuses on a better future.

In an effort to “improve”, many people keep vigilant attention on what’s wrong with themselves – constantly identifying their own issues, what they need to change, etc. Always remember “the magic ratio,” the 5:1 of positive to negative. Be vigilant in catching yourself doing the things you like or want. When something doesn’t go the way you prefer, look at the external circumstances FIRST, then take positive ownership of your part and get on to what specific action you’ll take to correct it or if that’s not possible, what you’ll do differently in the future.

Then Pat Yourself on the Back for figuring that out 😉

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The Magic Ratio

5 to 1According to the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Daniel Kahneman, each day we experience approximately 20,000 moments — a moment being defined as the few seconds it takes our brain to process / record an experience.  We may record the moment as positive, negative or neutral however, we tend to primarily remember the positive or negative moments. How we remember these moments, the perspective we put on them dramatically affects the quality of our days, weeks, years and ultimately our life.

According to a decade of scientific study, the ratio of positive-to-negative interactions / experiences / moments we experience can be used to predict—with remarkable accuracy—everything from workplace performance to divorce. This work, which began with noted psychologist John Gottman’s exploration of positive-to-negative ratios in marriages. Using a 5:1 ratio, which Gottman dubbed ‘the magic ratio,’ he and his colleague predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce by measuring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation between each husband and wife. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed they had predicted divorce with 94 percent accuracy. 

Another example is the research of business teams by academic Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada, where they found that the factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments that the participants made to one another. The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

Let’s bring this back to YOU! What is your internal ratio of positive-to-negative comments? I work with many clients who want to feel more confident, to take more action, to enjoy life more, to create more success. And yet, their own internal ratio of positive-to-negative is slanted heavily on the side of negative. Just note that it’s virtually impossible for you to create what you really desire if you don’t shift that ratio! What’s your commitment to yourself. Do you want to be a high-performing person or a low-performing person? Do you want to be happy, strong, confident or unhappy, weak and doubtful? It’s up to you to take charge and to build the habit!

One of the purposes of the Pat Yourself on the Back App is to give you a simple tool for giving yourself more positive comments and acknowledgements. Whether you utilize the app or not, please make sure to consciously build up your internal 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative comments to YOURSELF. It will change the quality of your life experience!

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