Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Positive Side of Negative Reinforcement

I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement being necessary for success and improvement. I of all people know how it can feel when someone rags on you too hard. I gave up writing almost all summer because a teacher read one of my books and said it sucked.

But, I was realizing while I was at the gym today that sometimes a little negative push can take you a long way as well. Especially when you are like me; uber independent, and hating to hear the words- you cant, or you shouldn't.

Let me give you my example of what I mean.

I was at the gym today. I HATE to run. I hate it as much as I hate going to the dentist, ironing, and eating green beans. But a little before my birthday my golds gym pass ran out, and seeing as I get a free pass at Throwdown gym through work, I signed up. We need the extra cash for med school apps anyways.

Throwdown gym is a UFC fighting gym. And as much as I like to watch other people box its not really my thing. (Especially since the people who take the gym classes could kill me with a look.) So whats left for me to do is...well... run. It's working out though, because I decided since I am going to run I might as well make the best of it and now I am currently training for a 5K in Novemeber, and a 10K in Spring, something I have ALWAYS wanted to do.

And as I was running at the gym today I was thinking of this kid I knew in high school. He made high school gym class a LIVING HELL for me. He was in EVERY single one of my gym classes and I loathed him. He made fun of me to my face and behind my back any time he could. Granted, I was like...40 pounds over weight my first two years of high school, but I was really fit as a Junior and Senior.

Just thinking about him pisses me off. To this day. And when I run I imagine myself getting super, super fit and going to my 10 year high school reunion looking hotter than hot and running into him. And I will say, "Oh? You work in a garage? My husband is hot and a neurosurgeon and I am writing books." And then I will punch him in the face.

Ridiculous, I know. And to be a good person I really SHOULD get over it. But for some reason, when I think of spiteing him and showing him up, I run the BEST miles I have ever run. It worked the same way in high school. My best runs were right after fights with my dad. The anger some how builds up and pounds out through my feet and when I am done, I am much more relaxed.

Another example? My senior year of high school I started out in an AP english class. I had heard rumors of this teacher being the hardest teacher in the world. But I EXCELLED in every english class, and I was determined to do so here. Our first paper I spent more than a combined 36 hours (I usually wrote A papers in 2 or 3) studying Othello and writing an essay.

To be honest, I didn't expect an A. I wanted a B, and then I could work up. When I got my paper back I had an F. Not a 58 almost D, I had like 5 out of 100. I was devastated but determined so I made and appointment and went and talked to her. When I handed her my paper, begging her to tell me how to improve she said, "Oh I remember this. Its horrible. I would be embarrassed if I were you. You could never turn this in to a college class."

I dropped her class actually a week later with my moms blessing. (You know how as Latter Day Saints we believe that you can be a god some day? My mom has reached goddess as a mortal.) The teacher made me hate the thing I was most passionate about, and an AP grade wasn't worth it. I never regretted dropping. But every time I would get a bad grade in college I would think about what she said and I would have this overwhelming angry vindictive feeling that I HAD to prove her wrong because I knew I was awesome.

I really kind of want to send her a copy of my diploma and my senior portfolio that even the hardest teacher I had in college admitted was graduate school quality. And I want to write a note that says, "You were wrong *#$%@."

Like I said- utterly ridiculous and a little immature. I'm sorry, I can't help it. But the thing is- if these people hadn't said mean things- even though it hurt a lot to hear them- I might have given up. I have had a TON of positive reinforcment from family, friends, teachers. But I think my drive to prove these others utterly wrong, and embarrass them in turn, really motivate(d/s) me.

I had a teacher my 8th grade year who totally understood this concept. At the end of the year he told our class that most kids never lived up to be what they dreamed. Kind of sad when you think about it. The world could do with more firefighters and ballerinas. We all had to make bets with him- milkshake bets- that we would be what we wanted to be. I of course betted him a chocolate shake that I would be an author someday.

And when I get discouraged, or stuck on a hard chapter in a book I am writing, I think of that bet, and I see in my mind, my first novel in print with the dedication page reading, "To Richard Voss. You owe me a chocolate milk shake."

It helps me me write more, and better every single time.


  1. And with writing like this post, I have no doubt that you will one day get your milkshake. Good luck on your training! Way to be hardcore!!!

  2. I love it! I totally do the same thing! I just talked to an advisor at BYU about getting into the nursing program and she told me flat out that I probably wouldn't be able to get in because its so competitive. I am SO determined now to get into the program. However long that takes... no one knows, but I'm going to do it dangit!

  3. Sarah I love you!!!!! I laughed and cried through your whole post because I remember and lived through them with you. I love Mr. Voss. I can't wait to buy your first book. What 10k are you running? I want to do it with you!