Last weekend I was playing tennis with my son.
To get a little more oomph on the ball, he has been hitting his forehand with two hands. He’s definitely big enough now to hit it one-handed, so I decided to try to change the habit.
Me: Try hitting with one hand!
(thwack!!) (two handed forehand)
Me: That’s great! Remember, one handed!
(thwack!!!) (two handed)
Me: Good job!
(thwack!!) (two handed)
Me: Excellent. Let’s try it with one hand now…
(thwack!!) (yes, two handed again).
So, I tried another tactic.
Me: Let’s play a game. You get one point for connecting with the ball, two points for hitting it over the net with two hands, and four points for hitting it over the net with one hand.
(thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack) (ALL with one hand).
Kids are just kids, right? That’s why this works, because they love simple, arbitrary games like this…. Something like “getting more points” for doing something would never motivate an adult.
Maybe, maybe not.
Too often we attack a problem or a behavior that we want to change (in ourselves, in someone else) by taking it head on. This gets us there intellectually but not emotionally, which is why we so often fall short on making the changes we want to make. We overestimate the capacity of our logical, deductive mind to influence behavior, based on a belief system that says that our logical, deductive mind is in charge – when it really isn’t.
One other observation. While playing with my son, I started giving out “bonus” points for all sorts of things – long rallies, backhands, great gets, you name it. But even with this good intention in mind, I would occasionally hold myself back in giving out these points – based on a vague notion of being “fair” and playing by the established rules.
Talk about crazy: being stingy in giving out made-up points in a made-up game, because I wanted to be fair.
It’s almost never the wrong time to be more liberal in giving out praise, rewards, acknowledgments that people value. Yet somehow we hold back, keeping great words of encouragement to ourselves.
And so the two-handed forehands – the crutches people rely upon because they don’t know how good, strong, and capable they really are – persist.