Shine the Light on What You Want to Grow
'Tis the season for manicured lawns, sprouting gardens and lush flowering trees. The beauty and color of all this new growth is a reminder to shine the light on what you want to grow. The flowers and fruits represent a job well done. In our world, however, it's easy to focus on what we do not want or what we do not have. These are weeds. Weeds grow in our gardens and proliferate without much attention or care. Even the owners of beautiful lawns can be consumed obsessively by removing weeds, insects, and debris and lose sight of the beauty already present.
Much is the same in the gardens of our self-esteem and closest relationships. We often tend more to what is not done, or what does not measure up...the weeds...then nurturing what we want to grow.
To "shine the light on what you want to grow" you must first make a shift to identifying what you do want. Often we focus on goals not met, disappointments, and shortcomings. People compare themselves to others and come up with a laundry list of what they do not have or have not done. To focus where to direct the sunlight of your attention you must first identify what you have done, what you enjoy to do, what brings you pride, pleasure, or personal excitement. Then shine the light on areas of your life where you are already doing this. Next brainstorm where you can do more of this. An example, Sherry, a 47 year-old mother of 3, resents her competitive desk job because she always longed for a more creative career. First, she can innumerate the areas of her career that do give her pride, pleasure and excitement. Next she can identify ways she can or has been creative in this position and brainstorm ways to do more of this. Lastly by keeping track of the frequency she is able to exercise her creative muscles she is relieved to discover her creative self is not lost and has truly been there all along. A flower hidden under overgrowing weeds.
The same philosophy can be used in interpersonal relationships. With our spouses and partners, weeds creep up in the form of what is missing or what is irritating. Relationships once brimming with flowers of pride and excitement for nurturing one another's interests become a breeding ground for weeds in the form of critical comments, resentments, and unsolved problems. To rejuvenate the limp limbs of once vibrant foliage you must shine the light on what you want to grow. Replace comments like "You always put your work ahead of me" (weed) with "I love it when you make reservations at our favorite place, that's very thoughtful." (flower). The shift to focus on the positive creates improvements two-fold. For one it helps the observer to see the positives already present and weigh them more accurately in relationship to the unsightly negative weeds that are likely quite small compared to what really is going on. On the other side, by shining the light on what you want more of you are helping your partner get a sense they can do something right, what they do is meaningful to you, and you help reinforce them to do more of this in the future. Growing more gorgeous flowers. Exponentially.
Likewise parents can use this same rule of thumb with their children. Although parents mean to nurture and grow the lovely flowers of their children's spirit and interests its easy to be distracted by the weeds of day-to-day cohabitation. Parents may say "Why do you always leave your bag on the ground?" or "You two fight more than any other siblings in the whole world." These are weeds. Parents can begin to see the growth of these negatives in place of all other wonderful qualities and behaviors their children demonstrate. Identify what you want your children to do and bite your tongue when you are compelled to make a comment that is sarcastic or negative to your child. Replace comments like "You two never get a long," with "I saw you give your sister your favorite toy without a fight and I really admired that." By punctuating what you want to see your child to do you are giving high quality TLC to a delicate flower rather than causing an infestation of weeds to exacerbate and spread. Your attention is the most valuable nutrient to your child's behavior. By focusing on what you want to see you rather than what you do not want you are helping teach your child appropriate behavior for your household, what expectations are meaningful to you, and valuable life skills for appropriate interactions with others. Most importantly, they will learn that focusing on giving positive feedback to others is a more effective method of interaction and problem solving than resorting to yelling, threats, and temper tantrums. What flower is more important to grow than that?
"Shine the light on what you want to grow" is a wrap from 2007 Oregon Social Learning Center/Implementation Science International, Inc.
Carrie Krawiec, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, MI. Carrie is also executive director of the Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.