Megamind: Is Praise More Powerful than Criticism?

MegamindBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

There’s an old joke that women marry men expecting they can change them, and men marry women thinking they’ll never change. Both end up disappointed.

Change is a tricky subject. How do we know if someone has truly changed? And how many times should we give a “second” chance? Should we even bother trying to help someone change?

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: We can’t change anyone, but we can be the catalyst for them wanting to change. (Click here to tweet this.)

This is exactly what happened to Megamind.

Megamind is a blue-headed alien who lands on earth as a baby after his planet is destroyed. Megamind crashes in a prison and is raised by criminals, while his nemesis (another alien baby sent from a different planet in the same destroyed galaxy) grows up in a wealthy home.

“No matter how hard I tried,” Megamind says about his school years, “I was always the odd man out. The screw-up. The black sheep. The bad boy.”

Even when he tries to do nice things for the other children, it backfires and he ends up in the corner. He decides that being bad is the one thing he’s good at.

He becomes a super-villain, and his nemesis becomes a superhero named Metro Man.

After years of battling each other, and completely by accident, Megamind manages to kill Metro Man. He takes over the city, and then…he’s bored. Without anyone to oppose him, where’s the fun in being a super-villain?

He comes up with a plan to give Metro Man’s powers to someone else and create a new hero to battle. In the process, reporter Roxanne Ritchie mistakes him for a museum curator named Bernard (thanks to a watch Megamind wears that allows him to disguise his appearance).

Roxanne and “Bernard” fall in love. As Bernard, Megamind gets told how inspiring he is, how strong and brave and funny.

Throughout his life, people lectured him about how bad he was and how he needed to change.

But he never had a chance to learn the rewards of good actions.

By loving him and showing him what life could be like if he changed, Roxanne gave Megamind the push he needed to want something different.

Megamind starts to clean up the city because he knows it will make Roxanne happy. He returns the works of art he stole. When the hero Megamind creates turns evil, Megamind finally steps up to stop him and becomes the hero himself.

Sometimes we don’t change because of the consequences of our actions. We change because we finally realize what we’re missing, and we want it more than we want to avoid the pain and struggle of changing.

I’ve been around Great Danes since I was seven years old. Danes are gluttons for attention, especially as puppies, which means that if you scold them for a bad behavior—giving them attention—they’re going to repeat that behavior any time they want your attention. If a bad behavior earns a reaction, it becomes a game for them.

So when you’re raising a Dane puppy, you have to do something that seems counterintuitive to most people. You ignore all bad behavior. No punishment. If they jump on you, you stand still, cross your arms, and turn your face away. If they chew something they shouldn’t, you distract them and hide the chewed object.

And you praise the stuffing out of them for the smallest good behavior.

Doing this hasn’t failed yet to turn out a well-behaved dog.

Dogs are very different from spouses, but perhaps the same principle applies.

What if, instead of griping and lecturing and criticizing our spouse for the things they do that we don’t like, we gave them praise and affection whenever they did something right?

Maybe you’re all better at the marriage thing than I am yet, but I know I tend to take the things my husband does right for granted. Why should I have to thank him, hug him, or praise him for doing something around the house? Isn’t that just what he’s supposed to do? So what happens is, more often than I want to admit, he only hears the negative.

Perhaps the power of praise to bring about change is highly underestimated.

Have you ever consciously or unconsciously changed your actions because of positive feedback? Parents, do you find this idea works with your children? Couples, does this work with your significant other?

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