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great things will happen today!
an update on the power of positive reinforcement
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

Let me get your attention for a second. Stop multitasking, take a deep breath, make sure no one is looking over your shoulder, and read these words very carefully.

You are a beautiful and talented person. You bring a sense of perspective to everything you do. And the very fact that you're sitting here now, curious about the meaning of these digital words spawned from my head just a few days before and hastily typed into my laptop then whooshed via the intricate system of pipes and ball bearings that make up the Internets to whatever delivery mechanism your eyeballs are currently fixated on, is a testament to how awesome the universe can be.

What if every day were like this? What if during every exchange you had with another human being you were reminded of what a unique and effective individual you are, that the things you're here to do are valued and appreciated? Man, what if every morning you woke up and thought to yourself "Great things will happen today!"?

I shit you not, this is the way to go.

Now, I know what you're thinking. The world doesn't work like this, Joe. We wake up every morning to the traffic reports that keep us posted on how many morons are going to be trying to keep us from getting to work on time while simultaneously trying to kill us. We'll turn on the news to realize that most people out there hate us and some are trying hard to kill us but a lot of them want our money while telling us we have to use fluorescent light bulbs all the time or the freaking planet will explode.

And oh yeah, just in case it wasn't clear, the freaking planet is, like, one cow fart away from exploding.

We'll arrive at work where we'll face the same soul-sucking repetitive tasks we did yesterday and the day before that. We'll pay too much money at a drive thru and wait way too long for fast food delivered by someone who woke up deciding that they will hate our specific guts today. Then we'll do it all again, in reverse, to get home to television so bad that when they took it away for several months to complain that they weren't getting enough money to write bad dialogue delivered woodenly, we never missed it.

So I can take my positive, coke-and-a-smile hoo-hah and cram it where, apparently, candy-scented rainbows are now springing forth.

I hear you, babe.

I'm not trying to change the world, just the way you look at it.

I've noticed a trend, and that trend scares the daylights out of me. No one appreciates anything as much as they used to, especially when "anything" is a person, and especially when it comes to that person's output.

How hard is it to say, "Nice work, slick"?

And it's not just your crotchety old boss with his damn ties with the little golf balls. It's everyone. And it's not just within the walls of the corp, it's up and down the loose lines of society.

We don't appreciate up because it's not expected of us and it'll seem condescending. We don't appreciate down because it's awkward, and if we let people think they're doing a great job, they're going to start wanting more money, or more respect, or more of our time, and we're saving those precious kind words for when it really matters, which never seems to happen. We don't appreciate sideways because we either see everyone as competition (thanks, crotchety old boss!) or, with the traffic and the news and the ice cold Whopper that never, ever looked like the picture on the menu, we're just too... damn... beat.

Look, I'm not telling you to sing and skip on your way to work. I'm not trying to start some crazy pay-it-forward metaphysical Ponzi scheme. I'm not saying give a bum a twenty. There is no quick fix, easy answer, or meme-filled 12-step program. Let's face it, if we could bottle and sell being positive, there'd be knock-offs on eBay within a week.

See, I do know how the world works.

All I'm saying is become a fan of your fellow man.

You have nothing to lose. Nothing. So what if you're seen as ambitious, even phony. The amount of goodwill you extend will overcome any foil that stands in your way. Who cares if you over inflate anyone's sense of self-worth? It's not like we're all walking around thinking about how great we are and how wonderful life is - we're all kind of starting behind the eight ball here. And sure, your target might not even deserve praise, but it just might make them do things better. And finally, worry not about the awkward twitch you might be expecting the first time you tell someone that they rock. This is a minor ailment when compared to going to bed every night feeling like the world doesn't make sense and everyone is out to get you anyway.

And I'll end it right there. Yeah, that's it. No great closer, this isn't a graduation speech -- although it could be, depending on whether or not the university in question has a reputation as a "party school."

Oh wait, I do have a kicker. It's not me. Please for the love of God don't picture me weeping into my Sleepy Time tea and banging out a total cathartic, passive-aggressive heart-tugger because one of you forgot to tell me I did a nice job on that column, that report, or that fresh coat of paint on that orphanage. I don't want to cheapen the sentiment, and furthermore if you don't know me or if you don't remember, I have an ego the size of a freight train. And it's bulletproof. Except when it isn't, but when that happens I tend to go scorched earth, not whiny column.

So, forget about me, I want you to give this a shot. Wake up tomorrow and remind yourself that great things are going to happen today. Then pay some appreciation to the first person you see -- the less you know them, the better.

If you can do that, you're a bona-fide superstar and, what's more, I'm proud of you.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


laughing in the face of death
potentially stupid, definitely necessary
by joe procopio
topic: pop culture
published: 10.3.11

a model citizen
don't hate me because i'm beautiful
by joe procopio
topic: pop culture
published: 11.1.02


james wondrack
6.2.08 @ 8:50a

Thou are that.

jeremiah sulewski
6.2.08 @ 11:08a

Nice. Too many think giving others a positive might in some way be a negative for themselves. Give John kudos and others will think more of him than me.

Time to stop being selfish and be humans. Or at least what we're meant to be.

mike julianelle
6.2.08 @ 11:21a

What is this? The Secret?

joe procopio
6.2.08 @ 11:37a

Holy smoke! That's what all those disturbing threats were about this morning.

link for those who need to look it up as I had to

jeffrey walker
6.2.08 @ 11:58a

(1) were you actually threatened? and, (2) are you looking to be John Tesh's replacement?

lucy lediaev
6.2.08 @ 2:37p

I love positive words from thoughtful human beings, BUT sometimes the use of positive reinforcers verges on the ridiculous. I go to the Curves exercise program for women. They use background music during the circuit of the machines, and a recorded voice tells you when to change machines and go to the next. Our local Curves bought a variation on the tape, which instead of saying, "Change stations now," repeated positive affiramations when it was time to change. So, instead of hearing the usual reminder to change, you heard a recording say, "You are great" or "You are successful" or "You are important," etc. I found myself talking back to the voice, saying things, like "You don't know me." Or, "No I'm not."


alex b
6.2.08 @ 5:27p

No comment. Wait a second, yes comment. :-)

sandra thompson
6.2.08 @ 7:19p

Random words of kindness. I like it. I think I'll try to do more of it. Thanks, Joe, for reminding me. BTW, y'all are wonderful. I like y'all a lot. If I actually knew you, I'l prolly love y'all, actually. (My alltime favourite film: Love, Actually.) My darling first born daughter gave me the DVD of it for my birthday. I've watched it twice since last week. I've been in a remarkaby happy state ever since. See, it really may be the little things that mean a lot.

brook dain
6.2.08 @ 9:26p

Dammit Joe.... Just when I was sitting here thinking I was a semi decent human you had to go and remind me what a schmuck I am....

tracey kelley
6.3.08 @ 7:04a

I'll bet, right now, Joe is covered in Twin glitter and My Little Pony sticker-stars.

jael mchenry
6.3.08 @ 5:59p

Nice work, slick!

(You're right, good stuff is good stuff.)

daniel castro
6.4.08 @ 4:07p

The optimism! It burns my eyes!

Having had the day from hell at work yesterday, this surely makes me feel not as homicidal anymore.

mike julianelle
6.4.08 @ 5:09p

Funny, it makes me feel MORE homicidal.

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