I'm lucky enough to work at a company where every Wednesday, a personal trainer comes and leads a group workout. Our trainer is a feisty little Swiss woman, who for the first year of knowing me, would try to motivate me to run faster with feedback like, "Annalise stop being so lazy," or inspire me to be better at sit-ups with, "Annalise your neck looks ridiculous!! Improve your form!!" That is, until she realized that this type of shrill, negative screaming did absolutely nothing to motivate me. Instead of redoubling my efforts, I'd go get a drink of water, or break out into impromptu dance moves to help relieve the pressure of her negative feedback.
So when this weekend I was reading up on my favorite funny lady, Amy Poehler, and discovered that she hates negative exercise feedback too, I felt relieved. I always knew Amy understood me! In an interview with Ladies Home Journal, Poehler exclaimed, "Personal trainers are people who yell at you to keep pushing. I’m like, 'No, you keep pushing!' My idea of the perfect exercise class is this: The teacher gives us all a hug and goes, 'You did it! You showed up! Let’s lie down.' We all lie down and she’s like, 'How is everybody feeling?' We’re like, 'Great!' And the teacher’s like, 'Great!' Then we all get to leave 20 minutes early."
According to a study done at the University of Chicago, me and my friend Amy aren't the only ones who don't respond well to negative feedback. In fact, it may even be a sign that Amy and I are sort of new to the whole "working out" thing. The findings of the study revealed that negative feedback is only effective on those who are experts in the goals they are pursuing, while novices respond more kindly to positive feedback. The reason for this disparity is that novices often need reassurance in their commitment towards achieving a goal, whereas experts are more concerned with their progress in reaching their goal. Because experts are so focused on their progress, they are likely to see negative feedback as a sign that they need to exert more effort to reach their goal.
Thankfully, our trainer at work has now realized that I respond well to "Good job!" and "Your butt looks great!" I push myself harder when I feel like success is in my reach. Even though I now realize that this may be because I'm not the most professional exerciser, I'll still be sticking to fitness classes that keeps the positive vibes rolling.