In the middle of September last year, I spent a week in the hospital, my body ravaged by the effects of multiple myeloma that had gone undiagnosed for months. Three months of chemotherapy followed.
During those three months, my oncologist encouraged me to exercise, so as to maintain my strength. My neurosurgeon, however, encouraged me to spend my days lying in bed. He was afraid that some unexpected movement my result in my becoming a paraplegic because of the damage that the cancer had done to my spine. The two physicians never gave me a mutually agreed recommendation on exercising. So, I erred on the side of caution, exercising some while spending considerable time sitting on lying down. This was easier than it might sound because the multiple myeloma, hospitalization, and chemotherapy combined to leave me in a rather weakened, exhausted condition. During those months, I lost about twenty pounds.
In December, my cancer went into remission. Kyphoplasty ended immediate concerns about becoming a paraplegic. All obstacles to exercise were removed.
The slow pace of regaining strength, mobility, and endurance has surprised and frustrated me.
In reflecting on that slow pace, and in discussing it with my physicians, I have identified several mitigating factors that help to explain the pace. First, I am in the middle of my seventh decade and the body regains what it has lost more slowly as one ages. Second, I am still taking eight different drugs daily, some of which limit my energy and increase my feelings of tiredness. Third, I do not fully appreciate just how sick I was in September and how long recovery typically requires.
On the other hand, I am regaining strength, mobility, and endurance even if it is at much slower pace than I think I should.
Thus, I have a choice. Will I be frustrated or will I be thankful? Is my incentive to continue exercising, taking the medicines designed to maximize the length of my remission, and sustaining other actions intended to promote my health and well-being found in feeling frustrated, thankful, or some combination of both?
I suspect that many other people find themselves facing similar choices, e.g., the person who wishes to lose weight but finds losing the pounds agonizingly slow or the person who desires to learn a new skill more time consuming and difficult than anticipated.
No one combination of frustration and thankfulness best suits everyone. Instead, each individual must find the best balance for her or him. Persons who would encourage that individual will maximize their support for that individual when they identify that balance and then offer both negative and positive encouragement as appropriate.
This insight has wider applicability.
Recently, I have read a couple of books about families that moved to France from the US. The authors contrasted American and French schools. American schools and youth organizations stereotypically emphasize praising everyone. For example, every child who participates in some sports receives a trophy simply for participating. Universal praise is intended to strengthen weak egos and enhance self-image. In France, teachers and other adults who work with children stereotypically offer little or no praise. Instead, these leaders provide what is intended to be constructive criticism, comments about how the child or youth might improve performance. The French contend that universal praise is meaningless and helps to prevent individuals from achieving peak results.
Probably, the optimal approach tailors positive and negative feedback to the particular character of each child or youth, offering a mixture of both positive and negative comments. The same is true of leading and managing (cf. The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson).