I know, I know, James Bond, (played by Sean Connery, the iconic “007″) insisted that his martinis be “shaken not stirred.” Actually, I like them both ways. Plus, I like them “dirty.” And our daughters, Kate and Abigail, make them to perfection. But much as I love them, I’m not actually talking about martinis. I’m talking about people.

I’ve really been struck lately by how “tough” we’ve gotten with the people in our lives – the people we work with, even the people we live with…or just hang out with. It seems to be in the air: The “shake ‘em up,” “let ‘em have it;” even “beat ‘em up” or “threaten ‘em” to scare out of them the results you want. “Getting tough” seems to be the order of the day. And to be sure, there are those who believe “fear” is the most powerful motivating force – on a sports team, a work team – even a home team. But in fact, severe criticism, continuous “negative reinforcement” and the constant fear of losing or failing will debilitate, demoralize and just plain discourage  any “player” from even getting in the game – never mind playing it for all he or she is worth. Not surprisingly, “discouragement” is the main reason for most “failures” – not only in work and sports environments but in school, especially among teenagers. If they feel they simply can’t satisfy their teachers’ or parents’ expectations, they stop trying… Sad, right? But it doesn’t have to happen – not with any of us – young or not so young.

Here’s the thing: I don’t remember a time when we so badly needed all of us – in whatever “game” we’re playing – to play big. So what do we do? It’s really not all that hard. We don’t “shake ‘em up,” we “stir ‘em up.”  Here’s how:

  • We go from asking the question, “How bad could it get?” and start asking the question, “How good could we make it?” We stop focusing on the fear of “losing” and fall in love with the joy of “winning.” Remember what Walt Disney told his team when they were building a new theme park: “Build the castle first!” Because that’s where the magic was. The castle represented the very best of who they were and what they could create together. If they had the castle to look to they could do all the hard stuff – like laying the cables in the swamps with the heat and the mosquitos. He knew if they could feel the magic, they could go the distance. Every time. So can we.
  • We remind ourselves of why we are exactly the right people at the right place, at the right time to raise the flag, take the hill, make the goal or just get it done. We take a look back at the times – as individuals or teams – we pulled it out of the fire. Or just got through it. We re-embrace our past triumphs and celebrate what we learned from our so-called failures.
  • We positively reinforce each other every single step of the way. We make as big a fuss out of our small victories as we do our big ones. It all counts. It all energizes us and propels us forward.
  • We don’t “require,” we “inspire.” People (of all ages) are so much more eager than we can imagine to play big, to bring their best selves into the game. They don’t need to be shaken up, they need to be stirred up! 

I bet every one of us has a story about how a particular person in our lives – a parent, a friend, a coach – stirred us. Maybe they helped us find something in ourselves we didn’t know we had – a talent, the courage to take a risk, to try something new, to get back into the game – or just to keep playing. And knowing that – knowing that they believed we had “the right stuff” – made all the difference. Not just for a moment, but for the long haul. Now would be a great time to thank them – or if that’s not possible – to tell somebody about them. If we spread those good stories, we can help reignite the spirit of positive reinforcement that’s so badly needed out there. Are you game?

Oh, and whatever we do, let’s remember to celebrate each other! Celebrate the little stuff and the big stuff. Celebrate early and often.

And maybe do it with a toast. Stirred not shaken?

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