I recently pulled out The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change by Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom. I also came across this nice little piece about appreciative inquiry online.
The one anecdote that has stayed with me from when I first read the book, is how well appreciative inquiry works with young people who are failing school. In one study they sited, a three-week long summer camp was created at Shaw High School in Cleveland. 31 students attended. They all had to have failed the proficiency exam three times, have teachers who believed that they would never go to college and they had to choose to participate in the program.
During the camp, the students interviewed teachers, administrators, parents and other people who were academically successful. They asked them about how they studied and learned, what college was like and what jobs were open to them with a college education. After they completed their interviews, the students made presentations to the other people in the program and taught each other about what they had learned.
Of the 31 students who participated, 28 passed the proficiency exam at the end of the program.
It seems so obvious that people would be motivated by a positive goal (what life could be like with a college degree) rather than by a negative goal (if you study, you won't be punished and you won't fail).
We are always trying to convince someone to do something whether it is at work, at home, with family or friends, big things or small things, and most of all we are often trying to motivate ourselves. So I guess the trick when motivating yourself, or someone else, is to focus on the positive results of the change, like, if you stop smoking you'll be able to go hiking for longer without feeling tired, your skin will look better, your teeth will be whiter and you'll be able to see your grandchildren grow up, rather than, if you stop smoking, you won't get cancer.
We need to hold an image of what the best possible future looks like, and spend our time, like the young people in the study, learning everything about the circumstances that caused it, so that we are inspired by the possibility of joy, rather than the avoidance of sorrow.