Positive and negative reinforcements

7 Apr

I promised more than a week ago to continue with blog posts about running a program and building cycles of success. I was distracted by my wife’s recent hospitalization, but here I am back at it. This blog begins with a simple question, why do you not touch the hot stove?


As an adult, your first reaction may be simply to say “because it is hot!” But that is NOT the real answer. Think back to your childhood and you’ll remember your mother or some other figure telling you not to touch the hot stove… and you’ll remember doing it anyway (some of you may even have done it a few times). You burned yourself. It hurt. It was a negative experience and as human beings we learn from experiences, both positive and negative.


Once you have considered this concept, it becomes readily apparent that an accumulation of negative experiences results in people avoiding that experience. Unfortunately, for most people, practicing martial arts and engaging in exercise becomes an accumulation of NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES. And this is why most people leave your facility (any facility) and discontinue.


The average person enters your class unlikely to achieve all the demands of the class. They don’t know how to kick, they don’t know how to punch, and it’s highly likely they are not in the best of shape. Stop and really ponder how you address these problems in your class? I have a very simply rule, the “rule of add ONE” for example. Today you can only do 3 push ups? FINE! Next time you will ONLY ADD ONE MORE PUSH UP…. yes, next class I ONLY want to see you do four push ups!!!!!


Some of you will balk at what I just said! Some of you will think I am “taking it easy” on them! But let’s be serious for a minute. If they can only do three push ups today, do you think they will be able to do ten next class? If you set an unrealistic goal, they will FAIL. Failure is a negative experience. An accumulation of negative experiences and people will not want to continue the activity. It’s common sense, which is often not all that common.

Fighting Fitness professional (Martial arts)

In contrast, set a realistic goal and you will have SUCCESS. They WILL be able to do one more push up, one more squat and one more crunch in the next class. Success and achievement are POSITIVE EXPERIENCES. Accumulations of positive experiences make human being want to repeat the process. It isn’t really rocket science, it’s just common sense…


Most martial arts programs are designed to send prospective clients running in the opposite direction. They are accumulations of uncomfortable experiences and failures, with an instructor’s negative attitude contributing to the mix. Is it any wonder 90% (or more?) of people who join traditional martial arts programs leave? We not only fail to understand what customer service experience is, we have created its polar opposite! And we’re proud of it!

Female Patient and Front Desk Clerk Smiling

Do your clients love you? Do they love the program? Do they love showing up for class? Do you and your staff smile and greet them every time they walk in the door? Do you smile and wish them a good night at the end of every class as they leave? Does your instructional staff thank them for attending class? I’d take a guess that for some of you, the answer is not only “no” but that you haven’t even considered these things before!

The choice is yours; make your program and facility a collection of either positive or negative experiences. And realize that both have very real consequences.



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