Birthing Babies and Running Races: Pushing Past Your Breaking Point with Positive Feedback

Birthing Babies

I’m in labor.

One nurse is holding one foot; another is holding the other. There’s a doctor in-between my legs, and my husband is at my side. (He was instructed under no uncertain circumstances to go below my knees.)

It’s time to push.  I, of course, am drugged with an epidural. They have to tell me when to push because I luckily can’t feel a thing.  I don’t know the results of my efforts, whether I’m doing it right or wrong because:

1) I can’t feel it, and
2) I can’t see far enough down to know if a baby is coming out as I push.

I’m getting no internal feedback from my body.

The nurse to the right starts to give instructions as I push. It goes something like this:

“Don’t push with your legs.” “Don’t breath like that.” “You’re leaning too far forward.” Real positive and motivating. Thanks, lady. Did I mention I can’t feel a thing? By her feedback, I was never going to get this child out.

The nurse on the left gives instructions as she watches the progress, or lack thereof, of the baby crowning, “You’re doing great, now push with your bottom.” (Sorry—this may be too graphic, but that is apparently the way you’re supposed to do it and there is no other way to put it.)

“That’s it, that’s it! Good!”  she says.

A contraction finishes. She says, “Great, now rest.  You’re doing such a good job. When the next one comes, take a deep breath and do it again. I’ll count to eight while you push, and then you take another deep breath and push again.”

I tuned out nurse to the right and focused on nurse to my left.  The instructions laced with “Don’t” weren’t helping me get the 7 lb. 2 oz. bundle of perfection out, but the positive feedback and specific instructions about how to do it were going to help me have this baby. And it worked.

The same principle applies to performing other physical feats—It’s not just for baby mamas. In fact, in a recent study How Your Thoughts Affect Your Running Efficiency, posted on Runner’s World, researchers sought to see if “enhancing expectancies” through positive feedback improved running performance.   Feedback given was something like this:

“You’re doing great. Your oxygen consumption is in the top 10th percentile for your age and gender.”

Nurse-to-my-left type feedback was given, leading to increased running efficiency as indicated by their VO2 Max.

Want to increase performance that leads to results?  Then my personal labor experience and running research suggests the following to enhance performance:

  1. Give feedback
  2. Give positive feedback (i.e., “You’re doing great!”)
  3. Give instructional feedback that helps direct efforts (i.e., “I’ll count to eight while you push, and then you take another deep breath and push again.”)

Hopefully, no one is going into labor at the office, but coaching people to optimal results necessitates continuous feedback. And positive feedback is all the better, or least that was the case for me.  My body and our baby girl thank the nurse for the positive feedback and the results it achieved.

FOT Background Check

Mary Ila Ward, SPHR, GDCF is the owner of Horizon Point Consulting, Inc. whose vision is to take people “Beyond Work” by meeting the mission to provide talent management and career coaching and consulting that leads to a passionate and productive workforce. This purpose includes helping companies develop and implement talent management systems that are grounded in organizational strategy and results. In addition, the company provides career and college coaching and career transition services to individuals as well as Career Development Facilitator Training to career development practitioners through NCDA. For more information about how the company helps take organizations and individuals “Beyond Work”, visit www.horizonpointconsulting.com or contact Mary Ila Ward at miw@horizonpointconsulting.com

2 Comments

  1. kd says:

    Mary –

    Congrads on the new addition! 2 things:

    1. I’m a big believer, as someone’s husband, in the whole “north of the equator” thing. You wrote about so I feel comfortable pitching in. That’s where guys belong in that situation.

    2. Any thoughts about feedback ratio, positive to negative, in that situation? Paul Hebert wrote about that recently, think he had 5.6 to 1. Negative feedback would have been accepted and acted on if given by the nice nurse based on the mix, right?

    KD

    Reply
  2. Kris-

    I think Paul’s ratio is a good one- I have heard 6 or 7 to 1. People need positive and negative feedback in order to direct their efforts appropriately, so I think the key is making sure the feedback does just that (#3 listed in the post). If people aren’t able to modify their behavior to produce results based on the feedback, it really isn’t helpful whether positive or negative.

    Thanks for the opportunity to guest post!

    Reply

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