The Bulletproof Musician recently released a blog post discussing how to use “do” and “don’t” instructions. He begins with an extended description of some studies done with golfers, which ultimately showed that negative critiques are not helpful if they do not come with positive directions. This was especially true for novice golfers.

The blogger concludes that:

  1. Try to use more “do this” than “don’t do this” instructions. Especially for new students, who don’t yet have clear in their mind what to do, or how to do it. Be task-relevant and performance-enhancing in your directions.
  2. Use negative critiques sparingly, at strategic moments.

Considering this, we can think of God and the Israelites in the Bible, or Christ in the Gospels. Many people call the Bible a list of “Do not’s”, and if they take it this way, it is surely discouraging to try to follow Christ. To some degree, one might agree, as the Bible is concerned with Truth, which means singular correct answers. If the answer to a math equation is “2”, there are infinite other numbers you could give as an answer that will ALL be wrong. There are more “do not’s” in that math question than “do’s”.

Nonetheless, the Bible is not a list of “do not’s”, but lists many “do’s” as well- and all of the “do’s” are Good, and Beautiful, and meant to give us the happiest life we could have, rather than just mere “options”. Think back to the stones of remembrance in the book of Joshua. God wanted to Israelites to continue to tell the story to the generations to come of God’s faithfulness when His people entered the Promised Land. It was by keeping their eyes fixed on their good God, that they were to keep from losing track of the goal set before them- by remembering His goodness in act. Likewise, in the book of Hebrews, we are exhorted to keep our eyes “fixed on the Author and Creator of our faith, Jesus Christ…” The writer of Hebrews says “do this” instead of being hindered by distractions in life, or snared by sin. Additionally, the Bible tells us specifically that we should meditate on whatever things are true, just, noble, pure, lovely etc– that these things are to be the focus of our minds.

So why do people say the Bible is a list of “do not’s”? One possible reason, is because they don’t read the Bible. They are familiar with its reputation from other naysayers, and they take that opinion on blindly. But there are others who have read a decent amount, and still think God is just a big “NO” man- why? It is possible that the reader can hear nothing but the negative. It is possible for a prideful heart to be so enraged by what they are being told to “not do”, or to “do” that they can hear nothing else. People tend to see what they look for. If you approach the Bible with a heart that says “what’s He gonna take away from me,” or “what’s He gonna not like about me”, that’s going to affect your vision. And this is a life lesson for any student of anything.

So to add to Dr. Kageyama’s research: staying ordered in our focus doesn’t just require that the teacher/leader give us “do’s” in addition to “dont’s”, but it is the followers job to focus correctly on what has been given to them. If we are prideful, we might fixate on the critique that has damaged our pride of thinking we are better than we are. If we are selfish, we may fixate on what we are not getting, rather than what we are getting. A negative attitude from a student will result in an overwhelming fixation on the negative facts perceived. It isn’t always the teacher’s fault that the student misses all the “do’s” of instruction. Nonetheless, as Dr. Kageyama points out, a teacher must remember to make clear what the positive goal is, and do this more than reprimanding for negative failures.

Does your martial arts instructor spend more time explaining what to do, or what not to do? Are you a humble, teachable student, able to take correction, while focusing on the positive goal? In your private practice, when you are your teacher, do you spend more time in negative critiques, forgetting to keep your “eyes on the prize”? And are you humble when you take your own critiques?