Why It’s Time To Be A Stroke Collector

shutterstock_118891501_dogbeingcaressedMy Dad just can’t believe it. “I don’t believe it” he says exasperatedly. Then he sighs and says: “Sod’s law. Bloody sod’s law.”

If you don’t know what sod’s law is, it’s the rule that says “what can go wrong will go wrong.” It’s his favourite saying.

The thing is, I don’t believe it’s true. I think we just don’t notice the trillions of things that go right.

Think of the computer I’m using to type this in. Think of all the intricate subsystems conspiring to make this possible, the circuit board, the keys I am hitting to make the words appear, the code systems in the software that records what I type, the electricity connected via miles of power lines into my room, the way my brain asks my fingers to type and they just do. Even the fact that I am breathing in and out without thinking.

A myriad of systems and subsystems, all unsung and taken for granted, that are working and unnoticed.

Wow huh!

There’s a forum posting on the Internet debating whether we are right to clap when the aeroplane lands. “Why are you idiots clapping when the plane lands?” it asks.

Somehow, 155 tonnes of metal has been powered thousand of feet into the sky, then brought back to earth again with the delicacy of a ballerina. This is incredible right?!

If things deserve applause, this has to be one of them. But maybe the debate is indicative of how we overlook the positives.

Pity For The Positives

It’s a real pity for the positives though. Only the mistakes catch our attention. The stuff that works gets no comment or acknowledgement.

I was once told by a child psychologist that if you’re a really unhappy child, you’re better being one that is angry and causes a problem than one who is unhappy without external consequences. The world is forced to take account of the first one, but the second one tends to get ignored.

This is how it is for the things that go right too. They get no recognition.

The News is the same. For all the things that happened yesterday, the news will tell us about the bombs, the killings, the crimes, and the conflict. It never tells us of the mundane stuff that simply ticks along quite happily as usual. And why would it? It’s the news after all. And how could it? Because the mundane stuff that simply ticks along working fine as usual is everywhere! There’s too much of it to report.

Like I say, most stuff works, but so much of it works that it goes unnoticed. It’s how it is. Stuff not working (sod’s law) is very much the exception.

Skews The World

Where this becomes a problem for us is when it starts to skew our sense of the world. Where we only notice the stuff that messes up and ignore the stuff that works great.

I think this is most true when it comes to our sense of how others recognise and value us. We overlook the small regular ways that people account for us, regard us, show their appreciation of us. And by doing so, we rob ourselves of something key to our survival. Strokes.

Strokes are the various ways our existence is recognised by others.

I had to be trained to notice them when they happened, because left to my own devices, I totally missed them.

Somebody confides in me. That’s a stroke, a compliment.

Somebody offers me a lift. That’s a stroke, a compliment.

Somebody asks for my advice. That’s a stroke, a compliment.

In each case it’s another person valuing me in some way. And these strokes are crucial for our health.

This has been scientifically proven. If we are stroked positively we thrive. If we can’t get positive strokes, negative strokes are the next best. Worst is no strokes at all.

Psychologists have even identified a “stroke quotient” below which we die. It’s a big part of the reason why people who are lonely are more likely to become ill than people who are not. It is also why solitary confinement is so annhilating as a punishment.

Yet if we get strokes and miss them it’s like not having had them at all. It makes us sadder than we need to be, iller than we need to be. The strokes were there, but we screened them out.

Getting a stroke radar

How do we get them onto our radar?

At the start of last year, I made it my mission to notice the strokes I got. Here’s how.

I bought a small notebook, and every day it was my goal to record at least 3 strokes per day.

It took me a while to spot the small things that i used to overlook.

But the important thing for me was that it switched on my awareness. You know how when you buy a type of car you suddenly seem to see them everywhere when you’d never noticed them before?

Well that happens with positive recognition. My awareness switched on to start noticing them, because I was looking to find three examples a day.

I’m flicking through this old journal now. Someone asked me to meet up for a cuppa. Someone sent me some information that I needed. Someone invited me for tea. Someone asked me to go for a walk with them. Someone has been sharing a song I wrote. A client says she got a sale from the website I built her. Someone shared their relationship worries with me.

Every one of these strokes would have been missed by me. They’d have hit my stroke shield and bounced off. Not any more.

And on top of that, it was a lovely ritual before bed to recount each one in some detail in my stroke journal. It really made me happier and I felt psychologically hugged.

Doh! Look what I did!

In fact, I felt so good as a result that I….er….I stopped!

Silly aren’t I?

But it’s a common thing to do. I feel bad. So I do something in response. It works so I stop feeling bad. I conclude that I feel good now so I don’t need to do it anymore. Gradually, because I no longer do the thing that helps me feel good, I feel bad again.

So I’m starting a new Stroke Journal to collect all the moments and examples of positive regard I get each day.

Join me

Maybe you’d like to join me?

The key is to collect the small stuff too. Like when someone includes you in the office tea round. If it’s a positive recongition of the fact that you exist, write it down.

Hugs, compliments, and other forms of strokes are really important in feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance in the world. Not noticing them when we get them is a fine way to sabotage ourselves against having those good feelings.

By setting the task of collecting three examples a day and then spending the time writing about them, it will result in you being a stroke collector, someone who spots the positive recognition and who then spends a little time enjoying and reflecting on it later.

It makes life better and happier and more connected.

Let me know how you get on, and I’d especially love it if you would share some examples with me in the comments below. That way everyone learns, as I did, that even the smallest things count.

#alun parry#positive strokes#psychology#sods law


  1. Kai Andersen - February 24, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

    It’s a good point, some of us (that’s me quite often, last year was an extreme) are used to negative comments that the positive ones simply wash over us. But reflecting on last weekend, someone said to me and made sure I accepted it “You’re an essential part of this group…” it was nice little boost to be told that. Then the next day a friend said “He’s a computer whizz…” I thought wow nobody’s called me that in ages, despite the fact that in the 1980s I was considered a computer ‘whizz kid’. I most definitely needed that after being downgraded last year as an office volunteer after five years of being considered the office techie.

    But yes you’re right we don’t recognise the ‘ego boosts’, the ‘stroke’ or even the ‘pat on the head’.

    A while a go I was getting fed up with people’s impoliteness, so rather than having to put someone right, I produced something called a ‘yellow card’ yes the football analogy. It says “You’ve been given a FROWN, explaining why and the impact it had on me and possibly upon others” but then I produced something positive called a ‘SMILIE’ card which was colourful and glossy, in truth I can’t remember giving away any FROWN cards, maybe because I don’t/didn’t want to reinforce the negative, wish I’d give the woman who ‘panic buttoned’ me at my recent ATOS assessment. But it’s really so nice to award one of my ‘SMILIE’ cards. I gave one to this woman who so nicely let the guy behind me, with a single item jump the queue at the supermarket checkout, she then let me go through in spite of me saying ‘no its fine’. I went back and gave her my colourful, glossy smilie card. It is a ‘business card’ sized ‘stroke’…

  2. alunparry - February 26, 2014 @ 11:59 pm

    Hi Kai

    I love your SMILIE cards!

    I’m glad that the positive comments are seeming less likely to just wash past you, and that you’re spotting them and enjoying them too.

    How do people respond when you hand out a FROWN?

    And how do they respond when you hand out a SMILIE?


  3. Kai Andersen - February 27, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    Well I can’t recall giving out any of my ‘FROWN’ cards (not a single one in fact, because I just want to get away from such a negativity), but that was the original concept the football context of being ‘YELLOW CARDED’ then it would be a ‘RED CARD’. It was a less stressful to tell someone that they’ve been rude, impolite and most probably wrecked my day in a way the person might be made to think about their impact on ‘me’ and other people, a very general concept.

    But I really do like giving out my ‘SMILIE’ cards they’re just a nice little personalised thank you, something the person can show to someone else. The concept reminds me of the film ‘Pay It Forward’… The Yellow Cards are simply doubled sided black and white, a little tatty in truth, but the colour ones are special, pretty and glossy (laminated), something nice to keep in a purse or wallet, they were a secondary thought after the ‘YELLOW CARD’.

  4. alunparry - February 27, 2014 @ 10:05 am

    I love them Kai. They sound great.

    Gratitude is a big thing for our own emotional wellbeing. There’s tons of studies showing that gratitude makes us feel better.

    It would be lovely to hear some of the stories. Maybe a blog with the stories of the smilie, and a photo of the person who was awarded a smilie. That would be great.

    It would be a lovely thing to read each day.


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