Why Is it So Hard to Pick up the Green Marker?

· March 14, 2019
Using the green marker to praise isn't as easy as focusing on the mistakes with the red marker, but is this the best way to improve yourself?

The tendency we all have to focus on our mistakes is quite sad. This tendency is characterized by the temptation to punish and torment ourselves with our past failures. We ruminate over them, curling up into a ball while tasting their bitterness. It’s like garlic that burns to a crisp in the pan. We mark up our papers with red ink and forget to use the green marker.

This tendency makes us turn the smallest of mistakes into the worst murders, the most severe violations, and the ultimate proof of our incompetence. We brandish that whip, so skillful at inflicting punishment on both ourselves and others. And we do this only to later try to cure the wounds with our own unskilled hands. Those unskilled hands refuse to follow any method other than what society teaches us.

A lot of people out there are experts at torturing themselves, in private as well as in public. At school, they don’t teach you how to channel your emotions so that they work in your favor, but they do use the red marker instead of the green marker. They notice the failures, not the achievements.

The green marker during childhood

Teachers demand the attention of their students on those points where they tend to make errors. If you’re no good at math and you fail your math course, you’ll probably spend your summer solving problems. English or other subjects fall by the wayside. After all, you’ve passed those.

I’ve been a student. Now I’m a teacher. Along the way, I’ve encountered hundreds of corrected exams where the only things that were clearly marked were mistakes. It could have been an otherwise flawless, well-reasoned, or hearty answer. Yet above all, what shines out like the moon in the night sky is a small spelling mistake, an error in the units, or a flipped sign.

A boy feeling guilty because he underperformed.

The green marker is an attitude

This is how your shortcomings condition you. The idea is to plug the holes the water’s leaking from. The alternative is a more attractive and stimulating learning method. In this one, you highlight the achievements, the improvements, and the results of your effort. These are traditionally marked with a green marker. That’s why we’re talking about the difference between the red marker and the green marker.

Because all of us, regardless of whether we correct actual exams or not, use them. You get home and see that your partner has cooked you a nice meal and they’ve cleaned the house, but that they forgot to make the bed. What would you say? What would you notice the most? Whether the glass is half full or half empty isn’t just a matter of pessimism or optimism. Instead, it’s the filter you have in everything you see. They’re the reins by which you maneuver the horse.

Adults also use these markers on other adults. The important thing is to watch which one you use more with other people, and which one you use on yourself. Do you end your day thinking about that data that didn’t fall in line with your department’s economic forecasts? Or do you notice how your knee pain has disappeared thanks to the exercise you’ve been doing for the last few days?

These hands represent the positivity of the green marker.

Red ink and green ink say a lot about how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. You might think that generosity is a great value, for example, but you might not practice it much yourself. You might admire people who motivate and comfort others – so what’s so hard about doing it yourself? Why is it so hard to pick up the green marker and so easy to overuse the red one?