• Ross Ritchie

It all hangs on the PEG!

We are going to start with the nucleus. The core, undeniable principle from which all things 'behaviour' flow. Understanding this one thing, if appreciated and recognised to its fullest will be empowering and transformative on its own. You will find that this principle is staggeringly simple, yet infinite in its efficacy and application. If there is a holy grail of behavioural influence, this is it.

“Why do we do anything?”

“What do you mean, why do we do anything?”

“Why do we do stuff?”

“Like what?”


“Like why did I buy this T-shirt anything?”

“Yeah ok why did you buy that T-shirt?”

“I needed a new one and I liked this one.”

“Why didn’t you wear an old one?”

“Because they’re old and I wanted to look smarter.”

“Why did you want to look smarter?”

“Well, because I feel better when I look smarter.”

“So you bought the T-shirt to feel good?”

“I guess yeah.”

“I would say that's the reason you do most things wouldn't you agree?”

“Hmm I’m not so sure, try this. Why did I give some money to a homeless person today?”

“I dunno, why did you give some money to a homeless person today?”

“Well he’s less fortunate than me and might need something to eat?”

“Why is it important that he has something to eat?”

“Well so that he can feel better.”

“Why didn’t you just walk past and keep the money for yourself?”

“I would have felt terrible, he had a little dog and everything.”

“Did you feel better by giving him some money?”

“Yes I did.”

“So you gave him some money because it made you feel good?”

“I guess I did. But I’m a good person, I don’t do everything for selfish reasons.”

“Of course not. But perhaps the definition of a good person is someone who takes pleasure in the pleasure and well-being of others?”

“That makes sense I suppose. I guess I did give that man some money because it felt good. Ok try this one..”

“Go on.”

“I think about this a lot. When I was at school, I was a bit of a bully. I used to target the same kid everyday. I would call him names and take the mickey out of the colour of his hair.”

“Ok, why did you do that?”

“I have no idea, I still feel awful about this day.”

“Why on earth would you do something that made you feel awful?”

“Well it didn’t at the time.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well as a child, I struggled with my weight. It was also a very hard time for me due to my parents getting divorced. You could say that I lacked confidence but was also very angry.”


“When I picked on that kid, I felt powerful. Seeing him suffer and feel insecure made me forget for a little while just how bad I felt about myself. You could say that I was temporarily relieved of my own misery.”

“Would you agree that feelings of power and relief when considered in isolation are positive emotions?”

“I guess they are.”

“So you bullied that child because it felt good right?”

“I did.”

This exchange is designed to illustrate that almost any action or behaviour, regardless of how destructive, insignificant or benevolent, is carried out in pursuit of a positive emotion, be it on a conscious or subconscious level. This is the principle of Positive Emotional Gain or P.E.G for short. A ‘class clown’ may experience a sense of significance, approval and attention from their peers. A defiant child may experience a sense of power and control. All of which when separated from the behaviours are positive emotions. Let’s have a look at some more PEGs.





















No doubt there are a plethora of fuzzy feelings that we don’t have labels for but this list gives us an idea of the kinds of emotions which we can collectively refer to as PEGs. Taking into consideration that PEGs are the key driver for our behaviour, the concept here is simple. Whether you are a leader attempting to change the behaviour of a team or a teacher trying to improve the behaviour of a class...If you influence the PEGs, you influence the behaviour.

This one principle is the secret to the success of the Education X coaching model. When a teacher is having difficulty with a particular group and invites me in to observe and provide feedback, I instantly don my PEG specs! What are the emotions at play in this environment and how are they being elicited by the teacher’s practice and behaviour? What PEGs are on offer here? Is there a lack of approval and attention due to the teacher’s failure to notice and acknowledge good behaviour for learning? Is there a lack of security and respect because the teacher has not yet established themselves as the leader in the environment and implemented firm boundaries? Are the students missing a sense of achievement, satisfaction and interest due to poor planning and pace? Do they lack a feeling of significance due to the teacher being too preoccupied to make them feel individually noticed and valued? Has the teacher in fact been subconsciously evaluated by their students as being devoid of any positive emotion themselves and therefore not viewed as an abundant source of PEGs with which to engage?

It’s probably about time for a dodgy metaphor. Imagine that you’re camping in a tent full of moths. Some moths might be sitting still doing nothing and many of them will be flying around aimlessly, occasionally damaging the fabric of the tent in an attempt to nourish themselves. The moment you flick on your tilley lamp however, all of the moths flutter towards it peacefully and unite around its warm glow. The aim of adopting the PEG principle is to become the tilley lamp!

The PEG principle however is not just applicable to an individual, it is applicable to an environment or institution. It is perhaps even more relevant to senior leadership. Think of a tiered water fountain. Water spouts out of the top and fills up the top tier before spilling over into the middle tier and then the bottom. PEGs work the same way, Leadership > Subject Teams > Students!

A couple of other things i’d like to quickly cover off...Does an absence of PEGs in the learning environment justify bad behaviour? No, it’s still wrong for a child to behave in an unacceptable manner. At no point in this blog will we lose sight of the fact that a child should be responsible for their behaviour. The moment we do that, well, to put it bluntly, we’re screwed. Although an absence of PEGs will never justify negative behaviour, it does go a very long way to explaining it. One thing I know for sure is that if you place a group of children in an environment where there are no PEG’s...they tend to make their own!

I’m sure that you’ve already worked out that using the PEG principle is not as simple as just running around being nice to kids. There is an important distinction between rapport and respect which we will explore further in the coming posts. Whilst a number of adults may use the PEG principle to maximise their influence, their individual behaviours and personalities will still vary to a great degree. When walking through a school you will see masters of positive emotion who range from the colourful and charismatic to the serious and stern. This is the beauty of the PEG principle, it enables you to become the most engaging and influential version of yourself.

In future blogs we will look at exactly how you can become the conductor in the orchestra of positive emotion!

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