Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn't work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning. That way, their children don't have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.
The principle we're discussing
This spark will help you understand why praising effort is just as important as exhibiting effort.
Hearing “You’re so smart!” or “You’re great at that!” as a kid feels awesome, right? After all, who doesn’t want to be smart or great at something? The fact of the matter is, that feeling goes away, especially if you can’t answer a question or solve a problem or do something others can at a later time.
That’s why praising effort is so much more important. Learning to put value in trying something, even if you make a mistake, is a longer, better feeling than being told you’re smart.
Why this principle is important and matters to you
As children, we learn first from our parents, then our teachers and friends. As adults, we learn from new friends, supervisors, and colleagues. Regardless of who we’re learning from, it’s always a boost to our self-esteem when someone tells us that we’ve gotten something right.
It can be easy to hold on to hearing that you’re smart or you’re great at something, because who doesn’t like to hear those things? (We sure do.) Where we run into a problem is when that praise becomes central to who we are. After all, if you’re smart, you can do anything! If you’re good at one thing, you must be good at everything!
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. What really happens is that being smart doesn’t make everything easy. In fact, it only makes things harder when not being able to tackle something makes you feel stupid. After all, the opposite of smart is dumb, so not being able to do something when you’re smart makes you dumb—right?
(Wrong. More on that later.)
This provides practical ways to apply learnings from this Spark
Think about how you might have responded to not being able to do something if you’d previously been praised for how hard you tried or how far you came. How would that have been different for you?
When you’re praising others, avoid bringing up their intellect or talent. Instead, focus on their efforts.
An opportunity to reflect on yourself and/or your team and how you can apply these insights