Beware Becoming a Slave to Praise

This post has been updated and re-posted from an earlier version.
“You are such a good fencer!”
“You have a natural talent!”
“You do that so effortlessly!”
It can feel wonderful to receive praise. But these types of compliments may be programming you to avoid risk and seek approval.
Carol Dweck in her book Mindset outlines a series of studies of both adults and children that demonstrate how praising someone’s intelligence, talent, or other ‘traits’ can emphasize the end product, and skew the perception that one’s character and value are based on immutable and innate qualities rather than one’s efforts and learned traits.
Feeling that their value to others came from being perceived as smart or talented, people in these studies tended to avoid risks for fear of disappointing expectations. Whereas praise for efforts—”you must have worked hard to achieve that!”—lead people to seek out greater challenges and accept risks as part of learning.

Filtering What you Hear and Say

Giving praise is essential for helping people develop. It it is also essential that we be mindful about what we are praising so we can best emphasize the qualities that truly lead to success. And I think it’s important to be aware of how we receive praise.
In the same way that as adults we must learn to filter criticism and thicken our skin to comments that are only intended to hurt, we must also talk ourselves through the compliments we receive to make sure that we acknowledge our efforts and willingness to embrace challenge. Even when someone misses the point and compliments what they see as innate talents, it’s up to us to translate and acknowledge our efforts and hard work instead.

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