It’s been a decade since Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford professor of psychology, published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, forever changing how parents and teachers praise their kids. In Mindset, Dweck explained the findings of her research on motivation, learning and mastery. To recap Dweck’s discovery:
- People who believe their abilities are innate have a “fixed mindset.” These individuals often fear failure and shy away from risks and challenges.
- People who believe that they can change their abilities through hard work and perseverance have a “growth mindset.” These individuals are more resilient and, in the long run, more successful.
Praising Effort, Not Ability
Dweck emphasized that, like ability, mindset can be shaped, and that a child’s mindset comes from the way the adults around them talk about ability and accomplishment. In the wake of Dweck’s research, parents and teachers strove to change the language they used with their children.
Instead of praising ability and outcome, they learned to praise effort and improvement. For parents of my generation, telling a child, “You’re so smart!” or even “Good job!” was tantamount to using profanity. Instead, we learned to respond to a child’s every action with, “Wow, you really worked hard on that!”
What’s Missing? Strategies and Results
Dweck now says that her research is often misapplied. Valuing effort is only the beginning. While effort is important, it is not the end goal. Children need to learn to use multiple strategies in their quest for growth, and should be praised for trying something new.
Parents should praise results as well, even when imperfect. The key is to give specific praise that emphasizes new learning and growth, not just effort. You might say, “You’re not there yet, but you’re on the right track! What else could you try here?” or “Look how your work has changed since two months ago. It’s clear you’re starting to get the hang of this. What are you doing that’s working?” Learn to acknowledge the small successes on the road to each accomplishment.
Celebrating Each Step
Celebrating incremental successes comes naturally to parents and teachers who use the Tiny Habits Method. Dr. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford and creator of the Tiny Habits Method, frequently emphasizes the importance of celebrating each success.
The mental high that we experience with each accomplishment, no matter how small, contributes to what he calls “success momentum”. With every win, your sense that you can accomplish something more grows, and you become more motivated to pursue difficult goals and more confident that you will be able to achieve them.
The same thing happens for children. If they feel that only an “A” grade or a first-place ribbon mark success, they may shy away from classes and activities where they are not certain to win. However, if they have learned to celebrate each step on the road to achievement, they will take pleasure in tackling new challenges and learn to recognize their own potential for growth.
Ready to learn more about how the Tiny Habits Method can benefit you and your family? Enroll in Dr. BJ Fogg’s free 5-Day Tiny Habits program.
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