PRAISES AND PEDESTALS
“You are so talented,” a friend said to me. Just like the proud wizards in Harry Potter, I was deluded.
By the way, we were discussing our upcoming exam and our likelihood of passing when she said that to me. At that moment, despite knowing my current academic standing, I immediately felt like, “I do not have to study, because I know it all.” I did not even thank her for the compliment. I just shook my head in acceptance: “Of course, I am a superhero!”
Not long after that, my current academic standing reminded me of the danger of basking in that delusion for too long: “If the pedestal collapses, and I am sure it will, you have little to no academic safety net to fall back on and,” like any other individuals like you, “you likely will fail.”
That last word got at me. Failure! Is it not that word in the popular saying, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail?” In this context, it turns to, “he who fails to prepare for the exam is preparing to fail.” I was preparing to fail. Just like every other human will go to any extent to avoid failing, I resonated with my reality and snapped out of my delusion. That was one of the many close shaves I have had with praises.
Am I alone in this? And was I being a proud bastard at that moment? No, I am not alone. We are all in this together. [And yes, I was being a proud bastard too]. According to the result of a social psychology research, praising abilities — intelligence, talent, etc. — will likely harm the appraised. Conversely, praising efforts will likely favor the appraised.
Carol Dweck — a psychology professor at Standford and the author of Mindset — and her students conducted studies with hundreds of students who are mostly in their early adolescence. The students were all given a set of ten fairly difficult problems from a nonverbal IQ test. Most of them did quite well, and they were praised for it.
But there is a slight difference in how they were all praised. A set of students were praised for their abilities — intelligence and talent. [Sounds familiar, right?]
The other set of students were praised for their efforts — struggle and hard work as opposed to special gifts like talent and intelligence — [and wizardry!]
After the praise, things started to change. The set of students who were praised for their abilities were now basking in the false impression that they were geniuses, and do not need to put in extra effort to achieve great feats. They were given the choice to opt for more challenging tasks, but they refused partly due to their fear of exposing their imperfections thereby putting their talents up for questioning, and partly due to their over-bloated egos.
In contrast, 90% of the effort-praised students, when offered the chance to take on more challenging tasks, opted in for it. At first, they did not do so well.
The very realization that increased difficulty means applying more effort and trying new strategies, and not outrightly backing out, is invaluable.
This, the ability-praised students did not realize. “Why should you take on more difficult tasks when you have something to lose — in this case, your pride?”
Finally, it was observed that the performance of the ability-praised students nose-dived even when given some more of the easier problems. Losing faith in their abilities, they were doing worse than when they started. The effort-praised students were performing much better. While the ability-praised students were running away from difficult tasks, the effort-praised students were honing their skills so that when they returned to the easier ones, they were way ahead.
Carol and her team concluded that, since it was kind of an IQ test, one might say that praising ability lowered the students’ IQs and that praising their efforts raised their IQs.
Now that you know how praise can affect you, how do you cope with it?
- You have to resonate with your reality. Maybe you are not that good. Or maybe you are good but still need to get your “behind” back to work.
- Request honest feedback from people who are aware of your endeavor. “As you know, I am currently doing this. In your opinion, what can I do better?” These kinds of feedback are often valid because most of the time, what we do not know about ourselves, these people know.
- Lastly, stop overly focusing on whether you are weak or strong, [a mudblood or a wizard], a success or a failure.
Start focusing on whether you are a learner or a non-learner. Start focusing on whether or not you are constantly improving.
LET’S DISCUSS: What’s your experience with praises? And what do you think about this article? To contribute, use the comment section or send me a mail at email@example.com
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