“Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues of powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.”
It makes sense to think that someone telling you you’re good at something is going to make you happy. Who would object to being told they are handsome, smart, witty, a great athlete, etc..? I know I don’t. On the face of things, you would think such compliments would validate the effort you put into your appearance, intellect, and physical skills. In a way, they do. Someone telling you you’re smart after doing well on a test will make you feel good. You may even start to believe that you are smart. but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
A very nice and brief summing up of the new literature on this subject comes from Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in their book Nurture Shock. While what they are talking primarily about is how praise affects children, very negatively in certain cases, there is a lesson for adults.
Praise is a reward. No surprise there. The surprise comes in when you think about what you are rewarding with praise. If I praise you for being smart, I am rewarding you for a state of being that most people consider to be static. The image you have of yourself will be reinforced and become more important to you. Now you’ll want to protect it, by avoiding situations where that image could be threatened. You’ll take the easy way out.
If, on the other hand, I praise you for your effort or your decision to risk a particular technique, I am rewarding something different. You know that sometimes you put in more or less effort than other times, and I am rewarding you for your decision to put in more. If you fail, you can still reward your effort, or you can justify the failure by saying you should have put in more effort. You are not your decisions, because you can learn from them.
So, if you like my blog, please say so. Just don’t tell me I’m awesome.