Praise and Mindset

Praise is a good thing right? I don’t know about you, but I’ve always viewed praise as positive no matter what form it took. How can you go wrong complimenting someone and cheering their accomplishments? Surprisingly, we find that if not properly used, praise can create a paradox for students that results in stress, anxiety, and ultimately a fear of trying new things. Fear that we can help eliminate with some incredibly simple adjustments in our mindsets and how we praise the students in our lives.

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University did a fascinating study on how to help students tap into motivation and determination as well as embrace challenges.  Through her work, she explores what she calls the Fixed versus Growth Mindset.

Fixed Versus Growth Mindset

Simply put, a fixed mindset is the idea that we have a set level of intelligence and natural ability that will remain relatively stable throughout our lives, but is also something we can’t change or increase. A growth mindset on the other hand is the idea that natural ability and intelligence are fluid. Given enough work and effort, anyone can be awesome at anything.

When we hear a student exclaim, “I can’t,” or “I’ll never get it,” that is our cue, as adults, that the student before us is operating in a fixed mindset. The fear they are feeling is based on enormous pressure to perform and get it right, RIGHT NOW, since they have an underlying belief that talent or ability can’t be increased. Every challenge becomes a judgement on that fixed ability and thus personal identity.

Wow! I know I don’t want that for the students in my life and I’m sure you don’t either!

The key to helping students make a shift in mindset is incredibly simple.  All we need to do is make a slight adjustment so we emphasize and praise the value of effort and the belief that with enough work a future goal can be accomplished. As we do this, we release the pressure off the outcome of a challenge and place the focus and praise on putting in the work of practicing, performing, learning, etc. If ability can be improved and if talent is malleable and can be earned through effort, then motivation to keep trying in the midst of challenges becomes the most important thing. The immediate outcome holds less value as learning and process are celebrated. This sets students free!

Focus Praise on Effort, Work, and Strategy

It takes practice and awareness to consistently focus praise on effort, work and strategy instead of intelligence, natural talents or the right answer. I can share from my own experience the effort is worth the reward. When I made a shift in how I praise my kids, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off of them.  A weight I didn’t even realize was there. Suddenly a most hated instrument or class subject became a favorite . . . a mistake was a learning opportunity not a personal judgement. Learning became fun, challenges were exciting and freedom to be in process was celebrated. My kids were free to be kids.

Thanks for checking out my blog! Fixed Versus Growth Mindset is a coaching concept taught in the Academic Life Coaching 2.0 coach training course. I am an ICF certified Academic Life Coach and train youth advocates in the Academic Life Coaching 1.0 coach training program. I’m also an adoptive mom, youth advocate and a licensed therapeutic foster parent. For more information about this program for the student in your life or on how to train as a coach, please contact me here.