The good, the bad and the ugly. Surprising research show some praise types cause long term harm.
Praise: Everyone wants their kids to be happy and self-secure; whether you’re a parent, teacher, relative or friend, we all typically offer praise on a regular basis. There are however two forms of praise which offer radically different long term outcomes. The first comes naturally in today’s society; compliments on how smart or intelligent they are. The second is kudos for the effort they’ve put in. Studies have shown that functional intelligence goes up over time in the effort group and down in the intelligence group.
When children and adolescents are consistently praised for their intelligence, it often becomes their self-identity. The problem lies in the fact that no one can expertly or perfectly accomplish all tasks. As they inevitably run into issues they find difficult, fear of failure raises its ugly head and a pattern of avoidance develops. They feel “If I try but fail everyone will know I’m not really intelligent; they’ll be let down, disappointed or contemptuous.” Fear and shame hamper their ability to tackle challenging subjects or assignments. This can have a devastating impact on long term economic, emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction status. As this underlying fear of failure becomes entrenched and chronic, stress and anxiety levels rise and self-sabotage and procrastination may become the norm.
Those who are praised for their honest efforts regardless of how well they succeed tend to evolve a can-do attitude. They’ll face most challenges with gusto; secure in the knowledge there’s no shame in lack of perfection or even failure. The ability to face failure learn from it and move on is a critical life skill.
We all need to be able to internalize that failing or lack of perfection in a task does not equate with being a failure.
For the intelligence praise group, there are often significant health ramifications as well as emotional. It appears that the increased metabolic demands created by chronic fear, stress and struggles to move ahead despite buried negative self-protection habits, often trigger a cascade of quality of life issues. These can include a broad range of inflammatory, immune, digestive and sleep issues.
Teens and adults unfortunate enough to have been in the first group are not however doomed to a life of struggle. In my experience, resources such as the British style of EFT which concentrates on quite rapidly removing the power of negative beliefs, memories and thoughts, the Equilib Nutrient/Enzyme Protocol, physical exercise and simple meditation have had powerful normalizing effects. The fog of anxiety and hyper-reactivity to stress, sleep disorders, and the physical symptoms which are so frequently co-occurring have typically gone into remission or become much less severe. I speak also from personal experience. I was one who as a result of frequent parental assertions about my intelligence developed this chronic fear of failure with all that entailed. Ongoing use of these tools allows be to turn off the “emergency brakes” on my life.
When using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) with my clients -and me- it’s surprising how often deep fears of failure come to the surface in highly intelligent people. Because these thoughts and memories are hidden in the subconscious, they’ve been at a loss until then to explain why they kept sabotaging themselves; despite all efforts to succeed. It’s fascinating how often seemingly minor thoughts or memories lead step by step in the course of a session to exposing and rewriting powerful subconscious limiting beliefs.
Not everyone praised frequently for being smart has noticeably been affected but it’s amazing how many highly intelligent people I’ve met who are to some degree haunted by the ghosts of compliments past. For those who are so affected self-awareness and the tools to rewrite the subconscious programming can open the door to a different life.