We love to celebrate getting an A. We love when our kids or our team win the game. We compliment our children, offering superlatives about their beauty. Often, I hear phrases like, “She’s really smart. He’s a very good-looking boy. She is unusually talented athlete—sports come easy to her.”
In so many ways, this seems normal and innocent. Yet, it’s not nearly as innocent as it appears. Research is now quite clear that this celebration of talent or innate ability creates a misdirect that has significant consequences.
Applauding talent creates a fixed, self-limiting mindset
When we celebrate talent, the tendency is for the child to “hook” on that description as a fixed trait. For example, the child becomes an adolescent who thinks, “I’m smart. Smarter than others.”
Yet, it doesn’t’ stop there. The child has learned that being smart means I buzz through my homework quickly, with hardly anyone noticing my minimal effort. Instead, upon completion, the A+ is praised, as well as “how smart you are!”
Over time, the child learns that being smart means you put forth little effort to get amazing results. Mistakes, feedback from failure, and learning through concentrated effort are viewed as “beneath” them because such actions are reserved for the less smart kids.
Getting fixed on the idea that I am smart, or pretty, or talented can all lead down a similar path. The child is conditioned to think that he or she should be noticed and praised for talent and shouldn’t have to apply effort or vigorous work. They also learn to view mistakes as a signal of “low intellect” or “poor talent” and not something to be valued.
As time goes on, the fixed mindset wants the instant, easy result. They seek the “cheat” or the “short-cut” and the instant gratification from that. This ultimately depletes their value and their growth.
The neuroplastic brain
Research now suggests that our brains are almost infinitely capable of learning and growing. We are neurologically much more adaptable than we realized. Why? Because the brain has proven itself to have an astounding capacity to reorganize neural pathways and to create new and improved neural connections. This translates to a remarkable capacity for growth and learning.
In almost any area, studies show that our brains can learn through this reorganizing neural system. Undeveloped areas can be nurtured. Where there is an absence of any neural connections, pathways can quickly unfold with practice.
The neuroplastic brain is flexible, adaptable and capable, regardless of the apparent “innate” talent. But there is a secret, and we must realize this.
Effort is the secret— consistent, repeated effort
The brain, it seems, is very much like muscle. No matter how weak, the muscle can get stronger. Effort is the secret to developing muscle strength and stamina.
Likewise, effort is the secret to developing strength in any area touched by the brain. Effort is the secret ingredient that unlocks the key to the neuroplastic brain, and the infinitely capable body that supports it. Effort, and the feedback from effort, are like magic.
Please keep in mind: Effort does not create some magical result. Effort produces A RESULT, but not perfection. From the results of effort, we do get feedback, however. And it is this iterative, back and forth feedback from our efforts that allows for improvement.
Perhaps said differently, effort allows for learning and growth through micro moments of success and failure. To truly excel, we must come to value the feedback. We must come to value the failures as much as the successes. This ensures that we keep putting forth the secret ingredient: Effort!
Life responds to effort, not talent
Over time, in every area of life, we see wasted talent that was never developed. The problem is the absence of consistent effort. For those who excel, there is often some baseline of talent. But it is the application of effort over time that produces excellence. There are no exceptions.
Whether it’s a beautiful garden, a moving piece of music or a spelling bee champion, we find that effort is behind the astounding result life has produced. We build muscle with effort. We build skills with effort. We build businesses with effort.
Fall in love with doing your best and you will always feel good about your efforts
If we can teach our children to value effort, over the fruits of effort, an additional benefit emerges. They realize that they can always control effort. They can always control whether they give their best.
And if you consistently model your interest in effort, and praise effort, you will see that your children learn from this. They realize that learning and growth are within their control, because they can control the effort put forth. This allows for the development of self-esteem based upon doing your best. Children and adolescents can be freed from the typical comparisons that trap us in a limited and judgmental sense of esteem. This is another way in which life rewards effort.
Use these tools to point your children toward doing their best and esteeming themselves on learning from successes and failures. These are real secrets to growth and confidence, as well as success in life. Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit www.TerrificParenting.com.