Focus on effort, not talent

A recent article in Scientific American Mind, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, discusses research suggesting that it is better to praise kids for their effort than to praise them for being smart. Here are some quotes:

Hint: Don’t tell your kids that they are [smart]. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life

teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.

the most persistent students do not ruminate about their own failure much at all but instead think of mistakes as problems to be solved.

How do we transmit a growth mind-set to our children? One way is by telling stories about achievements that result from hard work.

students praised for their effort did not lose confidence when faced with the harder questions, and their performance improved markedly on the easier problems that followed.

parents and teachers can help children by providing explicit instruction regarding the mind as a learning machine.

Teaching children such information is not just a ploy to get them to study. People do differ in intelligence, talent and ability. And yet research is converging on the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what we call genius, is typically the result of years of passion and dedication and not something that flows naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and Cézanne were not simply born with talent; they cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort. Similarly, hard work and discipline contribute much more to school achievement than IQ does.

Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For instance, many young athletes value talent more than hard work and have consequently become unteachable. Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs without constant praise and encouragement to maintain their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our homes and schools, however, we will give our children the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become responsible employees and citizens.