🫠 Worst compliment ever

you probably say the most damaging thing all the time

You’re so smart!

Its a compliment that’s almost always well-intended, but unfortunately can be pretty damaging.

But why?

Carol Dweck, a world renowned psychologist and researcher, spent over a decade studying the effect of praise on kids.

She and her team went to a dozen schools in New York and had 400 fifth-graders take some IQ tests (basically puzzles).

The catch was that at the end, they’d tell the child their score and give just one line of scripted praise.

  • one group was told: “you must be smart at this

  • The other group was told: “you must have worked really hard

Next, the researcher would give them a choice.

  1. Either they could take another, tougher test (they were told they’d learn a lot from it)

  2. Or they could choose to take an easier test

Who do you think was more willing to try taking the harder test?

If you guessed those who were praised for their hard work, you’re dead on. 90% of them said yes.

On the other hand, the majority of kids praised for their intelligence took the easy route and opted for the simpler test.

So what?

Kids who were told they were smart were afraid to try something they might not be good at. They believed “being smart” was something they just had, so they wanted to protect their image as being seen as smart.

If they were innately smart, it wasn’t in their control to change or improve. Trying something they could potentially fail at would be of no benefit.

Putting in effort would make them appear as no longer innately smart.

Kids who were told they worked hard believed their performance was within their control, so they saw value in trying their best at the tougher test. They thought it could help them become smarter, so they weren’t afraid to try.

It gets juicier…

Dweck’s research team did another round of IQ tests. This time, it was designed to make everyone to fail by giving them a test 2 years above their level.

It worked. Everyone failed.

But the two groups responded very differently to failure:

  • The group praised for hard work believed their failure to be the result of not focusing hard enough (notice, they saw it as something within their control). Despite it being hard and everyone failing, these kids enjoyed the challenge.

  • Sadly, those who’d been praised for their intelligence believed failing this test was evidence that they actually weren’t smart. They despised the challenge

Here’s where things get crazy…

The final round of tests were as easy as the first test.

  • those praised for effort in the beginning improved their score by a whopping 30%

  • Those praised for intelligence in the beginning had actually DROPPED their score.. by a full 20%!

Yup - those who were told they were so smart actually got WORSE by the end. By a lot.

Carol Dweck and her team went on to repeat these experiements a number of times to different age groups. They verified it’s true in both boys and girls (it’s actually even worse for girls). It even rang true in kids as young as preschool age.

Again, it’s all about helping kids (or anyone for that matter) reenforce the idea that their results are within their power.

When we just tell them they’re smart, or naturally gifted, or born great at something - it sounds nice on the surface, but ultimately kills the idea that they could ever improve.

If greatness is innate, effort is useless.

If greatness is learned, effort is invaluable.

Don’t freak out. A Columbia University study found that 85% of parents believe telling their kids they’re smart is important, so you’re not alone.

But I wouldn’t waste any time before practicing new compliments.

Whether talking to your kids, employees, friends, team members, or anyone - make an effort to compliment their effort, not their smarts.

It’ll go a long way.

The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

Carol Dweck

She woke up this morning wanting to “make a pig with paper”, so that's what we did. Despite the pig already having a tail, she wanted to crumple up a piece of paper and tape it to the belly as a tail "to make it stable". Then she wanted to color on the tail "for her friends at school." When she was done, she yelled "happy Mother's Day, it's Christmas!"