About 5 years ago I read a very interesting book called, “Mind Set: The New Psychology of Success.” Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success – a simple idea that makes all the difference. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports.
So I was very interested to read last week, on one of my favorite basketball websites, “Coaches Clipboard at: www.basketball.bc.ca, an article that referenced Carol Dweck’s work and how it relates to teaching and coaching. Carol Dweck’s work is referenced in a book by Daniel Coyle called “The Talent Code.” This excerpt is about praising children and as Mike McNeill the author of “Coaches Clipboard writes, this is an absolute must read for coaches and teachers if you are serious about motivating children to be their best.
Excerpt from “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle
The boing phenomenon can be seen most vividly in a series of experiments Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck did with four hundred New York fifth graders. The study was scientific version of the fable “The Princess and the Pea.” Its goal was to see how much a tiny signal – a signal sentence of praise – can affect performance and effort, and what kind of signal is most effective.
First, Dweck gave every child a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Afterward the researcher informed all the children of their scores, adding a single six-word sentence of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”), and half were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”).
The kids were tested a second time, but this time they were offered a choice between a harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who’d been praised for their effort chose the harder test. A majority of the kids who’d been praised for their intelligence, on the other hand, chose the easy test. Why? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote, “we tell them that’s the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.”
The third level of tests was uniformly harder; none of the kids did well. However, the two groups of kids – the praised-for-effort group and the praised-for-intelligence group – responded very differently to the situation. “(The effort group) dug in and grew very involved with the test, trying solutions, testing strategies,” Dweck said. “They later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof they weren’t smart.”
The experiment then came full circle, returning to a test of the same difficulty as the initial test. The praised-for-effort group improved their initial score by 30 percent, while the praised-for-intelligence group’s score declined by 20 percent. All because of six short words. Dweck was so surprised at the result that she reran the study five times. Each time the result was the same.
…. Several paragraphs later
When we use the term motivational language, we are generally referring to language that speaks of hopes, dreams, and affirmations (“You are the best!”). This kind of language – let’s call it high motivation – has its role. But the message from Dweck and the hotbeds is clear: high motivation is not the kind of language that ignites people. What works is precisely the opposite: not reaching up but reaching down, speaking to the ground-level effort, affirming the struggle. Dweck’s research shows that phrases like “Wow, you really tried hard,” or “Good job, dude,” motivate far better than what she calls empty praise.
From the myelin point of view, this conclusion makes sense. Praising effort works because it reflects biological reality. The truth is, skill circuits are not easy to build; deep practice requires serious effort and passionate work. The truth is, when you are starting out, you do not “play” tennis; you struggle and fight and pay attention and slowly get better. The truth is, we learn in staggering-baby steps. Effort-based language works because it speaks directly to the core of the learning experience, and when it comes to ignition, there’s nothing more powerful.