Then today, Sheila of to Love Honor and Vacuum tweeted my attention to the article The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids. While this article is about kids, I think what it says applies to people of all ages. It fits well with my statement above, and I think we can use this with our wives to mutual benefit.
In short, the article said that praising a child for their intelligence (you’re so smart) causes problems. Kids who see themselves as very smart get easily discouraged when they have to work at something, and they can fall into the trap of not doing anything that does not come easily. As the article put it, “I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.” On the other hand, children praised for hard work, for making an effort, for doing their best, come to see effort as praiseworthy, and are thus very willing to work harder. We all tend to be addicted to praise; when praise comes from effort we are motivated to try, when praise comes from brilliant success we only try what we are sure we can accomplish with ease.
Why would you, or your bride, be any different? If praise comes from “effort” rather than “brilliant success”, won’t she be willing to work harder? If praise is based on looking smart, why try something she’s not sure she can do? Why kill herself to accomplish something if the effort is great and you may say it took her too much time or effort to do it?
Learn to praise your bride for her effort – for what she does. Commend her for hard work, for long hours, and for not giving up. Avoid saying motivation killing things like “What have you done all day”, “What do you do with our time”, “You could have done better” or “It shouldn’t have been so hard”. Look for ways to sincerely thank her for trying even when she does not succeed. When she feels like a failure, focus on her efforts.
A note to parents: I saw myself in the article – my mom was all about intelligence, and did not seem to care about effort unless it brought success. I can see how I was far less willing to make an attempt for her than for my father if there was any question about easily succeeding. I can see how it made me think everything should be easy, and that difficult things were not worth my time. I’ve had to work hard to unlearn those lessons, and to make an effort when something is difficult. If you have children, I strongly suggest you read the article and figure out ways to apply what it says to your children.