How to be [smart, charming, fit, thin, happy...]
Put in the effort. “An overemphasis on intellect or talent — and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed — leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.” That, in a sentence, is Scientific American‘s excellent The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. It’s really some of the best life advice you can get (intelligence is just a nice case example).
The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that 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 other test group], meanwhile, focused on fixing errors and honing their skills. One [schoolchildren] advised himself: “I should slow down and try to figure this out.” Two schoolchildren were particularly inspiring. One, in the wake of difficulty, pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips and said, “I love a challenge!” The other, also confronting the hard problems, looked up at the experimenter and approvingly declared, “I was hoping this would be informative!” Predictably, the students with this attitude outperformed their cohorts in these studies. In the growth mind-set classes, students read and discussed an article entitled “You Can Grow Your Brain.” They were taught that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use and that learning prompts neurons in the brain to grow new connections. From such instruction, many students began to see themselves as agents of their own brain development. Students who had been disruptive or bored sat still and took note. One particularly unruly boy looked up during the discussion and said, “You mean I don’t have to be dumb?”
It’s a tough call, distinguishing talent from effort. Intimidation and discourage further muddle the waters. But the question is rather whether or not you want to get better. Talented or not, you will not get magically better without effort. Talented or not, you will get better with effort.
So rub your hands together, smack those lips, and join that wonderfully ridiculous schoolboy: “I love me a challenge!”