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How to transform a mindset without falling into the praise-trap

“It’s okay you failed; you put in great effort!” How many times have you heard a similar phrase? Maybe you even used it yourself in an attempt to make someone feel better. 

Failure: it kind of makes us feel uncomfortable. Like it’s a bad taboo word we are desperately trying to shy away from. 

But how many of us were born adults? How many of us had to learn everything we know, had to develop what we are capable of? All of us of course! There is not one living being on this earth that is born having everything at their disposal FROM THE GET GO. We all need to learn and grow to become who we are meant to be. And with growth comes failure. Like a baby learning to walk, we learn from falling and getting back up again. So don’t be afraid of falling!

Why praising effort is not the way

So what’s wrong with praising effort? First of all, there is a lot wrong with praise (what Chabeli?! You took it too far! You’re not telling me that telling my child she has done a ‘good job’ is wrong. But that is exactly what I’m doing). We are all conditioned to believe praising is good, since we’re just being nice. Right? But praise, although we think we’re being nice, is actually manipulation and does more harm than good. I won’t dig deeper into this topic now, but if you’re interested in learning more about this, here is a nice article to get you started.

Second, praising effort suggest that someone has put in great effort. But how should we ever know how much effort someone has put into something? What if we think that someone has worked REALLY hard, but in fact, the person in question feels like a slacker. Could have done WAY more, has a bad aftertaste, doesn’t think he/she tried her best. Who are we then to judge someone’s effort and thus feelings? It’s not on us to know what amount of effort is good or how much further someone can go. 

Third, by praising a child’s effort after failure, we implicitly give it the message that the child failed although it tried hard. It implies the child shouldn’t bother, no further action is needed. Because if you tried hard, but didn’t succeed, that must mean that you are simply not good enough. Right? 

And last: praising effort (or ability) is shallow and doesn’t provide any feedback on how to proceed after failure. It doesn’t tell anything on what went wrong (or right) and how to do better next time. It doesn’t provide any chance to grow and learn.

So okay, praising effort is out of the window then. But what should we do instead? How can we help ourself AND our kids to develop a growth mindset and don’t be afraid of failing?

The right way to transform a mindset

Photo by Alena Shekhovtcova from Pexels

Observation without judgement

The best way to start anything is with observation without judgement. Start to observe how you FEEL about failure. How you feel about starting something difficult. How you feel about persisting in the face of hardship. Maybe you need to learn some new skills, or learn more about a topic. Do it.

With kids: talk to them about it. Ask them genuine and open questions on how they feel. If they feel they tried hard enough. If they could have done something different. Ask if they know HOW to do it differently. On what area do they need to learn more, to get more knowledge and kno-how? WHO can they learn from? Reflect with them on the process. 

Sometimes we shy away from challenges because we just don’t know HOW to proceed or what we are doing wrong. Or how we actually FEEL about something. Maybe we’re not succeeding because we just don’t really want to. We don’t want to be the BEST dancer in the world, we don’t want to learn HOW to paint. We just want to do it and enjoy it. Or we are doing it because we think we have to, because it’s expected of us. Our heart is not in it, so we will never be really motivated to do better.

Express gratitude

If you have the need to express how good you feel about something someone else has done, express gratitude instead of praise. Tell your child, loved one, friend, how happy you are to receive their help. Tell them that you are grateful for having them in your life. Say “thank you for your drawing, so nice of you to make this for me” instead of “what a beautiful drawing” or “you’re such a great artist”. Or use the drawing as a way to start a conversation and connect: “thank you for this. Do you want to tell me something about what you’ve drawn?” or “What made you think of me? It makes me happy knowing I was in your thoughts.” Of course, this are all just examples. The point is, expressing genuine gratitude and interest in the other person contributes to amazing connections and will make both of you feel really good about yourself and the other.

Take a moment to FEEL

Pausing to think, feel and talk about it, pausing to reflect on our journey and destination, will help us get to our REAL destination and reach our TRUE goals. And more importantly, we’ll FEEL GOOD about it. It’ll feel like we really accomplished something. We’ll feel we really worked hard on something we ACTUALLY want. And when we get there? Oh my goodness, it will feel AMAZING! It will feel like we’ve come home. And that, my friend, is the true reward of anything in life. No praise of anyone will ever be as good as that!

Now, we like to know what you think! Please share your thoughts, insights, comments below so we can all keep learning from each other.

Wishing you an amazing week full of wonderful failures and growth 🙂

Much love and wisdom,


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