“Chances are, if you’re a successful professional today, you were a pretty bright fifth-grader.”
I just read a really interesting article from the Harvard Business Review called “The Trouble with Bright Kids.” The article concludes, based on a few recent studies, that bright children praised for their brightness may be set up for a different kind of struggle — the struggle to motivate themselves to work hard at things that aren’t easy.
Read below for the best excerpt:
The kind of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children has a major impact on the implicit beliefs we develop about our abilities — including whether we see them as innate and unchangeable, or as capable of developing through effort and practice. When we do well in school and are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever,” or “such a good student,” this kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t. The net result: when learning something new is truly difficult, smart-praise kids take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” rather than as a sign to pay attention and try harder.
Incidentally, this is particularly true for women. As young girls, they learn to self-regulate (i.e., sit still and pay attention) more quickly than boys. Consequently they are more likely to be praised for “being good,” and more likely to infer that “goodness” and “smartness” are innate qualities. In a study Dweck conducted in the 1980′s, for instance, she found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up compared to bright boys — and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses.
We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because bright kids are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be adults who are far too hard on themselves — adults who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.
Everything in this article resonated with me.
Back in elementary school I was considered a “gifted” child, and naturally I made my way through a number of honors and AP classes in middle school and high school. I especially loved English and Spanish, where I consistently ranked near the top of the class — with no extraordinary effort required.
However, I shied away from certain subjects: I dropped out of honors mathematics starting in 9th grade; I enrolled in marine biology as my third science course, instead of Bio 2AP or Chem 2AP; I dreaded P.E. and abhorred art classes since I couldn’t run fast or paint well. All of these subjects I could do. I wasn’t incapable; they just didn’t come easily to me. As a result, I believed myself to be not exceptional in any of these areas– and if that’s the case, then why go for the tougher honors classes?
I don’t think it was wrong for me to favor the subjects in which I enjoyed myself the most and excelled the greatest. But in part, my decision was motivated by the fact that these disliked subjects didn’t come naturally to me, and I wanted to work at things at which I knew I could excel. I know this is true because I loved Algebra II and marine biology, two math/science classes in which I did exceptionally well. They came easily to me.
Hmm… so what should I do now? Enroll in an art class (because I’ve always wished I could draw well, but never tried because I’m not artistically gifted)? Go for a run? 😉