Monday Motivation: Praising the Process

One thing I’ve noticed over my years of teaching is how quickly students get discouraged if I ask them to change the way they are dancing something and when they try it, it doesn’t work immediately. They’ll get discouraged, believe it doesn’t work, and then give up on that concept. Even if they continue “working on it”, they’ve lost heart.

I think all the dancers want to hear us tell them every class, “Wow, you are such a wonderful dancer.” But praising the person rather than the process–the hard work and effort it takes to get there–causes a full stop. It’s like the end goal has already been reached. They are wonderful, therefore what else needs to be done? When we stop viewing ourselves in a constant state of growth, then progress slows, or even stops.

While positive feedback can be a great benefit to people, it’s really important that we look at giving the right kind of positive feedback. When we praise the process instead of the person what we are ultimately doing is acknowledging the character that was developed on the way to achieving their goal. And that’s ultimately the reason why we do anything.

Below I’d like to share with you some excerpts from an article entitled Why is a Growth Mindset Required to Reach Your Potential? I will link that article down below.

If you aim to shape the attitudes and actions of other people (young and old alike), here are 4 compelling reasons you should praise the process:

Praising the Process Leads to Increased Effort and Persistence
Praising people on your team for the progress they made and for how they stayed hopeful in the face of setbacks reinforces those behaviors. Soon your whole team will look for ways to solve problems and overcome obstacles on their own. Doing the same with children helps them focus on applying more effort instead of throwing in the towel when the going gets tough. Praising the process teaches a “never give up” attitude and that perseverance pays off through prolonged effort.

Praising the Process Leads to Greater Enjoyment and Engagement
In contrast, praising only results and outcomes can teach people to overlook how they got there. Sales teams struggle with this when incentives are over-emphasized. A top performer stops producing when he has reached his quota. Teens can be the same way. They learn to take short-cuts, cut corners and give the least amount of effort as long as the assignment is turned in or the goals are met. However, praising others for their creative problem solving, critical thinking and listening to the customer’s needs focuses them on the path, not the outcome. They learn to enjoy day-to-day work, not just days when they make the sale, ship the product or hit a home run. Kids learn to enjoy learning, discovery and questioning rather than getting the grade and passing the test. Novel idea, I know.

Praising the Process Leads to Growth
High achievers focus on improvement, honing their craft and getting better. Average achievers aim to prove they have what it takes, the ability or knowhow. For the average performer, success validates what she hopes to be true about herself – she has the ability to win. But failures validate worst fears – she doesn’t have what it takes. “I’m not smart enough for this job.” Worse, she doesn’t think she has any control over her ability to learn and grow. Dweck calls this a Fixed Mindset. Praising individuals and their abilities perpetuates this and stifles the individual’s potential.

Praising the process, however, teaches team members that they are in control, that they can adapt, learn and improve. A young professional may think, “I can’t improve smart, but I can hone my ability to try hard, study, prepare and communicate better.” Praise that focuses on the strategy that led to success will pay big dividends in that individual’s future successes. Now she knows what to repeat and sustain to get results.

Praising the Process Leads to Higher Performance
Nothing worth achieving comes easy. Your organization won’t accomplish much without its share of obstacles and setbacks. Neither will your family. If a person develops persistence, is engaged and is growing (because you praised the process) it stands to reason that he will also perform at a higher level. He won’t back down from a challenge because he’s afraid to fail. Your coworker will get even better at presentations because he prepares. Your daughter will accept the challenge of an honors class. Your wife will know that you appreciate her intellect and diligence, not just her beauty. People will take risks. Those risks may carry great reward, not just around the office, but at home and on the playing field too.”

There is something ugly about the struggle–about the day to day grind of doing things we are bad at until we eventually conquer them. But nothing makes me more proud than to see a dancer not succeed the first time, yet continue time and time again until they eventually get it right. Unfortunately, most dancers don’t get to this point with something. They stop long before it. No one likes looking or feeling like a failure by repeating something they are bad at over and over again. But there is victory in this. This “ugly” process is what champions thrive on. It’s what got them the title of a champion to begin with. They were willing to do what few others are.

One thing I’m trying to emphasize with the dancers is to set a personal standard for themselves–a standard that sets the goal of giving EACH moment their very best. I can’t measure this, only they can. And their best is going to be completely unique to them and different from every other dancer in the class. If they are looking for praise from outside sources to validate what they did in class, it will prove empty. A true feeling of accomplishment will come when they feel a sense of pride in their efforts. We will definitely praise their efforts, but only they know if they could have given a little more, or pushed a little harder on their third step. And if they did, they have every right to be proud of that and view it as a success.

I really believe in quality over quantity when it comes to training for this sport. If a dancer came to class and left knowing they gave their very best, that is a success–even if it wasn’t a “great class.” They don’t need to live, breathe, sleep and eat Irish dancing to be good at it. They just need to do THEIR best in every class and training session. There will always be different variables at play. Maybe they aren’t feeling well or didn’t get enough sleep the night before, but if they do their best for that moment, with what they have to work with, it IS good enough.

I think we need to redefine the word success and encourage our dancers to develop a view of success based on their very best–not the person’s next to them. Giving something your all IS a success, even if you didn’t necessarily accomplish your goal. Instead of teaching kids that their success or failure lies in a competition placement or mastering a trick in class, we need to teach them that their real success is the hard work they put into the process.

You can read the full article here:

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