The Psychology of Encouragement: Effects on Belief & Self-Image
We often grow up with a mixture of positive and negative encouragement that shape our beliefs and efforts. Our beliefs start from a young age and evolve with our life experiences.
We may have parents, friends, or people we respect that tell us we are “talented” or “naturals.” They often do this with the best intention: to motivate us to pursue and nurture our innate abilities.
Doing this unfortunately has a counter-intuitive effect. This form of encouragement makes us think we already have all the skills we’ll ever need, and seeking to improve those skills would be seen as improving on a deficit.
You can learn more about this Ted Talk on The Power of Belief by Eduardo Briceno.
Some of us are unfortunate enough to not have encouraging support as we grow. We may share our dreams of who we want to become as we grow up, and others may tell us to “be realistic.” The more our dreams are shot down or diverted, the more we drop our bar for an aspirational dream.
Most of the people who impart our self-limiting beliefs have the best intentions. They want to protect you from disappointment and getting hurt.
The effects of this form of encouragement leads us to conform to what others consider “normal.” It causes us to lower our aspirations and expectations to what we consider to be “realistic.”
If our only goal in life is to make enough money to pay the bills, the bar is so low and achievable that it doesn’t excite us. It doesn’t make us leap out of bed, ready to pursue the opportunities we get in each day.
Let’s say your parents have ran a restaurant for the last few decades and it’s the world they know. Your friends live in the corporate world
You have high aspirations. You may want to earn a living by exploring the world. You might want to create art or music for a living. You may even want to start a business around your passion for helping people.
>Whatever you do, you want to make a massive impact on the world. You don’t want a job, you want work that you can be passionate about. The work you want to do may not immediately make money rain.
Your parents and friends might encourage you by pointing out that they see your strengths. They may tell you that you already have the talent for achieving your aspirations. As nice as the encouragement may feel, we can’t let this encouragement keep us in a place of comfort. We have to use this as fuel to keep pushing into new territory.
Your parents and friends might also influence you to shift your efforts towards something more ‘practical’ or ‘realistic.’ They may think that it simply can’t be done, because they weren’t able to do it themselves. We need to keep in mind that what others say to us are usually opinions.
We should be able to entertain the opinions of others, but also draw our own conclusions. Others tend to project their own beliefs and life experiences onto us when sharing their opinions, and we do the same with others.
Recognizing opinions as opinions are important to independent thinking. They’re are also the key to recognizing limiting beliefs; in ourselves and others.
The Results of Encouragement:
How we think and act depends on the beliefs we hold. They come from various forms of encouragement in the past, and we can choose to hold new beliefs that benefit us.
In this Ted Talk on The Power of Believing You Can Improve by Carol Dweck, she talks about encouraging the right beliefs to cultivate a growth mindset.
Having a natural ability to do something certainly helps with developing those skills. However, praising natural talent encourages people to stay in their comfort zones. It is much better to praise the process and hard work that goes into developing those abilities. It encourages people to seek effort and difficulty in order to grow.
More Reading: The Effort Effect by Marina Krakovsky [Stanford Magazine]
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