This piece by Tara Sophia Mohr got me thinking more about praise — the dark side of it, and my relationship to it.
She draws off the research of Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, research which I’ve tried to put into action as a parent: praise the effort, not the ability or the result. When you encourage effort, you’re encouraging your child to take on the next challenge. When you praise the ability (“you’re so smart!”) or result (“you won the trophy!”), it can create a fear of trying: “If I don’t get an A does it mean I’m dumb?”
What Tara artfully does is brings it back to our own work, and how a need for praise (people-pleasing) or conversely, an avoidance of praise (shying from the spotlight) — may be holding you back.
“What I know from my own journey is this: When I’m dependent on praise or desperate for it, I can’t play big. If I’m looking for other people’s approval, I can’t take creative risks, be revolutionary, or boldly tell my truth.
But the opposite is also true: If I am avoiding praise because I am uncomfortable receiving it, I also can’t play big. I won’t share my gifts fully. I’ll dim my light.
This is true of every woman. Seeking praise and avoiding it both interfere with our playing big. That’s why I’m passionate about every woman on this planet taking a good look at her relationship to praise – and becoming a little less attached to it.”
When I was growing up, praise was a mixed bag. My mom was great but let’s be honest — she predominantly praised my abilities and results; only occasionally my effort. My dad did not praise at all. Picture a hamster on a wheel, running and running, forever reaching ahead for that unattainable morsel. Or a heroin addict so desperate for a hit. And shame that I needed it so badly.
The positive side of losing your parents too soon, separate from the journey of grieving, is that you are freed from seeking their praise. At least logically, you know their praise ain’t coming anymore, and you’re on your own. You may try things you wouldn’t have felt ‘permission’ to do sooner.
And yet mindset programmed in youth may not vanish so quickly. There are days when a need for praise can feel like Whack-a-Mole. It pops up, and I have to hammer it down. Over and over. Why do I need this guy’s approval? Why does that press article make me feel good? Why am I so upset at the criticism? It can be a huge block, absorbing a lot of energy.
Mohr describes her “a-ha!” moment, which freed her up to write again:
I remember the early morning I sat at my computer in my very quiet living room – surrounded by the still darkness of 5am in November. I consciously told myself: “You are now letting go of that whole big thing of whether anyone in this world ever thinks you are a good writer. You are now doing this for you.”
That day, something major shifted. I became the authority on my work. I, not anyone else.
For me, this is a work-in-progress.
What’s your relationship to praise? Please share in the comments.