by Steve Wells
Did your parents or teachers ever use the words "Good girl" or "Good boy" to praise you when you did something they liked? That may have done you more harm than good. If you now find yourself procrastinating, engaging in self-sabotage, and fearful of taking on new challenges, the well-meaning praise you receive back then may be a significant part of the cause. Read on to find out how that may be so and what you can do to change it.
In our workshops on self acceptance we have often focused on the negative programming that many people receive in their childhood. This includes messages of being not smart enough, not good enough, or inadequate in various ways. Those negative messages, often delivered by significant others such as parents and teachers may become the foundations for future negative beliefs.
Applying tapping to those beliefs and the past events behind them can lead to positive shifts in self acceptance. However, it may not have occurred to you that a significant part of your lack of self acceptance and any problems you have with self sabotage and procrastination may also be due to some of the positive praise you received in your past.
A growing body of research now shows that when children and adolescents who are praised for their ability they tend to develop what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset - the belief that their ability is fixed and that their performance says something telling about that ability. As a result they tend to shy away from challenges where they are not guaranteed of success.
Ability praise vs effort praise
In research reported in Dweck's book Mindset, early adolescents who were praised for their ability subsequently rejected challenging tasks, whereas those praised for their effort took on challenging tasks. Then, when they were then given difficult tasks at which they failed, those who'd been earlier praised for their ability started to see themselves as less able, whereas those praised for their effort saw this as a learning experience not related to their intellect; they didn't see it as a failure as did the others. Even more, those praised for their ability no longer saw the tasks as fun.
They had taken on the burden of having to prove their ability.
By contrast, the effort-praised students "still loved the problems and many of them said that the hard problems were the most fun."
Finally, after the experience with difficulty, the performance of the ability-praised students plummeted, even when given more easier problems, whereas the effort-praised students showed better and better performance.
Dweck says those who develop a fixed mindset tend to display decreased levels of motivation and persistence in the face of challenges and setbacks. Whereas those who develop a growth mindset tend to have increased motivation and persistence, they know that increased effort or learning can lead to improved results.
She states: "When people believe in fixed traits, they are always in danger of being measured by a failure. It can define them in a permanent way."
In contrast, a growth mindset holds that abilities can be cultivated, that how to do it can be learned, and that failure is only a learning experience rather than a character assessment.
"When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them."
A number of additional studies have since reinforced these findings.
All of which is great if you have kids!
It means you can now start praising their effort and behaviour rather than their ability and personality!
What about YOU?
What do you do if YOU have already been programmed by such well-meaning praise to see yourself as a failure if you do badly and as a success if you do well? Then it may be high time you did some tapping on those beliefs and the past experiences where you learned them - including not just the times when you were given negative messages but also the times when you were praised for your ability.
Tapping is one way of releasing those attachments that falsely link your performance with your identity as a person.
Here are three tips for getting started:
1) Apply tapping for first-aid and in a preventative fashion whenever you have performances coming up by simply noticing any thoughts and feelings which arise and adding the tapping to them.
First aid is when you notice you are being affected, just add tapping. Preventative is where you deliberately focus on the performance and notice any negative thoughts and feelings that arise and apply tapping to them.
2) Apply tapping to any past events where you had negative messages from significant others in your life and any emotional experiences which negatively influenced your identity. Perhaps you read aloud in front of the class and stumbled over a word and the other children laughed at you or called you dumb. Or perhaps you were reprimanded by a parent for making a mistake and told that you were stupid.
Identify all of the emotionally intense parts of events like these and tap until the intensity of each has reduced and you can review the event without the same levels of emotional pain. After tapping like this and working through an event, apart from checking intensity on the overall event itself also check the level of intensity associated with any key negative messages you took from them and words such as "stupid" or "dumb". If any of this still triggers you then it's likely there are other events connected to this one that you need to find and apply tapping to.
3) Apply tapping to any positive identity or ability messages you received in your past such as "good girl" or "good boy" as well as any memories you have of situations or events where these so–called positive messages may have been delivered. This includes the reactions you saw your parents and significant others have when other people engaged in certain behaviours, positive or negative.
If you would like to go further, consider coming along to one of our self acceptance workshops where we will show you how you can unleash the energy and personal power that's been held back by your unconscious beliefs.