Punished by Praise
The Early Achievers’ Curse When Seeking Greatness and Peak Performance
Be careful when receiving praise or when heaping it on yourself (self-talk) or others. Too much of the wrong type of praise can be counter-productive and can actually undermine your efforts to become great and achieve peak performance in your chosen field or endeavor.
This sounds counter-intuitive, you may say. Doesn’t praise help to build up your self-image and make you a stronger performer with more confidence? It is indeed a double-edged sword. Praise, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The issue is that when something comes easy to you and you hear from everyone around you things like, “Wow, you are really great at this … you’re a natural,” it tends to make you say to yourself, “You know what, they’re right; I am quite good at this”. In some cases, this leads to over-confidence and engenders a mindset that is not in touch with what it takes to become great at anything – hard work and “deliberate practice” over an extended period of time.
Based on everything I’ve seen in my own consulting, coaching and execution, there are no shortcuts to greatness, no matter the area of endeavor. You of course do have to believe that you can be successful and you have to have the willpower to make it happen, but it is very dangerous to believe that it will come too easily to you. I’ve seen it time and again, in fields as diverse as soccer, chess, mathematics, sales, entrepreneurship, art and music – the young student or adult beginner gets a lot of positive feedback early in the process of learning. They then do very well for a while and are at the “head of the class,” but then with time, they inevitably get passed by someone with less initial “talent” who wants it more and works harder and smarter to make it happen.
The other aspect of getting too much praise early is that for some, it makes them reluctant to take risks and step outside their comfort zone in the future. In order to become truly great at something, to become a true expert, you need to “take your knocks” and you need to be willing to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and then move on. However, if you really enjoy the early praise and recognition that you receive, it may make you less likely to take the necessary risks to achieve greatness in your chosen endeavor. The praise and recognition can actually become addictive and you don’t want to risk damaging your self-image by taking a chance of making a mistake or “failing”. Without the willingness to take risks, you can unknowingly place an artificial ceiling on your growth and your ability to become a master or an expert in your field. Such fear of failure can put an end to an otherwise promising “career” in anything.
So, what’s the answer? Well, it certainly isn’t excessive negativity. Nor is it ceasing to give or receive praise. Rather, when you give praise or receive it, you must include a counter-balancing reality check every time – a reminder that there is always more to learn – that no matter how good you are, there’s always room for growth. If the feedback, whether it be praise or criticism is not balanced this way, it can be very dangerous and can severely limit your potential to become great and achieve peak performance.
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.