The great value of Self-Control

Mikhail Nikonorov
Oct 27 · 4 min read

Did your parents praise you? Or maybe your teachers?

Mine almost never praised, only occasionally when I got good marks. More often I was punished even for average grades. My mom was very demanding and expected from me the same good results as she had at school. The school was torture for me but because she was so demanding I had to use my willpower to get good grades. Through this painful process, I earned my result, my good results and it helped me to shape my perception of myself, my self-esteem. External feedback from my mom was very helpful. One thing though I constantly heard from the teacher and my mom is that I am very capable but lazy. And it seemed to be true for me and sound good for self-esteem as it’s not about my ability but the effort. So all that I needed is to put the right effort. And that’s what I did and finished school with good grades and was really proud of it.

Years later I started to notice that parents now are praising their kids for every small accomplishment. This became even more obvious when we move to live in Europe.

Lack of critical thinking in parents made it trendy to praise everyone. The same with the teachers. Sometimes it was even hilarious. My son told me that once a teacher asked the class “what’s the capital of England?” and a boy from the class said “London!”.

The Teacher with all his emotions said “Yes!” “Let’s give him a clap!”

And just for the sake of it, everyone started clapping.

And this was a class of 10-year-old students, where such knowledge is kind of obvious in Europe.

Is it right?

Think yourself, what are the basis to praise your child? If they have objectively done good job on something (maybe compare to their previous results, or compare to the average in the class) then, yes. Well deserved. Praising, in this case, will help to continue building on this success.

I have two kids (13 and 4), I can praise and I can punish. I believe they need to learn both sides of life to succeed in their own endeavors.

I don’t want them to become narcissists, yet I also don’t want them to have low self-esteem. Instead, I want them to have high self-awareness and self-control and as a consequence of its healthy self-esteem.

They need to earn self-esteem through their internal and external work.

You can’t put the roof in the house without having a strong foundation and walls. First comes first.

Unjustified praise can harm.

THE EXPERIMENT

In order to answer this question, researchers took a group of students who recently received a C or below on their latest midterm exam and separated them into 2 groups.

1 group was given an encouraging message by the professor every week until the next exam, while the other group was given a neutral message. [1]

Surely those who receive praise and encouragement by the professor will use that boost to their self-esteem to motivate themselves. They will study harder and get a better grade on the next exam!

Nope.

To the researcher’s surprise, the students who received an encouraging message from the professor actually did worse on the next exam than those who received a neutral message!

And that wasn’t the worst part. Those who were given praise and encouragement by the professor actually did worse on the next exam than they did on the midterm!

Their scores actually decreased from an average of 59 down to 39!

So why did this happen? How could the students actually perform worse after the boost to their self-esteem?

According to Roy Baumeister — a social psychologist and one of the top researchers on the science of willpower — by sending these encouraging messages, the professor made the students feel better about their own natural abilities.

They began to believe that they were smarter than they actually were. This resulted in even less time studying for the next exam because they felt it wasn’t necessary. [3]

“After all, I’m smart, I don’t need to study! The professor even thinks so!”

In another study [2] college students who based their self-worth on academic performance did not receive higher grades despite being highly motivated and studying more hours each week than students who did not rate academic performance as important to their self-esteem. Students who based their self-worth on academic outcomes also were more likely to report conflicts with professors and greater stress. They might become anxious and distracted and threatened by feelings of failure, and, as such, their anxiety might then interfere with their memory.

Students who based their self-esteem on internal sources — such as being a virtuous person or adhering to moral standards — were found to receive higher grades and less likely to use alcohol and drugs or to develop eating disorders.

This illustrates that if people could adopt goals not focused on their own self-esteem but on something larger than their self — such as what they can create or contribute to others — than they would be less susceptible” to some of the negative effects of pursuing self-esteem

Conclusion

  1. Believe you are capable and do the real work. Apply the same for your kids.
  2. Base your self-esteem on internal measures and the real work you’ve done. Think beyond yourself and how you can contribute to the world.
  3. Don’t give unjustifiable praise.

To practice self-control check here

Bold minds

Explore the art of possible

Mikhail Nikonorov

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Writing and doing in the intersection of business, art and human behavior. Experimenting with life purpose.

Bold minds

Explore the art of possible

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