When Praise Creates Limits

When Praise Creates Limits

“We are an odd people,” writes Jeanette Winterson in her essay, “Art Objects”: “we make it as difficult as possible for our artists to work honestly while they are alive; either we refuse them money or we ruin them with money; either we flatter them with unhelpful praise or wound them with unhelpful blame, and when they are too old, or too dead, or too beyond dispute to hinder anymore, we canonise them, so that what was wild is tamed, what was objecting, becomes Authority.”

Unhelpful praise. Unhelpful blame. Taming what was wild. Canonizing what was objecting. It strikes me that not only do we do this to artists – we do it to ourselves and one another, almost constantly.

Praise and canonization can stunt us, convince us that there are limits to whether and how we are seen by others, and disconnect us from each other as profoundly as blame and disdain. (This is a topic on which I have much more to say – soon.)

As Carol Dweck’s research shows, the wrong kind of praise can make us risk-averse; children who are repeatedly told they’re smart develop a sense that rather than tackling difficult problems and risking failure, they are better off “look[ing] smart all the time and never look[ing] dumb.”

So here’s your curiosity experiment for this week:

  • What unhelpful praise have you received?
  • How has it held you back?
  • What less-praised aspects of you are hungry to be acknowledged?

1 Comment

  1. Ali Shapiro

    Love this Lauren! I teach growth-mindset related to food and weight. It’s one of the foundational pieces of Truce with Food.

    When people get ideas of “good” or “bad” foods in their minds, it creates a terrible downstream effect. I teach my clients to not judge themselves for bad choices but learn what happened there. What caused this? How was this helpful?

    Also interesting is Dweck noted how a fixed mindset effects relationships. Fixed mindset people think their partner will put them on a pedestal. And if there are problems, it’s a flaw, not something to work on. Growth mindset people see relationships as a vehicle to growth.

    People put their future, thinner selves on a pedestal and as it turns out, it doesn’t solve all your problems. You are still left with many internal feelings and sides of our selves that need integrated.

    So diets for me and my clients are the worst form of praise (way to stay in your points! way to cut calories! way to exercise to the point of no pain, no gain!)!


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