A group of academic psychology researchers conducted a longitudinal study of children. It wasn’t long term, but did take place over a time period. They were curious about growth versus static mindset. A task was given to a group of kids. Some kids were given feedback that involved verbs—you worked well, you did your practice consistently, and so forth. Another group was given noun feedback—you are so smart, you are a good athlete, and so forth.

Later, the kids were given a similar task. The ones praised with nouns, did not perform better. The ones praised with verbs continued to improve.

I’m standing on the mezzanine at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont, IL. Soon competition at the Illinois club state finals will commence. I brought my granddaughter who made the 800 meter freestyle relay team for her club that qualified from the regional championships. There must be hundreds of young athletes here who have worked hard all season in order to qualify to be here. 

Starting at the beginning of the season when as a younger person in her age group she didn’t think she had a shot at the regionals. I told her every week, just be a little better this week than last. I praised her work. And at the end of the season she swam in eight events at the regionals. I’m sure all of the other swimmers have a similar story.

How do you feel in your professional life or your personal life? How are you treating youth or colleagues?

Maybe you see an opportunity that you can grow a little at a time. Don’t believe the media hype of overnight success. “Overnight success” almost always comes after a period of work—one percent better over time. Are you mentoring someone younger? I hope so. Don’t tell them they are great. Tell them you appreciate their hard work or willingness to learn new things. Work on your relationships at home and at work. One percent better every day.

Practice. 1% better every day. Check in at the end of a month or a year. I can tell you from personal experience—it works.

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