If anything, the whole experience has got me thinking a little about the power of praise – something until now I've certainly taken for granted.
If you think about it, praise really has to be one of the most fundamental human desires. The desire for status, wealth, fame and success all seem to have this common denominator – the goal of achieving recognition and respect from others.
I've heard some people say that we’re currently living in an overpraised generation where too much of the wrong kind of praise may actually be a bad thing. I recently read an interesting piece of research that found when children are praised for their efforts they are more likely to choose harder tests, are more resilient to failure and setbacks, and on later tests, their marks improve. By contrast, children praised for their intelligence or natural ability, chose easier tests when given the option, are distressed by failure and actually show declines in later tests of academic performance. It seems as though praising effort gives people a variable they can control which in turn makes setbacks and criticism more constructive, less frightening things.
In the context of training, it’s safe to say that honest and sincere encouragement goes a long way. For me, there are really few things more motivating than the words "getting better" grunted approvingly from Sensei. And, while praise beyond this is seldom directed at seniors, to the awkward and self-conscious beginner, a good sensei seems to find potential and strength even more readily than he/she finds fault.
It’s amazing to see what such simple words can do. And maybe it shouldn't just be up to seniors and teachers to praise their students. I remember how in awe of my seniors I was when I started training (and still am) – though I never dared tell them so. And yet, they probably battle with their inner critics as much as the rest of us.
I wonder why praise is such a hard thing to give when it's something we all like to receive? We certainly do have to be careful with how and whom we choose to praise. Have you been affected by praise? I'd love to hear your stories.
Update: I just came across an excellent article on American Traditional on the topic of praising one's superiors (or rather not). It's worth a read.