If you’ve ever taught kids youÂ probably alreadyÂ knowÂ that one of the best ways to improve learning is through the consistent application of honest praise. I remember onceÂ IÂ was teaching my friends kid how to answer riddles correctly, that is remember the goofy answer that she couldÂ use to then go and tell her friends. IÂ decided to do a little experiment. WhileÂ I read herÂ the riddle,Â I would completely ignoreÂ the incorrect answers as much as possible. I wouldn’t say “no,”Â nor would I make any facial expressions that indicated her answer was unacceptable. Completely neutral. WheneverÂ she gaveÂ the “correct”Â answer,Â I made sure to smile, say “good job!” and giveÂ her a good feeling. I noticed when I didÂ this, she learned rather quickly.
Then later that afternoon,Â I tried the same experiment with another kid.Â He was aboutÂ the same age, and belonged to another extended family member. It was my friends’ grandmothers eightieth birthday, so there were lotsÂ of extended families there that weekend. Anyways, whenÂ I taught the other kid the same set of riddles, I altered my ‘experiment’ just a little bit. I gave slightly less enthusiastic praise when he gave the ‘correct’ answer, and just as strong negativeÂ reinforcement when he gave the incorrect answer. It seemed to take himÂ much longer to learn the sameÂ set of simple riddles.
Now I have no idea what kindÂ of child psychological things were going on, or if this proves that girls are smarter than boys, or perhaps even that girl really liked riddles and the boyÂ thought they were really lame.Â Personally, what I believeÂ it shows is that positive reinforcement can much more power over negative reinforcement.
It was NapoleonÂ who said that “Men will die for ribbons.”Â Meaning that even in battle, men will risk their lives to be given the most positive praiseÂ imaginable (for some anyways.) Praise in front of their peers, inÂ the form of medals in reward for bravery on the battlefield. If you’re a guy, it’s hard to imagine anythingÂ more fantastic than being given public praise for bravery in fighting down an enemy. (Other thanÂ an unlimited supply of money and string free sex, butÂ that’s another blog post.)Â
One thing though, that I’ve surprised that I haven’t read more of it, is the power of self praise. I mean honest, direct, self appreciation. If you have something you want to do, and it’s a bit of a struggle, why not tell yourself, “good job?”Â You don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror, and give yourself a thumbs up and shout “Good Job!” although that would probably feel pretty good if you could get over the weirdness of it. But what happens when you do something really nice for yourself, and when you enjoy it, tell yourself you are rewarding yourself for a job well done?
And furthermore, what happens if, whenever you get a wrong answer, instead of beating yourself up, just ignore the mistake and keep plugging away?
You might just be surprised at how much more effective you become at getting the things you want in life.