It's about a habit that Bezos calls "super-important," and that he has advised over and over. In fact, he explicitly encouraged parents to "preach" it to their kids. And, as a father of four, he says it's the advice he's tried to give his own children.
Granted, I'm sometimes hesitant to repeat child-raising advice from so-called icons of entrepreneurship. There's too much opportunity to mistake correlation for causation.
If you don't know Dweck's work, she's conducted some highly compelling studies on teaching children to adopt a "growth mindset," as opposed to a "fixed mindset," and why parents should appreciate the difference.
Bezos has articulated this advice many times. As an example, I'll use his words verbatim from an awards show in Seattle in 2016. You can check out the video at the bottom of this column.
Here's what he had to say:
Take pride in your choices, not your gifts. ... This is something that's super-important for young people to understand, and for parents to preach to young people. It's really easy for a talented young person to take pride in their gifts: "I'm really athletic," or "I'm really smart," or "I'm really good at math."
That's fine. You should celebrate your gifts. You should be happy. But you can't be proud of them ... What you can be proud of is your choices.
How did you decide to use your gifts? Did you study hard? Did you work hard? Did you practice? The people who excel combine gifts and hard work, and the hard work part is a choice. You get to decide that. And that is something that when you're looking back on your life, you will be very proud of.
When you read that in a vacuum, it almost sounds like a cliché. Yep, I get it, Bezos, thanks very much: "Hard work pays off."
But, when we put Bezos's advice here up against what Dweck has been advising for years, there's almost no daylight between the two.
And the reason this even needs to be mentioned is that so many parents encourage their kids exactly the wrong way: praising gifts, instead of effort. It doesn't even have to be as explicit as, "You're so smart!" or "Of course you're good at math, you've got my genes!"
Consider these more innocuous examples:
- "What a beautiful painting you created!"
- "I'm so proud of what you did on the field today."
- "Another A+! I expect nothing less, of course!"
See what I mean? These are all nice things to say, but they don't point out that the effort, as opposed to the innate gifts bound up in their DNA, or granted by the grace of God, or however you'd like to attribute them, is what's being praised.
- "I saw how much you poured your soul into that painting; it's beautiful."
- "You played your heart out today. Amazing effort."
- "I'm so proud of your hard work: Another A+!"
In fact, Dweck found in a series of experiments that praising kids' gifts as opposed to their effort can actually lead to less effort, because children can develop a fear of failing. That encourages a fixed mindset over time, as opposed to a growth mindset.
She even says that the way mothers praise babies and preschoolers, as young as 1 to 3 years old, allowed her team to predict the children's "mindset and desire for challenge five years later."
I want to conclude this analysis with an observation, and a note of hope.
Because I've written before about Dweck's work, and almost every time I do so, I hear from readers who lament that their parents, despite the best of intentions, never learned to praise their effort instead of their innate traits.
As a result, they look back at their lives now, realizing: I've spent my entire life so far with a fixed mindset! Sometimes, they say that seems to explain a lot of things in their lives.
If that's your thought after reading this, I feel for you. But, it's never too late to understand this and develop a growth mindset.
As Bezos would put it--let's bring it back to him--it's always Day 1, for your kids, of course, but for you, too.
Here's the video of Bezos giving this advice in 2016: