Praising your kids for being "smart" might feel like the most natural thing in the world, but experts actually recommend parents avoid complimenting your child's intelligence. The reasoning behind this counterintuitive advice goes back to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's pioneering work on growth versus fixed mindsets.
People do better when they believe they have the capacity to grow rather than when they think ability is down to innate talent, Dweck discovered. Tell your kids they're smart and they may end up thinking smarts is something you either have or you don't. As a result, they may start to fear pushing their boundaries because they're worried they'll discover they're less smart than they thought they were. Instead, praise your kids' effort and they'll learn that our abilities can change in line with the work we put in.
The same, apparently, goes for resilience, according to a fascinating, quirky new study of a university marching band. The research, which was recently published in the journal Group & Organization Management and highlighted on the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog, followed the emotional ups and downs of student musicians throughout a demanding 12-week period. It discovered that mental strength is less of a fixed quantity and more of a product of circumstance and belief.
What marching band musicians can teach you about resilience
To reach that conclusion, the researchers studied the band members' personalities at the start of the study period as well as tracking both their emotional state and commitment to the band throughout the semester. Did the scientists discover that some of the students had high levels of resilience that helped them stick it out through tough periods while others were doomed to wilt under pressure from the start?
Quite the opposite.
While emotional stability was somewhat linked to lower levels of burnout, emotional exhaustion, and intention to quit the band, mostly the researchers observed that the mental strength of the musicians varied with their circumstance and length of tenure in the band (the longer they stayed, the more they risked burnout).
"The key takeaway from the results is that resilience isn't simply a case of personal character. Though emotional stability did impact how committed participants were, other factors, including how long they'd been involved in the band, also influenced these trajectories," sums up the BPS blog. "Resilience is a process, the authors say -- one that fluctuates over time rather than staying stable."
Mental strength isn't a fixed quantity.
Just like those who believe you're either smart enough or you're not are more likely to give up in the face of setbacks, those who believe some people are simply tougher than others are less likely to successfully surf the emotional ups and downs of challenging situations. This research is a happy reminder that resilience isn't a fixed quantity -- your ability to tough it out can grow over time or decline given particularly difficult circumstances.
That's as important a lesson for entrepreneurs as it is for trombonists. Believe that exhaustion and doubt are a sign of weak character and you're more likely to give up at the first hint of burnout. If instead you remember this study of stressed-out student musicians and recall that mental strength waxes and wanes for all of us, you're more likely to stick with your dreams when times get tough.