Focus on Effort Not Achievement To Raise Successful Kids

We can learn much from the overlap between different elements of life. Lessons from goal setting and the resulting accomplishments aren’t just for performers at the top of their fields, they’re also for children on their path to independence and the parents who guide them.

Research in the field of pediatric social psychology by Mueller and Dweck (1998), Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance, tells us that it is effort, not ability that matters in predicting future success.

The abstract of the study makes for interesting reading:

“Praise for ability is commonly considered to have beneficial effects on motivation. Contrary to this popular belief, six studies demonstrated that praise for intelligence had more negative consequences for students’ achievement motivation than praise for effort. Fifth graders praised for intelligence were found to care more about performance goals relative to learning goals than children praised for effort. After failure, they also displayed less task persistence, less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions, and worse task performance than children praised for effort. Finally, children praised for intelligence described it as a fixed trait more than children praised for hard work, who believed it to be subject to improvement. These findings have important implications for how achievement is best encouraged, as well as for more theoretical issues, such as the potential cost of performance goals and the socialization of contingent self-worth.”

So not only has praise for effort shown to increase future performance, but it also acts to create more resilient and persistent children with more grit when faced with adversity.

What can we learn from this, and how does this reflect other fields of social psychology?

According to the research, the focus with children should be to set process and effort based goals, rather than outcome based goals. This is more evidence for the fact that while focusing on process goals increases the chance of achieving a desired outcome, the opposite is not necessarily true.

With a focus on effort and the correct process, the outcomes will look after themselves.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.