The most powerful 3-letter word you can use

05-11-2015 Damian Hughes 0 comments

Kids love to announce that they're not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging, and they say it with finality, as if issuing a verdict.

"I'm not good at maths!" or, "I'm not good at football."

At that moment, our normal parental/teacher/coach instinct is to fix the situation. To boost the kid up by saying something persuasive like, "Oh yes you are!" Which never works, because it puts the kid in the position of actively defending their ineptitude. It's a lose-lose.

It's the same with adults. I have been in so many businesses where the resident cynics announce that a new change is doomed to failure. 'We don't do change here,' I was once told.

So here's another idea: ignore the instinct to fix things. Don't try to persuade. Instead, simply add the word "yet."

You add the "yet" quietly, in a matter-of-fact tone, as if you were describing the weather or the law of gravity.

"I'm not good at maths" becomes "You're not good at maths yet."

"I'm not good at football" becomes "You're not good at football yet."

"I'm not good at IT" becomes "You're not good at IT yet."

The message: Of course you're not good - because you haven't worked at it. But when you do, you will be good.

At first glance, it seems silly - how can just one word make a difference?

The answer has to do with the way our brains are wired to respond to self-narratives. That's where Dr. Carol Dweck and her work on mindset come in. Through a series of remarkable experiments, she's shown how small changes in language - even a few words - can affect performance.

Her core insight is that the way we frame questions of talent matter hugely. If we put the focus on "natural ability," kids tend to be less engaged and put forth less effort (after all, if it's just a genetic lottery, then why should I try?). When we put the focus on effort, however, kids tend to try harder and are more engaged.

How about you? Are your beliefs fixed or do you leave yourself open to the possibility of change?

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