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How a simple message can help us work harder

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How a simple message can help us work harder

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I’ve written a bit recently about how the mental approach we take to a task has a profound impact upon how successful we are at it.  This is especially so if the task involves any kind of learning or self-improvement.

A recent study highlights just how powerful this could be.  It highlights how telling people a simple message, such as that hard work is more important than genetic ability, is enough to cause changes in our brain, and cause us to strive harder to achieve our goals.

The findings suggest that our brain is altogether rather receptive to this kind of message, that our intelligence is something that results from hard work and effort rather than anything more innate.

“Giving people messages that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance,” say the researchers, from Michigan State University.

“In contrast, telling people that intelligence is genetically fixed may inadvertently hamper learning.”

Now, of course, this isn’t particularly revolutionary thinking, and there have been many studies down the years that have highlighted this very fact.  Indeed, Stanford’s Carol Dweck has published a book exploring the role our mindset plays in our success this year.

Where this study stands out however is that they are arguably the first to have uncovered the changes in our brain upon receipt of such messaging.

“These subtle messages seem to have a big impact, and now we can see they have an immediate impact on how the brain handles information about performance,” the researchers confirm.

To test the brains response to the messaging, two groups of participants were asked to read separate articles.  One primed readers to believe that their intelligence was largely genetically determined.  The other suggested that the brilliance of people like Einstein and da Vinci was down to their environment.  Their genius certainly wasn’t genetic.

Each participant was asked to remember the salient points from the article, before then completing a computer based task whereby their brain activity would be recorded.

The findings revealed that the first group (the genetic intelligence one) paid a lot more attention to their responses than their peers in the other group.  The researchers suggest that they were perhaps more concerned with their performance than their peers.  The worrying thing is however that this additional attention merely manifested itself as extra stress – there was no boost in performance at all!

The other group fared much better.  They weren’t anywhere near as stressed as their colleagues, and tended to react well to mistakes.  What’s more, they would also learn from these mistakes, and become much better the next time round.

All of which is rather interesting.  What kind of mindset does your own workplace promote?

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