It’s time to start fishing for compliments and lapping up praise, because people who are reminded of times they’re at their best are more likely to succeed once again.
A Harvard Business School working paper, published on Sept. 17, found that praise from friends, family, and colleagues creates “best-self activation,” which leads people to perform at their best. As a result:
People whose best-self concepts were activated felt better and were more resilient to stress, more resistant to disease and burnout, better at creative problem solving and performance under pressure, and formed stronger long-term relationships with their employer.
In one study, 123 participants were given notes from their partners (who were someone they had a close relationship with), and were then asked to prepare for a mock interview.
One such note read:
You are unafraid to be intelligent. So many people, particularly women, are afraid to be the smartest person in the room. You are a wonderful role model for all bright, quick, and articulate women in the world, showing that it is more than ok to be clever and to allow people to see that you are smart. I can think of a time when you won the argument with class, and I found it inspirational.
Those who were given notes with positive stories about their past behavior performed better than those who were given neutral stories, and those who wrote their own positive notes.
In another study, 75 people were asked to perform various tasks, including coming up with a list of uses for a newspaper in three minutes. Half the participants were given notes from family, friends, and colleagues, with details of times when they’d been at their best. These participants performed better at their task than the control group.
The authors, including Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, wrote that “this series of stories may offer recipients a different narrative about themselves by helping them see the impact they are capable of making on others.”
The same theory applied in the workplace. The authors found that when an employer reminds employees about their best selves, they’re less likely to view work as a transactional relationship, and so less likely to burnout or quit.
Praise in both the workplace and social settings would encourage people to achieve more, according to the authors. “By activating people’s best-self concepts and highlighting examples of them making extraordinary contributions, we found positive changes in their physiology, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and social relationships,” they wrote.
In other words, being stingy with your praise won’t help anyone: “These results suggest that there is considerable lost potential in keeping silent about how others affect us when they are at their best.”