Harvard Says Compliments Are the Key to Success

Genevieve Fish

Do you have a big presentation coming up? A job interview perhaps? If so, consider asking those closest to you to shower you with praise right beforehand. A working paper from Harvard University suggests that if, right before a stressful problem-solving task, you ask your friends and family to remind you of a time when you performed at your best, you are much more likely to perform well.

The term behavioral scientists at Harvard use to explain this method is “best-self activation.” It’s the idea that if you are reminded of a time you were performing at your absolute best, it will motivate you to reach those high standards once again. In one Harvard experiment, 75 people were asked to solve a problem. Right before the problem was revealed, half of the participants were given a note from a loved one about the last time they performed at their best. The other half were given nothing. The result? Fifty-one percent of the people who received notes solved the problem, while only 19% of those who didn’t receive notes solved the problem. So, the next time you have an important interview on the calendar, call you mom or best friend and ask her to tell you about a time you were amazing. 

The implications of this study feed into workplace management as well. For example, rather than give employees annual reviews that focus on their weaknesses, it would be more effective to reflect on the times they performed at their best. In this study, thoughtful compliments prove to be the strongest motivation.

To read more about the Harvard study visit New York Magazine.

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When was the last time praise helped you succeed? Share your experiences in the comments!

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