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Sometimes One Sentence is Enough

After preparing for Post # 2500 I went through my archives, but also my Draft folder as well, and found this completely off topic, but still interesting article I wrote 4 years ago, doesn’t really have too much to do with money, more about the power of words and how sometimes we need to be careful about what we say, especially to younger folk.

Motivating Phrases

One of the more interesting parts of my life is I (on occasion) have a chance to watch young athletes and young people trying hard to meet their goals, and I always ponder in those situation what is motivating these kids to do what they are doing?

In many instances, a lot of kids (and adults) are self-motivated, or whatever is motivating them is something personal that they use as their inner dynamo pushing them towards their goals, but I’d like to share two interesting stories that maybe helps show that sometimes a simple phrase may be enough to motivate (or completely derail) a child’s goals.

We’ll Make A Mathematician of You Yet

That phrase (along with many other things I would guess) is one of the motivating reasons someone dear to me chose the path that he did and became a Statistician. He was in a class one day (during the second world war) and as usual he had a substitute or temporary teacher for Math. This teacher didn’t know this lad from Adam, and could have easily said nothing, but after this student had answered a particularly tricky question, this Teacher uttered that phrase which set this student on a path towards success.

Astounding isn’t it that a single phrase can do that?

You’ll never amount to anything!

Hardly what you would call a motivating phrase, now would you? This is another example that different people get motivated by different things, but this motivation is solely mine.

I was in a high school math class, and I must admit that I was a mouthy little twit, and this Math teacher, no doubt had enough of my big mouth and decided he’d shut me up, by uttering that phrase, in the context of talking about who would succeed in Mathematics. This was done in front of the entire class and done with purpose to put me in my place.

The expression I remember from his face said to me that this was not an off-hand remark, he really meant it, and I took it very much to heart, and initially it demotivated tremendously.

It took a while before I was able to turn this barbed comment to heart and use it to motivate myself to succeed (if not exceed) in Math, because I was going to show this teacher just how wrong he was, and I think at the end of it, I may have proven him wrong (certainly in my mind, I did).

Choose Your Words Carefully

The real point of this is that if you deal with kids or young people, think about what you are saying to them, because you never know when you might actually say that could either inspire or worse deflate a fragile young ego.

I am confident both of the “adults” in this story have no idea that they motivated either student by their simple comment, but that just shows the power that you have when dealing with young minds.

Should we be heaping praise on kids when they don’t deserve it? My opinion is no, but that does not mean you need to necessarily heap scorn on them either, encouragement doesn’t mean praise where it is not earned. Encouragement really means helping a kid move forward and learn about themselves.

Feel Free to Comment

  1. Leonard @ The Wallet Doctor

    Being mindful of your words is incredibly important in general, but particularly when you are working with people on their financial matters. A lot of people are sensitive about their money, so you ought to exercise caution. Thanks for the insight!

  2. This is very true. And the younger the person is the more damage that can be done by a critical (and incorrect) remark. I have two successful relatives who secretly think they are failures because of problems they had with teachers in the very early grades (grades K-3). It’s a bit frightening to realize how easily someone can be permanently hurt by unnecessarily critical personal comments.

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