Personal Development

The Effort Effect

We live in a society that worships talent, you know, people who possess superior skills and/or intelligence that other mere mortals only wish they had. We celebrate these individuals’ superior skills and intelligence as the primary factor behind their success. 

Our society not only worships intelligence but also criticizes failure—sometimes very harshly. We even have a name for failure. We call it losing. Rarely do we tell others (and ourselves) that failure, success and fulfillment go hand-in-hand. It seems as if we have been conditioned to think that unless our lives revolve around great moments, our existence is meaningless.

According to recent research, celebrating intelligence or what appears to be superior skills could have debilitating long-term effects on success outcomes and on one’s psyche. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and personality psychology, agues that “an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.”

What is being highlighted here is that people who attribute their accomplishments to intelligence rather than effort are setting themselves up for the BIG let down. This is a huge leap away from intelligence and superior skills. That is, to say that A caused B, or intelligence alone led to success is to diminish other important factors that worked in conjunction with intelligence and skill to produce success outcomes.

The growth mindset sees success as a process, a series of deliberate steps and adjustment and fine-tuning in the direction of one’s goals.

Among those significant success factors is effort. The Effort Effect is concerned with people’s judgments about the causes of events and behavior. According to this theory, the key to success is to focus on growth, solving problems and self-improvement. The reality is that intelligence and skill in themselves are not enough to produce lasting success outcomes.

Dweck maintains that it is a person’s mindset that ultimately determines success. And there are two types of mindsets. The first is the fixed mindset, which suggests that people have an inherent unchangeable nature. Some people are smart, others are not, and nothing can be done to change that reality.

Dweck insists that fixed mindset individuals embrace what they have been told, and that is: Only people of a certain intellectual acumen will ever experience success. The persons who adopt the fixed mindset are less likely to task risks or do anything where they might make a mistake. They seldom venture outside of their comfort zone to stretch into new domains.

The second mindset is the growth mindset.

The Growth Mindset:

  • Involves stretching one’s learning, taking on new challenges and sticking to them, bouncing back from failures and growing over time and helping others do the same.
  • Recognizes and celebrates the process, the strategies, effort, persistence and hard work rather than just intelligence and skill. 
  • Individuals with a growth mindset have learning goals that inspire a different chain of thought and behavior.
  • Treats success as a process, a series of deliberate steps and adjustment and fine-tuning in the direction of one’s goals. 
  • Asks: What do I value? Do I value mastery or performance?

In essence, the Effort Effect proposes that anyone can perform well enough to get to the top. But only those who master the important lessons such as personal setbacks and disappointments, delays and crisis on the way to the top will have the staying power necessary to experience unparalleled and lasting success.


Dweck, C.S. (2015). The secret of raising smart kids. Scientific American. Retrieved from

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House.

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21 thoughts on “The Effort Effect

  1. Fascinating topic! I’ve been very interested in child development as of late. One of the core tenets of speaking to children is rephrasing your frame of praise. Instead of saying ‘good job,’ one might say, “Wow! You worked so hard on that. Look how you did it all by yourself.” Telling children they are ‘smart’ and not ‘hard working’ sets them up to believe that they don’t need to try any harder than they already do. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Corrie, kudos to you for seeing the value in this approach. This strategy is something that I too employed with students at the university level. I felt it best to draw attention their “efforts” rather than their “ability” to regurgitate content. I also found this approach to be useful in helping students who weren’t as confident to view success as something tangible and personally meaningful.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I believe the growth mindset to hold more value and be more effective. How wonderful if this becomes implanted more so in the lesson plans of teachers with young students. Great post! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello,
    Pleasure to meet you and thank you for taking time to visit my blog page and having a follow, I appreciate the support! I read your meaning behind skylarity, this was very interesting and i liked it. I look forward to reading more blog post from you in the future, this was a good post in itself 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  4. I largely agree. The only thing I’d push back on is that I don’t think anyone can do anything. I think most of us are born with a unique disposition or natural inclination to do something. Some of us are born with a great ear/synesthesia, and stupendous hand dexterity which pre-disposes such a person to excel at playing guitar or piano. That being said, a TON of work is still required to transform into a virtuoso. Without such a natural inclination, many people would probably get pretty far if they worked hard enough, but would be hard pressed to reach the level of virtuoso without the natural tools. I have always been very interested in such topics. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chuba, thanks for pushing the conversation forward. I do not suppose that Dr. Dweck meant to suggest that “anyone can do anything” because we know that is not realistic. What is being implied however is that one can perform just good enough to achieve success. Even so, “sustained” success demands more than mere performance. “Mastery,” along with other factors, are at the heart of what is being discussed.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with the idea that success is a process. Your post relates to the fact that I have always been a relatively slow reader. In school, I was usually the last one to finish tests. But I studied hard, put in the extra time, and did well overall. I’m still not a fast reader, but I’m faster than I used to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We all have a sense of impatience implanted in our brains. People lack the stamina it takes to accomplish something. Everyone wants success over night and many times people dismiss the fact that the successful people they look up to experienced many failures in the past. I just read another post today by someone talking about eating a lot and staying lean at the same time. That person wrote about the “nasty” looks she gets from other people when she tells them that it’s not the good DNA or her super fast metabolism magically helping her stay lean but the fact that she exercices a lot. Seems like people hate to hear that you gotta work hard for your goals. Most people work hard to just get by huh. It’s an interesting topic to look at, thank you for being an inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You captured many great points. It would seem as if too many people are interested in getting the great results without putting in the time and energy to obtain the “great” results.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, because it’s easier to believe that some people are just “lucky” or “born this way” than to think that everyone can achieve something if they try hard enough and stay on track.

        Liked by 1 person

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