Most parents, teachers, and coaches have from time-to-time experienced challenges relating to helping kids reach life goals they are capable of achieving. In these moments adults become frustrated when they see otherwise talented and capable kids fall short of reaching their goals, but what often goes unnoticed is the single most influential variable that relates to life success: Belief. The truth is that even kids with great potential who set very realistic goals will be challenged to reach their goals if they have little belief that they can be successful.
Belief plays a huge role in our lives and directly impacts countless everyday experiences, ranging from the likelihood of reaching personal goals, to the choices and frequency of the activities we engage in day-to-day. When we believe we can do something, we immediately channel our focus and direct our energy toward success. Conversely, if we feel we are incapable of doing something, our efforts are minimal (if at all), and we typically quit at the first sign of distress. Belief is very powerful and is the reason why the placebo effect exists in medicine, and is also at the heart of countless amazing life stories where individuals who were thought to have no chance for success end up doing great things solely because they believed they could do it.
Don’t put cart before horse
While belief might be the single most important variable linked to likelihood for life success, it is also the variable that most often goes unnoticed when trying to help kids succeed. For example, when adults are quick to prompt kids to set goals, the goals will often go unmet if the kid never thought he or she could ever achieve them. Drilling deeper, while you might have supporting evidence that your son can hit a baseball or get an A grade in math, if he thinks he’s lousy at baseball and can’t do math then it’s highly unlikely he will put forth the effort to make these goals materialize. Unfortunately, it is a common mistake for us to use our own judgement about kids and their potential before first determining whether they have the belief and confidence to make the goals a reality.
The origin of belief
So why does one child have an abundance of belief, while another seems to have very little? That’s a great question, and the answer, like most questions pertaining to human development, is a combination of genetics and learned life experiences. The good news is that the construct of belief is a malleable one, and there’s an abundance of evidence supporting the idea that we can cultivate belief in kids by doing the following:
- Setting and achieving goals. Perhaps the fastest way human beings increase their level of belief is by achieving goals, but in order to do this goals must be specific, measurable, and controllable. if goals are vague and impossible to accurately measure (i.e. “get in better shape”), then goal achievement may be missed, and the opportunity for belief to blossom thwarted.
- Providing factual evidence of previous success. Another great way to help a kid begin believing in him- or herself is to provide real evidence that the kid really has talent. For example, a boy who thinks he can’t be successful at school might be pleasantly surprised when you show him previous test scores that prove just the opposite.
- Offering ongoing love, support, and empathy. Belief often grows and develops as a byproduct of strong, healthy relationships. If you parent or mentor to kids, there is no substitute for simply caring for their well-being, as the strength of your relationship will be one of the biggest factors whether they think they can succeed in life.
- Helping kids learn from mistakes. When helping kids develop self-belief, be sure to tell them how failure is normal and often experienced on the road to greatness. Furthermore, teach them the importance of learning from failure so that a greater likelihood for future success can occur.
- Providing real examples of success. Search for autobiographies and encourage kids to read about their heroes, especially the stories of people who were against all odds yet still went on to greatness. There is nothing more powerful than to see real evidence of individuals who overcame all odds to accomplish things others never thought possible.
Before jumping into tactical game-plans when helping kids be sure to first gauge their level of self-belief, and if they think they can be successful in life. Without belief, focus wavers, resiliency diminishes, and premature quitting almost always occurs. Do your part to inspire kids to be great, and then go beyond that to show them how they have the tools needed to do anything in life.