Take a classroom full of students, for example. Some students are handed gray colored crayons, a couple are handed green ones, but a few are given the brightest crayons in the box. Throughout the years, these students are reminded that the brightness of their crayon defines how important they are. They’re filled with confidence, to the point that they unknowingly become overconfident. They carry their crayons everywhere with them, as a sign of pride and desire for praise and respect. But then, college comes into the picture, along with their first real job, and the needed competition to rise to the top. Unfortunately, the real world has a strict rule against crayons. They’re replaced with a simple pencil and pen.
Consider Mariam’s case
Mariam was told that she was the cream of the crop. She was given all the confidence she needed and was treated like a star in each classroom she walked into. Mariam graduated with high grades and got into an amazing college. But then everything changed. Life suddenly went from studying the night before and getting an A, to barely even passing her courses due to not knowing how to properly study for an exam.
So, what gave her the flat tire that prevented her from reaching her destination? It is because Mariam was praised, not challenged. She became overconfident in her abilities, so she settled. She developed a fixed mindset, which hindered her growth. This mindset resulted in her becoming okay with underachieving, which in turn decreased Mariam’s level of productivity. Some might have gotten luckier than Mariam and succeeded in college and the real world, but it did not come without its own share of hard work and the desire to truly become successful.
So what is the problem with too much praise?
Overconfidence can limit your productivity
Labelling students as the brightest crayons in the box comes with a heavy price. Whilst some might think that it increases a person’s confidence and enhances their abilities, it does very little to prepare them for the real world. For a person who is constantly fed compliments and praise, failure becomes a fear and the fixed mindset becomes a daily practice.
What do I mean by fixed mindset? They lose faith when circumstances do not go as they please, they give up quickly and become discouraged if they are not immediately successful at something.
Whilst they might be naturally smart, they forget that the level of intelligence a person has is not the determinant for whether or not they become a successful student or a thriving employee. For most, college becomes a reality check as it is no longer about how smart a person is, but how hard they work and how well they study.
The overconfidence these students are given by being told they are smarter than others limits their ability to put in the extra effort. It also limits them from being able to accept criticism and reach their potential.
Since Mariam’s experience might sound like a nightmare for some of us, let us explore ways to limit the negative effects of overconfidence.
1. Remember where your talent came from
For someone who is going through this or knows someone who is struggling with the disappointments of overconfidence, it helps to remember where their talent came from to begin with. It is most definitely a gift from Allah . It was not something you chose. Rather than accepting compliments for having a certain talent, accept constructive criticism that will help improve that talent and build on it. Rather than relishing in praise for something, look for ways to be better.
In doing so, the person becomes more serious, sincere and appreciative of the gifts of Allah . Remember that Allah says
“‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]” [Qur’an: Chapter 14, Verse 7].
2. Have sincere intentions
“The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.” [Sahih Bukhari]
When embarking on a task, ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Is it to show off and receive praise or become popular, or to have a real positive impact and serve others?
It is very helpful to remember that we should work to impress Allah first, and then our loved ones.
Often we do things to receive praise from others, however, this has a temporary effect. Once overconfidence kicks in, one will start to lack the desire to impress others, and subsequently the quality of their work will deteriorate because they’ve lost the derive.
The solution for this is to work in solitude and increase ibadah. This is not just ibadah in the ritual sense. It is possible to turn even the day-to-day activities into an act of ibadah if one has sincere intentions.
When you have a project, an exam or a class that you find difficult, ask yourself what is the purpose behind all that? Are you studying in order to pursue a career that helps you positively impact and serve others? Are you working to earn money you can spend in the way of Allah ?
This is essential because if we do something for the sake of Allah , we cannot compromise the quality of the work. We also know that He appreciates all efforts, so one should be motivated and hopeful of Allah .
3. Reflect daily on these questions
It helps greatly to have daily reminders and reflect on what you have achieved and how you can do better. Some good thoughts include:
- Success is for the sake of Allah . What are ways to become successful that will please Him in return?
- Is my mindset going to help in the long run? If not, what are ways to turn it into a positive mindset that comes with lasting results?
- How are today’s actions going to benefit the world?
- Is this level of confidence influencing my abilities negatively?
- How necessary is people’s praise to truly becoming successful?
These daily reflections will motivate you to become better and allow you to find your weaknesses and work on them.
4. Aspire to be a hardworking person
The desire to “become hardworking” rather than “be smart” creates the need to accomplish more. It increases productivity because it becomes an innate desire to take on the next task and achieve it. One of the many results of that includes increasing one’s intelligence and wisdom. Even if your work ended unsuccessfully, the knowledge that resulted from the attempt becomes a successful lesson of its own. It means that every day you are striving to achieve something and learn something new.
5. Acknowledge and encourage
It is better to say, “I noticed you tried really hard to do this” than it is to say “You are such a smart kid!”
When someone is constantly praised, they tend to think that they have done something wrong if they are not praised for their action. Acknowledgement proves that you have paid attention to what a person is doing. Encouragement shows that you want to motivate them to do more. This allows them to challenge themselves to keep moving forward.
Without even realizing it, overconfidence can easily be a nightmare in disguise. It can make life seem like a dream at first. However, when the real world comes knocking, it unveils the negative consequences of being given too much praise, but not enough instructions, proper encouragement and direction.
It is not necessary to be the brightest crayon in the box. There is beauty in having just enough confidence to want to strive for success. More important than having the need to be fed compliments (ones that only bring about temporary happiness), is being determined to have a bright future that can only come with hard work, dedication, renewed intentions, and the desire to please The One .
What do you think are ways to direct confidence properly and avoid the negative consequences of overconfidence? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section.