One of the detractors from living a happy, flourishing and prosperous life, is to play the zero sum game of comparing ourselves to others who we determine to have it ‘better’ than ourselves. While there are some studies that suggest comparing ourselves to others who are ‘worse off’ than ourselves, can positively impact our happiness and make us feel better about our own life, it’s the act of comparing ourselves to the results of what others have, and what others have achieved that I want to comment on in this post.

Across Australia at the moment students who are completing their final year of high school are either about to commence or are in the middle of their exams. For many, there is significant pressure on achieving high pass marks on these exams because of the direct link to their potential for being ‘offered’ an undergraduate course at their preferred university in 2014.

When you read, listen and watch mainstream media around this time, there are always experts providing advice to parents (and their teenagers) on how to survive and better manage the pressure, and stress of these final year high school exams.

Having been through this as a parent with our two now young adult sons, I can say the ‘pressure’ just really wasn’t all that much and for two reasons.

The first was Liz and I have always told our sons right through High School that their exam results do not define them. The second was that we focused on ‘process praise’ an rarely ‘results praise’.

Aristotle wrote that “we are the sum of our actions”… and “our actions and behaviours are our morals shown in conduct.”

What he didn’t write is that we are the sum of our results or that our results are our morals shown in conduct.

And yet, quite often we focus and make judgements only on the results that either we’ve achieved ourselves, or that have been achieved by others… and I fear this is a concern for us in both our personal and business lives.

I want to make a couple of points about what we praise, the types of praise and the impact that praise can have on us through our lives.

There are basically 3 types of praise we can give someone. The first is ‘fact praise’. For example, “You achieved 75% in the exam.” The second is ‘process praise’. For example, “You’ve worked very hard to achieve that 75% in the exam.” And the third is ‘result praise’. For example, “You’ve achieved that 75% in the exams, you’re so gifted and talented.”

Of course there are variations on this, however, in our lives, while the results we achieve are ‘facts’, the reality is it’s the ‘process’, in most cases, that creates the result… and what science shows is that when we acknowledge and praise the process (what people have done and are doing) rather than just the results (what people achieve), the person receiving the feedback gains more significant long-term benefits in being able to handle the ups and downs of life. They become more resilient, stay more positive and these have flow on effects in many aspects of their lives.

Do you focus on your results or on your process?

I’ve done a lot of work in sales coaching over the years, and what I’ve learned, taught, coached and mentored is that the sales results are what they are – what we want to know is how they were achieved.

So to all the parents with their sons and daughters going through their final high school year exams, from Liz and I we wish you the very best… stay positive throughout the exams, support your kids in the best way you can, and remember, their results don’t define them, and there are always other avenues for them to pursue whatever it is they want to pursue if they don’t get the marks they were hoping for in the exam.

Footnote: Neither of our sons achieved ‘outstanding’ results in their final high school exams – and the results have not defined them. Both are happily pursuing their careers of choice… one is at University about to complete his second year and loving his subjects and the opportunities he’s creating, and the other is happily (most of the time) pursuing his passion as an actor (talk about needing resilience… for all the auditions he attends, most result in “no”… and yet, he knows that doesn’t define him either, and it’s about the process of learning, growing and keeping on turning up).

Sure… results matter, but they don’t define you!