Great: Compared to What? (Dangers of Positive Feedback)

Last Saturday, Siegfried – Club Growth Director for France and Benelux whom I saw just a couple of times at Toastmasters International events – told me at a dinner after our two-day training in Lisbon: “Lukas, you have a great blog!” When I heard it, my eyes sparkled with pride. In my mind, I replayed the past couple of weeks that I had spent reading, improving my note-taking and refining my writing process. I thought: “Yes, now I’m becoming really good and the world can see it!”

On Sunday though, as I was walking alone through the streets of Lisbon, I realized two things. The first thing was that Siegfried’s exact words were: “Lukas, I heard that you have a great blog.” Meaning, he has not even seen it. Yes, when I thought about it, I realized he asked me for a link only during that conversation. Isn’t it funny how our mind sometimes plays tricks on us?

Second thing: Even if Siegfried actually had said my blog was great – what would that mean for me? Great compared to what?

Since we were kids, we learned that people around us divide our actions between good and bad. Good actions get us praise – and candies. Bad actions threat of punishment. This makes us alert when our action gets labeled as bad – and relaxed when it’s labeled as good. When we hear someone tell us “good job”, our brain thinks “all right, candy time, relax and enjoy!” Well, guess what: “Relax and enjoy” is not the best state of mind to sustain the effort needed for focused learning. This is what Terence Fletcher, the drums teacher in the movie Whiplash had on his mind when he said:

There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job.”

As Robert Greene writes in Mastery about success in the initial phase of acquiring skills:

Any positive attention you receive is deceptive; it is not based on your skills or anything real, and it will turn against you.

Today it is very easy to get deceived into thinking we are better than we really are. Likes on social media channels provide us with cheap shots of dopamine and a constant sense of accomplishment. Even my blog at – rather a serious site – as sends me emails such as “George liked your post, they thought it was pretty awesome!” What a seductive thought! Yet: While this may make me dream that my blog was pretty awesome, what happened in reality was that George clicked on “Like”. Action that can be accomplished in a split of a second – even without opening the actual post, just scrolling through the WordPress Reader feed.

What should you do then when you hear someone tell you: “Good job”?

Ignore it.

By that I don’t mean you should ignore the person who tells you. In fact, Siegfried’s comment about my blog was followed by us having a great conversation about writing, Toastmasters and Robert Greene’s books. But after my Sunday’s walk through the streets of Lisbon, I knew it was not time to “Relax and enjoy”.

It was time to get back to work.

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash