This article suddenly made it clear why I’ve always been a B student, despite always being told I’m smart. I’ve never been able to find the motivation to study harder, and I never knew why. It turns out that being told that you are smart makes you more risk-averse, not less: studying is evidence that you’re not naturally smart.
The general rule, it seems, is that you should praise (or criticize) people for the things they can change. By taking pride in being hard working, you can enjoy the work rather than focus on the end result. When you focus on being smart, pretty, or naturally talented, you avoid anything that might disprove it.
The article also has lots of interesting nuggets, such as the fact that kids recognize when have a negative correlation with performance. In particular, when teachers feel free to criticize the top students while only praising the less-than-average, even young students interpret praise as criticism and criticism as praise.