Thinking about motivation and how to motivate, I came to a conclusion that works for me. Praising someone for what they are already good at, is a waste of an interaction. The person being praised learns nothing, especially if you or others have said it before. The praiser misses a chance to make any sort of difference, and can fall into a rut of doing nothing to improve or better themselves.
I think it’s better to guide someone in the direction of things they don’t like to do or are not good at, then praise them when they do it. Such as when a person, perhaps an “introvert”, who fears and avoids confrontation, takes the plunge and confronts a difficult person in their life. Or when a decidedly non-athletic person makes a big effort to get out there and do something more athletic, even if it’s just walking around the block to start. Or when a person develops job skills that they never thought they’d be able to. I think praise in those circumstances has lasting meaning.
Conversely, praising a talented athlete for being great athletically, or a student who never has to study to do well, for getting good grades, is just a waste.
Through the lens of living in Japan, people criticize more when you’re uchi rather than soto. When you are uchi, a part of the group (the family, company, or club), the criticism can be harsh, because “otherwise, who else would ever say this.” And usually, we don’t direct too much criticism at someone outside the group, at someone who is soto. However it feels dysfunctional to me, no matter how many years I have lived in Japan, to harshly criticize someone just because they’re a group member, and you can. I want to remember that words can be weapons.
Hopefully I am neither too harsh nor sweet, giving praise where it counts most, and therefore succeeding to motivate people to do better.