Fear of failure plagues us at every step in our life, be it studies, work, relationships. So much so that even while playing a game for fun and recreation we dread losing! Have you ever thought why we react so strongly and negatively to ‘failure’? What is failure and why is it so final for us? Why can we not view it as -not yet successful? Let us find answers to these questions and also see how can we make ourselves ‘fail safe’?
Contrary to the popular belief, it is not other people’s opinion but what we think of ourselves effects our life the most. Our self-concept, whether conscious or subconscious, not only decides what we want out of life but also affects our success or failure in getting it. This is the essence of Dr. Carol Dweck’s decades of research at Stanford. In her book Mindsets: The Psychology of Success she examines, ‘self-concepts, origins of mindsets, their role in human motivation and self-regulation and their impact on achievement and interpersonal success. This both propels and prevents us from fulfilling our potential.’
Smart or Stupid
Dr. Dweck says if you think you are intelligent and smart you put yourself ‘on a pedestal’. This limits both your life and growth because in order to continue staying on ‘the pedestal’, you avoid taking up challenges where there may be a risk of failure and may result in your falling from the pedestal! Therefore, to continue to look and act smart you will stop doing things you are not good at. You will give up easily rather than persist and take the negative, but useful feedback, which would have otherwise helped you navigate successfully through a tough task. Gradually you develop a comfort zone and do only those things that preserve the status quo of ‘Intelligent & Talented YOU’. Your world becomes smaller and smaller and smaller and you stop growing.
Surprisingly if you have decided you are average, less than average or even stupid, you are no better off because here too you have put yourself ‘in a box’ and thrown the key away. You loathe to take up a challenging task as failure would validate the belief that you that you are no good. In both situations you secretly consider yourself either blessed or cursed due to your inborn personality traits because you believe they are static and unchangeable. This is a fixed mindset!
As opposed to this mindset, if you are the kind of person who thinks your character, intelligence, and creative ability are the starting point of your life’s journey and you need to work hard to improve them by learning new ideas, skills and gathering new experiences you have a ‘growth mindset’. Dweck say, ‘why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better!’ Instead of worrying about creating favorable impressions on family, friends and colleagues and expecting them to boost your self-esteem, you should encourage them to give their critical feedback and help you become better!
Research has proved that brain is malleable, and neuroplasticity can be increased by repeatedly practicing, trying out new skills and gaining new experiences. When we undertake a tough task or negotiate a new challenge the neurons in our brains make connections that did not exist before. Therefore, even if we fail at it, we end up smarter than before. When this happens on a regular basis, we pick up new smart-ness every day as advised by Charlie Munger, friend, and partner of Warren buffet, who had said ‘Go to bed smarter than you woke up’.
Becoming Fail Safe
The problem with fixed mindset is that it makes people insecure because their self-concept is based on an image, they or others have of them. Therefore, every challenge becomes a test of their own greatness and a constant need for validation of this greatness makes them more n more insecure and stressful.
People with growth mindset on the other hand do not think that success is the affirmation of their innate intelligence or failure is its denial. Failure is painful for them too, but they do not take failure as a final judgement on themselves. They have the courage to rethink their strategies and try harder the next time. They refuse to bow down to the ‘Tyranny of Now’ and instead of a failure they consider themselves – ‘Not Yet Successful! The ‘Power of YET’ makes them thrive on challenges and use them as a springboards for their personal growth and transformation. For them, no mountain is too big to climb and no river too deep to dive into. They venture into the unknown and aspire to adapt to it! The ‘Power of Yet’ makes them ‘fail safe’.
‘If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve!’ says Debbie Millman. In the VUCA world of today it is not important how good you are but how good you want to be! So, what are the areas of life where you can apply a growth mindset to bring improvement? Well, all the areas of your life such as education, health, career, relationships, hobbies, and physical training can benefit from a growth mindset.
All you have to do is to prioritize what area of your life you would like to begin with and there is no harm in picking up more than one goal and working on them simultaneously e.g a health goal and a relationship goal or a professional development goal. Just keep in mind wise words of Dr. Dweck, ‘in one world effort is a bad thing. It, like failure means you are not smart or talented. If you were you would not need the effort. In the other world effort is what makes you smart or talented.’ Whatever you decide to do be ready to work hard and persevere.
Keeping these crucial thoughts in mind you can do a few things that will help develop in you a growth mindset –
- Aspire and set your goal. Stop seeking approval and fearing rejection of people.
- However, keep an open mind and learn from the failures of others.
- Face your frailties and fears squarely and process them rationally.
- Understand and know yourself better by researching about capacity of human body and brain at your age to inform and convince yourself about your own potential.
- Set your goals.
- Prepare your plan of action with multiple strategies.
- Value effort over talent and process over outcome.
- Consider criticism as feedback and actively seek feedback.
- Review your performance and recalibrate your action-plan.
- Share your successes with others.
- Do not rest on your laurels; frame a new goal after every achievement.
While fixed and growth mindsets are two extremes of the mindset continuum, we all fall somewhere on it. No one has only growth mindset or only fixed mindset. While in some areas of our life we have a fixed mindset in other areas we may have a growth mindset. Important thing is to recognize our fixed mindset when it begins to affect our work, self-esteem and happiness and try to transform it with conscious strategies, effort, and grit. All the best!
In the next blog we will discuss how the ‘Power of Yet’ can transform our classrooms into learning labs and make our learners fail safe.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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