Don’t Let Failure Scare You

Did you ever fail at anything? Do you think that might be holding you back? You’d better believe it. Learned failure is deadly and something that happens to us all. You need to master it and turn it to your advantage. There really is something to that guru platitude about seeing failure as just another way to not do something.

If you can learn from failure then it becomes successful failure, instead of failed success. Does that make sense?

The thing is, our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success.

In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

It’s more important to be willing to learn and grow than it is to be smart. Really.

Animal experiments by psychologists Martin Seligman, Steven Maier and Richard Solomon of the University of Pennsylvania had shown that after repeated failures, most animals conclude that a situation is hopeless and beyond their control. After such an experience, the researchers found, an animal often remains passive even when it can affect change—a state they called learned helplessness.

People can learn to be helpless, too, but not everyone reacts to setbacks this way.

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, studied why some people give up when they encounter difficulty, whereas others who are no more skilled continue to strive and learn? The main answer, she soon discovered, lay in people’s beliefs about why they had failed.

In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of ability depresses motivation more than does the belief that lack of effort is to blame. If you tell yourself you’re no good or not as good as you could be, then you lose momentum and give up easily. Whereas if you believe it’s just lack of effort, or lack of knowledge, then you’re OK, because you can always make more effort, see? You can always learn what it is you need to know.

Never tell yourself you are stuck with a fixed quota of brains and IQ. You can grow your brain, we know that today. Even if you’ve learned helplessness before, it seems that people who tell themselves it just needs more effort can usually win. Such people learn to keep trying when the going gets tough – and most eventually win.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Let Failure Scare You

  1. “In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.”

    From a Buddhist point of view, I have become aware that the intellect is merely a tool ONLY, to bring us to intuitive understandings and then direct realizations of what they will NEVER refer to in school, namely what really matters for us as human beings: to develop our primary minds of wisdom, compassion, altruism or bodhiichitta and what these lead to, selflessness, and direct understanding of profound emptiness or shunyata., to put it briefly. So really, those that think that the development of intellect and having a great talent of one sort or another, without applying it to the above mentioned, are hurtling down a dead end path, is my opinion. But hey, that’s life.

  2. where are the share buttons? Addtoany, addthis, sharethis all offer free share options. Just google these names and something will come up. Easy instructions too, easy to implement. Hope that next time I stumble upon your site, I can stumble it, tweet about it, G+ it, etc. Worth while read, thus worth while sharing 🙂

  3. I decided, at an early age, that it is better to learn from other people’s failures, rather than one’s own.
    Of course, most of us fail, but, frequently that failure might be our last, if it wipes us out financially or in some serious way.
    At 77 I look back at a few major failures ( by ordinary standards). The opportunities that then arose, perhaps some time later, led me to increased success, perhaps in a different direction or field entirely.
    Life is great now, being happlly retired and looking forward to each day. A little difficult to explain, but I feel that I have lived three lives already so far.
    Every day, being free from any hangovers or ‘muzzy alcohol moments, adds hours to every day. From the age of 15 I had only five hours sleep, which added a few hours to most days.
    My belief systems have certainly changed since childhood. I am sure now, that we have only one life, and that we should live it to the full, free from negative and artificial inputs like drugs and junk food. Sunshine does help, but mixing with people in a social situation overcomes cloudy days!

  4. Dear Dr. Mumby, Out of context here, but can I get a re-download of your “Fire in the Belly.” I’ve tried to reach you on maybe dead e-mail addresses, thus the reason of butting in here to see if this is possible. Regards, Neale a paid e-mail receiver of your “Rire in the Belly book.”

  5. Keith, This is a very good article probably learning how to cope with failure and build upon the lessons that it teaches is just as important as the development of faculty. If the two can be combined, that person will stand out in the world. If, in addition compassion and service to others can be incorporated into the mix – such a person is on the way to becoming a complete human being.

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