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.