How to deal with failure

Posted on June 22nd, 2015

In part 5 of our ‘Parenting the Parent’ series, occupational therapist Samantha Toweel-Moore shows you how to deal with failure and develop a positive mindset.

Were you ever told: “You really aren’t mathematically minded; you’ll never be good at maths”; “You just aren’t artistic; give it up and do something else”; “You aren’t musical or good with words, so best you leave those tasks to others”; “Oh you’re so shy; public speaking should be left to the naturals”; “You’re too clumsy to ever be sporty”.

Did you believe any of these claims? Do you believe that you can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are? Carol Dweck believed it. In fact, she was taught this by her teachers. She had her IQ tested at school and was placed at the back of her classroom with the other children who performed poorly on the test. The ‘intelligent’ children were placed at the front of the classroom so they could be given responsibilities in line with their smarts. Carol and the rest at the back were left there so they wouldn’t get in the way of the ‘real’ learners.

Today, among her many accolades, Dr Carol Dweck, is a world-renowned professor of psychology at Stanford University. What she was taught about limits is not true. As an author, she won ‘Book of the Year’ by the World Education Fellowship. In her book, Mindset, Dr Dweck’s ground-breaking research shows that a ‘growth mindset’ nurtures the resilience required to move, for example, a low IQ, mathematics, art or sports score, to a high one. “We are not fixed and predetermined; we are dynamic, ever-progressive creatures. We can pursue the burning desire within us to become what feels authentic, no matter how many labels we carry contrary to this,” she says. Dr Dweck discovered that we all hold a mental belief, called a mindset, that adopts one of two dominant approaches – ‘Fixed’ or ‘Growth’.

Test your midset – choose which statements apply to you:

The fixed mindset

  • You live with an all-or-nothing approach to life.
  • You believe that if you fail, it’s best to give it up, as you don’t have the ability.
  • You tend to blame circumstances for your failure. It feels out of your control. Things seem to go against you.
  • You lose confidence when you fail at your challenges.
  • You focus on results rather than how much you’ve improved.

The growth mindset

  • You focus on improvement rather than results. As long as you grow, you feel successful.
  • You find failures informative.
  • You take action to build your abilities and motivation.
  • You choose what to work on, based on what feels authentic to you.
  • You grow confidence through learning and challenges, even when you fail.

Are you trapped by your talent?

Talent is a gift, right? It will take you places. It can, but it has conditions. Talent only becomes valuable when you use it. Research shows that many talented people become trapped by their talent. They adopt the ‘fixed’ mindset. They believe that you either have the qualities or you don’t. If they can’t get things right the first time, they resign themselves to the fact that they’ll never get it right. They avoid working at it and shy away from asking for help or guidance. They believe that they shouldn’t need it if they have talent. Time and time again, people with less talent surpass those with greater natural ability for this very reason. The growth mindset tells you that with time and consistent effort, you will move yourself forward.

Celebrity examples of the Growth and Fixed Mindsets

Growth mindset

Michael Jordan was not a natural basketball player. In fact, he didn’t make his high school varsity team. However, he did learn from this. He learnt that he needed discipline. He created a habit of consistent effort. He earned the name of ‘the most hardworking athlete in the history of sport’. Every day before school, he would train on his own for an hour. He continued this practice at the height of his career. He understood and utilised the ‘growth’ mindset. Jordan is quoted as saying, “Mental toughness and the heart are a lot stronger than some of the physical advantages you might have.” Jordan valued failure. He said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

The fixed mindset

Once ranked Number 1 tennis champion in the US, John McEnroe displayed a ‘fixed’ mindset. He blamed outside forces for his defeats and used on-court temper tantrums to hide choking. He argued that the authorities allowed him to get away with his outbursts – it was their fault that he didn’t control his temper; they didn’t help him. This shows a lack of responsibility; a belief that you’re a product of your circumstances. You either win or you lose; there’s no reflection or growth.

Dr Dweck’s 20 years of research show us that our potential is not fixed. “Impossible is an opinion, not a fact.”

How to grow your mindset

  • Select people who help you to grow. Surround yourself with honest people who will give you constructive criticism. Stay away from those whose behaviour will encourage you to stay fixed.
  • Construct the pathway to your goals. When you want to make excuses and take your eye off your goal, picture your brain forming new connections to meet the challenge. Your thoughts lead to literal brain connections that allow the growth you require to move your goals forward.
  • Reframe ‘effort’. See it as a powerful, constructive force rather than a big drag.

Rethink the past

  • Recall something from your past that left you feeling limited, for example, a test score, a callous action, or being rejected.
  • Focus on it.
  • Define and feel all the emotions that came with it.
  • Look at your role in this event. Be honest.
  • Know that your intelligence, personality, social ability, mental ability and physical being are not defined by an incident
  • Ask what you can learn from it.
  • Write down how this event can be transformed into a basis for growth.

Is there something you have always wanted to do, but thought you weren’t good at? Then make a plan to do it. Write down the first three steps. GO! Make the words of our beloved Nelson Mandela your mantra … “It is only impossible until it is done.”

Living And Loving Staff

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