I’m A Failure

By Anthony Gold

Fifth graders were told that a closed box at the front of the classroom contained a test that measured a very important scholastic ability. Then all the students were asked these two questions:

  • Do you think this test measures how smart you are?
  • Do you think this test measures how smart you’ll be when you grow up?

A majority of the students answered that not only would the test measure how smart they were, but that indeed it would indicate how smart they’d be as adults.

A small minority didn’t believe the test could measure how smart they were, nor could it possibly indicate their future intelligence.

What separates this small group from the masses?

Something psychologists refer to as the growth mindset. That is an underlying belief system in which attributes such as intelligence, ability, and character aren’t fixed but can be developed over time.

The other group – the majority – fall into what is known as fixed mindset. Abilities like talent or intelligence are innate and won’t change all that much over a lifetime.

Here’s the challenge with the fixed mindset: we believe that forces from the outside world define us (whether I’m good enough, smart enough, fast enough, rich enough, tall enough, pretty/handsome enough, healthy enough, talented enough, witty enough, …). And from such a perspective, we see success as the affirmation of those intrinsic talents and crave the associated recognition.

Not surprisingly, such a mindset leads to avoiding situations that could potentially lead to failure. And consequently, we don’t expand ourselves as much as we could, and we give up too easily in areas outside our “proven expertise”.

Perhaps most poignantly, fixed mindset individuals translate failure from a particular action (I failed) into an entire identity (I’m a failure).

This brilliant research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck paints a powerful picture of how we view not only our role in society, but also our potential. It’s the difference between seeing the world as a prison versus a classroom.

People with a growth mindset see failure simply as feedback for what areas need to be improved to make more progress toward their goals. It’s another opportunity to grow, and challenges are continually sought. In fact, such individuals don’t even see themselves as failing – they see themselves as learning.

Perhaps the biggest difference between growth mindset individuals and their fixed mindset peers is a passion for learning versus a hunger for approval. One will always lead to continual growth and rewarding experiences, and the other to prolonged sadness and disappointment.

Thankfully, just as intelligence, character, and talent are not innate, neither is our choice of mindset etched in stone. We can actually learn how to transform ourselves from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset – thereby experiencing continual growth within an incredibly rich and rewarding framework.

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of mindset and how we can experience the world as a classroom – one in which we continually learn and grow. I look forward to seeing you then.

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