Today, I want to talk to you about Failure. Failure can create two different worlds. In one world, failure can be used as a fuel or drive to fuel motivation and drive people to achievement and success. In another world and for other people, failure and mistakes can paralyse them. It can create a lot of procrastination and really prevent people from stepping up and being the very best that they can be.
I recall a story from a student that I was teaching and she said to me one day,
“I would rather not try and not put in the effort and fail than really work hard and putting my very best effort and fail.”
In her mind and for a lot of people, that is a justification. It’s a protection for them. They can cope with failure because they can justify in their own mind that they didn’t really work very hard for that.
What we need to do is we need to reframe failure. What does this mean? It means we have to put a different meaning on it. People who use failure as a motivation and as a fuel or drive to help them achieve their goals and success see failure as information, just that. In many ways, they even welcome it. They see failure, they make a mistake, and they just go…
“Okay, now this is going to give me some information about how I can be better, make adjustments, adapt what I’m doing…”
And so, they welcome it because it helps them to improve and become better. However, for the other group of people that we were talking about that prevents them from being their best, they see failure very differently. For them, failure is personal. It’s an identity. They create an identity out of failure. I often say to people,
“Your results do not equal who you are.”
This is what we need to do now. We need to reframe failure so that we can welcome that when it comes. When it comes to see it as information, it’s a neutral thing. It’s information; not about us but about our approach. It can help adjust our approach rather than we fail and it’s…
“I’m no good.”
“I’m not smart.”
And it becomes personal.
Well I hope that this tip has been useful and you can use it in your own life and to help with other people. Perhaps you might want to leave a comment about how you’ve been able to use failure as a motivation to help you achieve your goals.
Our brains were built for walking—12 miles a day (19.3 Kilometers)!
To improve your thinking skills, move.
Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.
Every brain is wired differently.
What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like—it literally rewires it.
The various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people.
No two people’s brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.
We have a great number of ways of being intelligent, many of which don’t show up on IQ tests.
People don’t pay attention to boring things.
The brain’s attentional “spotlight” can focus on only one thing at a time: no multitasking.
We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail.
Emotional arousal helps the brain learn.
Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion.
Repeat to remember.
The brain has many types of memory systems. One type follows four stages of processing: encoding, storing, retrieving, and forgetting.
Information coming into your brain is immediately split into fragments that are sent to different regions of the cortex for storage.
Most of the events that predict whether something learned also will be remembered occur in the first few seconds of learning. The more elaborately we encode a memory during its initial moments, the stronger it will be.
You can improve your chances of remembering something if you reproduce the environment in which you first put it into your brain.
Remember to repeat.
Most memories disappear within minutes, but those that survive the fragile period strengthen with time.
Long-term memories are formed in a two-way conversation between the hippocampus and the cortex, until the hippocampus breaks the connection and the memory is fixed in the cortex— which can take years.
The way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.
Sleep well, think well.
The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake.
The neurons of your brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you’re asleep—perhaps replaying what you learned that day.
People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal.
Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.
Stressed brains do not learn the same way as non-stressed brains.
Your body’s defense system—the release of adrenaline and cortisol—is built for an immediate response to a serious but passing danger, such as a saber-toothed tiger. Chronic stress, such as hostility at home, dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with short-term responses.
Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember.
Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem—you are helpless.
Emotional stress has huge impacts across society, on children’s ability to learn in school and on employees’ productivity at work.
Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
We absorb information about an event through our senses, translate it into electrical signals (some for sight, others from sound, etc.), disperse those signals to separate parts of the brain, then reconstruct what happened, eventually perceiving the event as a whole.
The brain seems to rely partly on past experience in deciding how to combine these signals; so two people can perceive the same event very differently.
Our senses evolved to work together—vision influencing hearing, for example—which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once.
Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories, maybe because smell signals bypass the thalamus and head straight to their destinations, which include that supervisor of emotions known as the amygdala.
Vision trumps all other senses.
Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources.
What we see is only what our brain tells us we see, and it’s not 100 percent accurate.
The visual analysis we do has many steps. The retina assembles photons into little movie-like streams of information. The visual cortex processes these streams, some areas registering motion, others registering color, etc. Finally, we combine that information back together so we can see.
We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.
We are powerful and natural explorers.
Babies are the model of how we learn—not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion.
Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. The right prefrontal cortex looks for errors in our hypothesis (“The saber- toothed tiger is not harmless”), and an adjoining region tells us to change behavior (“Run!”).
We can recognize and imitate behavior because of “mirror neurons” scattered across the brain.
Some parts of our adult brains stay as malleable as a baby’s, so we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives.
For the past 20 years I have been intrigued about resilience and mental toughness. What makes some people, despite lack of resources, strive and overcome set backs and challenges? And why is it that other people (some with many resources) “crumble” and quit at the slightest hint of difficulty and challenge?
If we are wondering about what we could do to motivate a love of learning in our children, it is useful to consider two questions:
1) What motivates you? Think of a time when despite the difficulties you still continued and achieved your goal.
2) What motivates your student / child?
I think these questions are useful because the similarities in the answers to the questions hint to what motivates us and our children and what causes us and our children to at times lose hope, quit or not fulfil our potential.
I’ll focus my language at this point toward motivating students. However, I believe there are many commonalities between adults and children when it comes to motivation.
How we define ourselves tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Zig Ziglar says, “You cannot perform in a manner which is inconsistent with how you see yourself.”
And Robert Cialdini says, “The strongest need in the human personality is to remain consistent with how we have defined ourselves.”
This is illustrated in the diagram below.
Our beliefs determine our understanding of our potential. This potential determines whether we dare to take action. By taking action we get results and by interpreting these results we form our beliefs.
Carol S. Dweck (“Mindset – The New Psychology of Success”.) discovered in over 35 years of research that there are two predominant identity beliefs.
Fixed and Growth Mindset
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually “all-great” people have had these qualities.
In summary, students with a fixed mindset focused more on looking smart than learning, more on the result / grade than the effort required to achieve a good grade and as a consequence, chose easier tasks that demonstrate that they are smart. This protects how they have defined themselves, smart, brilliant or gifted.
Students with a growth mindset have a different focus. While grades are important what is more important is that they worked hard, put in the effort. They felt that improvement was important and realized that the most brilliant scientists or athletes worked hard to achieve their success. Students with a growth mindset understood that Einstein and Michael Jordan were not born brilliant they had to develop their gifts.
Impact of Praise on Mindset & Motivation to Learn
It goes without saying that our students need good self-esteem. However, the view in the past 30 years has been that to build a sense of self-worth we should tell our children how smart and intelligent they are.
Dweck and her team document a study of children who were given a set of problems from a non verbal IQ test. Afterwards children were randomly assigned to receive one kind of praise. Some received intelligence praise, “Wow, that’s a really good score, you must be really good at this.” Others received effort, process, progress or concentration feedback, “you must of tried hard.” The study was conducted over 6 times as results were so dramatic:
Those who received the intelligence praise were now endorsing the fixed mindset
Those given effort praise believed this is something they can develop through effort
Afterwards the groups were asked what type of task would they like to work on next
Presented with a challenging task where they could learn but also make mistakes – 90% of growth mindset students decided to take this task
The alternative was to take an easy task so you won’t make mistakes – fixed mindset students overwhelmingly took this option
The fixed mindset students wanted to preserve the label – smart
Their motivation to learn was dampened.
What does this mean?
When we praise students’ intelligence we send the message that this is the most important thing
Their sense of self / worth is intertwined with their performance
A big task as educators is to build student confidence
Within the fixed mindset confidence is very fragile
If a fixed mindset student has to exert effort – confidence in their ability goes down
Also if they have a set back confidence in their ability goes down
Confronted with challenging tasks they haven’t learned – confidence also goes down
Within the growth mindset these are not threatened they are welcomed
Opportunities to learn are part of the learning process.
What we now know is that students build a stronger sense of self, a stronger self-esteem when they experience success, rather than be told they are successful or good at it. Evidence based on their own experience is much more powerful than words – particularly if the student does not believe the words are true for them.
A new definition of success needs to be born! Rather than the focus being on grades and individual results (future based), the focus needs to be on effort and improvement (present based and in the individuals control). To decide to be our best, give our best, regardless of the difficulty or challenge is what separates resilient and determined people from those who quit when the going gets tough.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This is exciting research that shows our brain is a dynamic system that has the capability of significant growth. The idea that our IQ measures our intelligence and that it is set throughout the life span no longer holds credibility.
As a result of this new research along with studies in the Psychology of Peak Performance we now understand what creates great performance – and natural ability has little to do with it!
Students love to hear that their brain is like a muscle and the more they practice the more the brain forms new connections every time they work hard and learn. They love the idea of a growing brain being in their hands. One student was relieved when he said, “you mean I don’t have to be dumb anymore”. What a liberating message! This young boy had created a new “identity belief” and teachers noticed changes in motivation to learn and higher grades for all students who understood this.
We can teach our children that the correct answer is important but what is more important is how the brain worked (and exercised) in arriving at the correct answer.
Would it be too radical to say that an incorrect answer is better if thought about than a correct answer to an easy problem that didn’t require effort to achieve?
The outcome from this new research applied has been:
More resilient children
Children who love to learn and solve problems
Students who are more motivated to learn
Children who know the value of hard work, effort and celebrate improvement.
We can teach our children this growth mindset message and help form them into happy, resilient, determined adults who strive to be their best and do their best.
Rocky Biasi is a counsellor and educational consultant. He offers teacher professional development training and runs student well-being sessions. For more information and to contact Rocky CLICK HERE