A week dedicated to failure?

Photo by Luiz Hanfilaque on Unsplash.com

Photo by Luiz Hanfilaque on Unsplash.com

A private school in Melbourne has created “failure week” in its curriculum. The intention is to encourage students to embrace failure and not just focus on success. Making mistakes is an important part of learning after all, and for all.

Embracing failure
The purpose of embracing failure is to build resilience. The way it works is to help students learn well by being able to make mistakes, recognise them and then reassess their strategy. It is about having a mindset that is not fixed into thinking that being right, winning and succeeding is the only desirable outcome. More flexibility and productive learning comes from a growth mindset.

The power of a growth mindset
A growth mindset is a simple idea discovered by Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist. Her research on achievement and success led to the development of this simple but important idea.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This does not mean brains and talent are not important – they are just the starting point. A growth mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. These qualities are available to students of all ages. Likewise a growth mindset is available to all.

Limitations of a fixed mindset
People with a fixed mindset believe traits are given. This perspective suggests that each of us has brains and talent and nothing can change that. People in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. For them, it is not enough just to succeed, or to look smart and talented. In other words, you have to be flawless. That’s a tough self-belief to grapple with.

A fixed mindset is a judgemental one. It creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging. The internal monologues may feature thoughts like …

“This means I’m a loser.”
“This means I’m a better person than they are.”
“This means I’m a bad [insert role, career, relation].”

Fostering your growth mindset
If you are interested in fostering within yourself, a more flexible, growth oriented perspective – you can. It begins with self-awareness and the way you relate to your own successes and failures. With a growth mindset, a key word to gain importance in your vocabulary is “yet“.

People with a growth mindset monitor what is going on around them. Rather than compare their own performance to others, they take a curiosity perspective – asking themselves questions like:

What I can I learn from this?
How can I improve?
How can I help [insert name] do this better?

They are predisposed to being sensitive to positive and negative information. They are attuned to constructive “action”. I haven’t mastered this yet. I am progressing towards it.

Constructive steps

  1. Recognise your own fixed mindset “voice”
    When approaching a new challenge, notice the voice of your inner critic that may question your ability, remind you of the perils of failure or of what others will think of you if you do. The key here is awareness. Notice how often the inner critic prevails.

  2. Recognise your choices
    Consider alternative choices available to you when you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism. Within these incorporate the growth mindset approach. You can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs you need to try new approaches/strategies, increase effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It is your choice.

  3. Talk back with a”growth mindset” voice
    When you respond to challenges, make a point to reframe your inner monologue with a growth mindset voice. The shift might look like this.

    From: Are you sure you can do it? May be you don’t have what it takes?
    To: I’m not sure I can do it yet but I think I can learn to do it eventually and with effort.From: What if you fail? You’ll be a failure.
    To: Most successful people had failures along the way.

    From: If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and maintain your dignity.
    To: If I don’t try, I automatically fail. Where is the dignity in that?

  4. Take “growth mindset” action
    Choose your action to reflect your growth mindset perspective. This will include embracing challenges, learning from setbacks and trying again, hearing criticism in constructive terms for further efforts.

Making the change
Belief in your ability to improve, attain challenges and achieve your objectives is within our grasp if we are able to frame the challenge and our response to it constructively. Taking a perspective that sees potential in our own abilities, is both constructive and positive and can result in a the enjoyment and satisfaction from our efforts. It seems positive in so many ways, without being vanilla-coated.


The power of believing that you can improve – TED Talk, Carol Dweck

Ivanhoe Girls Grammar Failure Week – ABC News story


Share your comments here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: