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Do You Avoid Failure Like the Plague?

By Dr. Margaret Paul
September 20, 2010

What are you sacrificing by focusing on avoiding mistakes and failure, rather than on learning and growth? Fun? Joy? Love? Success?

"You may have a fresh start at any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."--Mary Pickford, 1893-1979, Actress and producer

There are two kinds of people: those who focus on avoiding failure, and those who focus on learning and growth. Dr. Carol Dweck, in "Mindset", one of my favorite books, names these two ways of approaching life "the fixed mindset" and "the growth mindset."  In Inner Bonding®, we call it "the intent to protect" and "the intent to learn." 

In my personal experience, we cannot learn and grow when we are focused on protecting against mistakes and failure. When we have the false belief that mistakes and failure define us, rather than that mistakes and failure are stepping-stones to success, then we continually limit our learning and growth to avoid making mistakes and failing.

This is dramatically exemplified by an example in Dr. Dweck's book. She tells the story of George Danzig, a graduate math student at Berkeley, who, as usual, was late for class. On the board were two math problems, and this young man, having missed the explanation, assumed they were the homework. When he tried to do them, he discovered that they were REALLY REALLY hard. Rather than get discouraged and quit, which a person with a fixed mindset would do, i.e., a person with the intent to protect against failure - he got down to work and within a few days he solved the problems.

When he next came into class, he discovered that these problems were NOT homework - they were famous examples of two problems that had never been solved! This young man had a growth mindset - the intent to learn - and loved the challenge!

For people like George Danzig, failure is not a blip on his screen. His thinking is not about protecting against failure, but about the challenge of learning.

How Would Your Life Change?

What would happen in your life if you made it okay to make mistakes and to fail? What would you do differently in your life if you let go of seeing failure as something bad, and instead decided to see it as just a part of learning and growing?

The truth is that there is no way to move toward being all you came here to be without mistakes and failures along the way. How would you learn what you are capable of if you allow failure to stop you? 

What would happen in your life if you stopped telling yourself that if you fail at something then you ARE a failure?

Right now, in this very moment, are you willing to redefine failure? Are you willing to define failure as part of learning rather than a definition of your worth or your intelligence? Are you willing to see mistakes and failure as just part of the learning we all need to do as we move ourselves toward growth and success?

When you make it okay to make mistakes and to fail, then you are free to try new things, to experiment, and to feel the joy and excitement of new learning and growth.

You have the freedom and the right, RIGHT NOW IN THIS VERY MOMENT, to take the "badness" off failure and see it as just a part of learning and of success. How wonderful would you feel right now if you decided that it is okay to make mistakes and to fail? How free would you feel if you accepted that we all fail at times as we open ourselves to learning new and exciting things?

Try it! Now!


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