Photo by Ian Kim on Unsplash
The most challenging moments in life have some things in common. They are the moments we disappoint our peers or loved ones, don’t meet expectations, or fail to accomplish a goal. The fear of failure is deeply embedded in our culture, from the education system to the way many companies work. Failure is simply not an option.
But what if that wasn’t true? What if failure was not only an option but a key to helping you grow and learn?
We had the honor of interviewing Dr. Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics and the author of “Limitless Mind,” for SURGE Connect. Boaler has spent much of her professional career working to help students unlock their potential. Her findings, backed by years of research, show the only true roadblock to reaching your goals is you. Or rather, your opinion of yourself and what you are capable of.
“Our brains have an endless capacity to grow and change and develop,” Boaler states. “Every day we wake up, our brain is different from the day before.”
Failure is a key component in allowing our brains to create new connections, Boaler says. The time our brains develop the most is during times of struggle. Boaler elaborates on this, stating, “they actually have the brain evidence that shows when you’re struggling is the very best time for your brain. And if you’re finding something easy, that’s not very good for your brain.”
The moments where things are hard, where you’ve made a colossal mistake, are likely the most valuable times in life. These moments are filled with lessons that guide us toward success. This is something many people have heard before: We learn from our mistakes, right? So why do we feel so terrible about making them?
According to Anna Powers, writing for Forbes, two Nobel Prize-winning psychologists found that “the effect of loss is twice as great as the gain from a win.”
This explains why people will go to such great lengths to avoid failure. It psychologically impacts us more to fail than to succeed, and society systematically amplifies this feeling.
Boaler talks about how the fear of failure is taught in school systems. She points out that, “in our culture, we punish mistakes in all sorts of different ways. And our school system is set up like that. It’s hard for teachers now, who know this new evidence, because they say to their students, ‘We value mistakes and struggles. It’s a good place to be.’ But then these tests come in where you’re punished for making a mistake. So that’s a conflicting message for kids, and it’s a hard one.”
By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve been taught on a deep level that failure is bad, yet we know it’s good for our brain development. So how do we truly learn to embrace failure? According to Boaler, we change the way we view it, and we learn to focus on having a growth mindset. A growth mindset is when you feel confident in your ability to do anything, to learn anything and achieve whatever you want. Ultimately, failure will never feel easy, but from Boaler’s research and much of what is being discovered about the possibilities of our minds, it’s essential for us to learn to embrace it. This will transform a fear of failure into an opportunity to discover what is truly possible. Most importantly, embracing failure could look like creating an organizational culture that encourages exploration and making mistakes.
Learn more about what it means to embrace failure — and discover Boaler’s other keys to unlocking a “Limitless Mind” — during our free virtual conference, SURGE Connect, and attend our keynote interview with Jo Boaler. To register, click here.