Master Your Mindset

How To Embrace Failure to Achieve Success

By Karmen Dadourian

I will not tell my children they are smart anymore! And here’s why…
Most people are held back not by their innate capability, but by their mindset. They think intellect is fixed, but it isn’t. Our brains are like a muscle. The more we struggle and use our brain, the more it grows.

The Power of a Growth Mindset

The idea of Mindset was introduced to us by Stanford University psychologist, Dr. Carol Dweck, who has researched motivation and success for decades.  Her research shows that there are two types of mindsets – Fixed and Growth.

  • People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their intelligence and talents are fixed. They believe that people are either smart or not.
  • In contrast, people with a Growth Mindset correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure.

Dweck found that those with Fixed Mindsets are more likely to focus their efforts on tasks where they have a high chance of success and shy away from tasks where they may have to struggle. They are not easily able to change course. They have a ‘right or wrong’ frame of mind and look at suggestions for change as criticism.  In the face of obstacles and challenges, they can get angry and defensive.
In a Growth Mindset, people believe their brains and talents are just a starting point. They love learning and building resilience through many trial and errors. It’s this passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval which makes the Growth Mindset the winning ticket. Intelligence, creativity, even relationships can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. As Dweck so aptly summarizes it:

“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.

Put the Theory into Practice

I decided to beta test the theory last Fall as my 12-year old was starting Middle School. Many of his classes were challenging and he couldn’t wing it as much as he used to. I made a conscious decision that I was going to let him struggle and even fail – let him figure it out on his own.

Just a few months into the school year, he had already stumbled a bunch! However, I also decided to praise him when he persevered with things that he found difficult. One night my son asked, “Are you proud of me for acing my science test?” I said I was proud of all the effort he put into studying and even all the hours that he struggled to figure out the answers by himself. I told him that by struggling, his brain was growing. Of course, he didn’t believe me! That was the first sign of a Growth Mindset. He ended up finishing the year well, excelling in certain classes and doing OK in others. But most importantly, he got the message and learned to rely on himself more. This, in turn, helped him gain the confidence to try new things and be resilient in the face of challenges.

Foster a Growth Mindset at Work

My clients will often ask me, “What can I do to better develop and grow my employees?” My answer always starts with the mindset they’re able to foster in their team. Here are 3 key things every manager can do to support a Growth Mindset:

  • Encourage people to take risks and allow them the space to struggle and fail. Don’t run to their rescue every time. Sometimes we step in and take over a project or task so that no one fails. This behavior is dangerous for two reasons. First, you send the message that you don’t believe in or trust others. Second, you rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow. 
  • Cultivate a culture that doesn’t tolerate blaming. You want a culture where there’s personal accountability and responsibility. When clients come to me and say, “My people can’t do this because the market is soft,” “competition is fierce,” or “we are short-staffed,” I will agree with them that they are in a challenging position. However, my next response always is, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” You have to get in a mindset where you’ll thrive no matter what your environment is. As a leader, you can’t let a constant stream of excuses trickle down. Stop the cycle of blame, take control and choose a Growth Mindset instead.
  • Cultivate a culture that does tolerate setbacks.  In certain cultures, if you stumble you go on the ‘bad’ list. Make sure you convey to your people that you value learning and perseverance, not just intelligence.

At the end of the day, it comes down to believing we all have the power to improve AND that our failures don’t define us. Rather, they are something to face head on and learn from.