growth mindset

math test with red F

Failure and the growth mindset - It’s OK to Fail...Really!

I’m my own worst enemy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to fail. Don’t like to be revealed. It’s like hanging dirty laundry out for others to see. But I fail daily and so often that I now realize that my failures are part of who I am, my individual learning curve. I know that it’s important to accept the fact that I will fail, and to learn from these failures and move forward. If I don’t, the feelings of anxiety and shame associated with my failures, whether large or small, will begin to consume me and erode my self-confidence. These negative feelings and scripts are of no benefit to me, and it’s up to me to meet them head on, and change the messages that I give to myself.

I’ve read many articles on the value of failure as related to learning and growth in an individual. No one likes to fail, but some of us will fail more often than others. Dyslexics often experience their fair share of failures in the classroom, and in the workplace. The types of messages that we give to ourselves after we've failed at a given task will determine our desire to keep going or to quit, These scripts, if negative, will remain with us and will affect how we view ourselves, how we interact with others, and will influence the future goals we set (or do not set) for ourselves. This type of self-talk is limiting.

Why are some dyslexics more successful than others? Might it be that those who are successful see their failures and setbacks as opportunities for change and growth? How about those dyslexics who do not feel they have reached the level of success that they desire? Can these individuals change the messages that they give themselves when they fail, and in turn, experience positive growth and future success?

Let’s also consider the individual who generally performs above average and is constantly given the message by others that he is gifted or smart, academically or otherwise. Do these “positive” messages foster growth in this individual, or might they cause this person to hit a wall when he encounters a problem that he cannot solve? Will he avoid future problems or tasks that he cannot easily solve or complete? Will he only work at a comfortable level, play it safe, and not take any risks that could lead to greater success for himself?

The work of Carol Dweck has helped me to see the value in making mistakes. It’s o.k. to fail. Really! It’s how I will grow. But what I say to myself when I fail is equally important. My “self-talk” affects my motivation and desire to keep moving forward. Carol Dweck, Ph.D is a leading researcher in the field of motivation and a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is the author of the bestselling book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. Below is a You Tube video of Carol at Talks at Google discussing the growth Mindset:

I was first introduced to Dweck's work while taking a free online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Stanford University taught by Jo Boaler, Ph.D Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. As a child and later as an adult, I was one of those people who would describe herself as "Stupid in Math". I felt that I would never be able to master mathematical concepts, and it was by necessity that I explored Boaler’s course “How to Learn Math for Teachers and Adults”. I needed to help my son learn 5th grade Mathematics. I realized I had “hit the wall” with my less than desirable, Subpar math skills and was unable to fully assist him in his daily work. Boaler's course helped me to challenge the stereotypes I had about myself as a woman learning math, and her subsequent course for students helped my young son to learn the value of perservering through tough open ended math problems. Boaler's work involves teaching with a growth mindset in mind. Boaler promotes mathematics education reform in schools and challenges the myths and stereotypes surrounding learning mathematics. You can read more about Jo and her courses here at her site,

So what does it mean to posess a growth mindset? – According to Mindset Works, of which Carol Dweck is co-founder, the growth mindset focuses more on individual improvement and less on worrying how smart one is. The big idea is in understanding that intelligence can be developed with hard work and persistence, that it is not fixed. Students who can foster this mindset in themselves show greater motivation in school, and have better academic outcomes.

We can all learn from our failures, and it is important for all of us to challenge how we view ourselves as learners. As we age, many of us get more rigid in our thinking. Young children can often serve as guides because they are learning and making new mistakes daily. Developing a growth mindset is knowing that learning is not just about producing the right answers all the time. It’s about giving yourself permission to improve constantly, to make the effort, to think outside of the box, to create, innovate, and to stretch your brain and grow.

I often need to catch myself in interactions with my young son, as I begin to tell him the “right” way he should be doing things. In many instances, there are many “right ways” to approach problems. As a parent, it is important for me to get out of his way and let him explore and find his own answers and praise him for the hard work and effort he's making. For myself, it’s equally important to get out of my own way, to keep an open mind and let myself search for new ways to do things. If I fail, instead of making the typical statement, “I can’t do this”, a growth mindset statement would be “I can’t do this….yet.” That’s empowering, and indicates there is always room for improvement with persistence. Tieing praise to effort, hard work and persistence, not to intelligence, is what will ultimately keep us moving us forward.

The bottom line? Let's learn from our failures and let them guide us. Let's confront our fears and go beyond them. Let' get unstuck. Let's try something new. We can all improve and make progress. For example, I'm learning how to write code. I have no experience with it, and would never have entertained the thought to try it before. but I'm taking a chance on myself. I struggle with it daily, but I am making slow improvement and my brain is making new connections I never thought possible. "I can't do it", becomes "I can't do it.... yet."

What’s between our ears can make or break us, and we have the power to change the tape, and change the path, one encouraging word at a time, for ourselves and those whom we love, by working on developing a growth mindset. Failure leaves us open for new opportunities, and new directions.

Read 10 top quotes on failure from one very successful dyslexic entrepreneur, Richard Branson HERE

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