How you answer that question might determine your level of success, according to Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, looks at why some people achieve their potential while others do not.
Early in her academic career, Dweck studied why some children gave up in the face of failure and why others persevered and went on to overcome obstacles. She discovered that the difference lay in the child’s belief about why they had failed: Those who believed they failed because they lacked an inherent ability gave up, but those who believed they failed simply because they hadn’t tried hard enough became even more motivated to keep trying.
Dweck’s studies apply to education, sports, careers, hobbies and personal relationships, and there’s another layer to this too.
Some students didn’t want to be seen to fail. For them, looking smart was far more important than learning anything, so they only took part in activities in which they knew they would not fail. They avoided any experiences that would require them to stretch and grow. Other students didn’t worry about appearances and took risks because their failures gave them a chance to learn.
In other words, some people want to showcase abilities they believe to be inherent, and other people want to enhance abilities they believe they to be malleable.
The good news is, Dweck discovered that people could change their beliefs and enjoy the benefits. When they learned to embrace failure and keep trying, they improved performance.
There’s hope for all of us who have ever said, “I can’t do math to save my life,” or “I’m no artist.” Perhaps we just need a few more failures and a little more perseverance.
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