Failure to Win, Part 2
I just came across a fascinating article by Marina Krakovsky in Stanford Magazine entitled “The Effort Effect” in which she discusses Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck’s three decades of research into individual achievement and performance – or attribution theory. According to fellow psychology professor Lee Ross,
Dweck helped “shift the emphasis from attributional errors and biases to the consequences of attributions—why it matters what attributions people make.” Dweck had put attribution theory to practical use.
As a father of four, I often tell my kids that failure is not necessarily a bad thing, but that they should learn from their mistakes and, should they fail with one approach, to try another approach. The key is to keep moving forward, even if their momentum takes them in a completely different direction than when they started. Looks like I have a few years of clinical research to back me up:
As a graduate student at Yale, Dweck started off studying animal motivation. In the late 1960s, a hot topic in animal research was “learned helplessness”: lab animals sometimes didn’t do what they were capable of because they’d given up from repeat failures. Dweck wondered how humans coped with that. “I asked, ‘What makes a really capable child give up in the face of failure, where other children may be motivated by the failure?’” she recalls.
At the time, the suggested cure for learned helplessness was a long string of successes. Dweck posited that the difference between the helpless response and its opposite—the determination to master new things and surmount challenges—lay in people’s beliefs about why they had failed. People who attributed their failures to lack of ability, Dweck thought, would become discouraged even in areas where they were capable. Those who thought they simply hadn’t tried hard enough, on the other hand, would be fueled by setbacks.