Friday, 7 August 2015

Thoughts on success and failure

Being new to rock climbing is never going to be easy. But to fail what should have been a relatively easy grade 4 climb – that I’d already climbed, I might add – is beyond annoying.

In response, I did what a lot of people would do – I sulked, stomped about, pulled faces, made excuses. And of course, when I tried again I still struggled to get off the ground (literally). What does this say? That I’m useless at rock climbing? That I bit off more than I could chew? That sulking doesn’t work as a motivator, nor endow one with magic powers?

The fact is this is a perfect example of mind over matter, and fits nicely with the mantra: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Yet, at the time I was ready to throw in the towel. Why? Because I appear to be wired with a fixed mindset.

This ain’t no highfalutin psychobabble – I read it on LinkedIn: an interesting piece by author and LinkedIn influencer Jeff Haden, titled The one attitude every successful person has. It asks: “Does skill – and eventual achievement – result from an innate ability or from hard work, effort, and a burning desire to improve?” 

According to the article, research and psychologists suggest there are essentially two types of people: those with a fixed mindset (who believe you need pre-established talent, confidence and skills to accomplish something and that this is set at birth – these people believe intelligence and talent is enough for success and give up on things if they don’t succeed the first time or avoid situations where they might fail) and those with a growth mindset (who believe talent etc can be developed, where failure is not a reflection of their ability but a learning and experimenting process).      

On reading this, I realised I unwittingly fall into the fixed mindset, which, on further reading, is “insidiously sabotaging” how I see myself. Good Lord – sweat starts to bead on my brow – I am doomed to a future of disappointment.

But all is not lost, according to the article. I can develop a growth mindset. I can make slow progress with small goals and small wins, gaining confidence with each win and learning from those I don’t. This is in fact the essence of self development and personal growth. And with this in mind, it’s easy to see how I might now approach that grade 4 climb; how I can learn from my failed attempt to be better the next time.

But this concept also got me thinking. How many people also have a fixed mindset, struggling with their sense of success and failure? And how many of these people actually realise its root cause? The disappointment and depression of thinking you’re not good enough based on one failed attempt or one rejection can be life changing – it puts dreams and happiness in jeopardy. Surely if more people realised what their mindset was and adopted one of growth the world would be a happier place.


The power of realising this highlights that actually anything is possible – or rather, that nothing is impossible. The only limitation is in your mind.      

1 comment:

  1. Highly Intelligent people are particularly prone to this sort of self sabotage. They often have a feeling of being found out to be fakes; that their success is a fluke. This can become stressful, destructive and self-fulfilling where one can set one's self up to fail (even a small one) and thus demonstrate to self that their talent is indeed a fluke. And, of course, added into the mess is an expectation that successful achievement is only that if other people acknowledge it, thus making a failure a public affair up for discussion and dissection (and humiliation for the failee). So, along with the growth mindset, one needs to also cultivate a healthy and pro-active disregard for the opinions of others. Good post, Katrina, and a timely prod to me to re-assess my achievement threshold and dust off those dreams I once had...

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