Your brain on failure

By Michael McCauley Is failure actually good for you? Recent studies by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck  indicate that it is.  For forty years she has studied how people handle failure, and her research has led her to identify two distinct mindsets that dramatically influence how we react to failure. She’s recently published a new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which explains her findings.  A “fixed mindset” is grounded in the belief that talent is genetic – you’re a born artist, baseball pitcher, or math wiz. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are entitled to success without much effort and regard failure as a personal affront. Conversely, a “growth mindset” assumes that no talent is entirely innate and that effort and learning make everything possible. Since the ego isn’t on the line as much, the growth mindset sees failure as opportunity rather than insult. In her studies,  Dr. Dweck  tracked and compared brain waves of subjects with both growth and fixed mindsets. She  found that when those with a growth mindset fail at something, they actually enter a more focused mental state as they try to figure out their mistake and how to learn from it. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset never enter this focused state of learning and show little, if any, advancement from failure. In essence, fixed mindset people don’t learn from their mistakes.  Antoine Bechara, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at University of Southern California, has gone further and actually isolated the spots in the brain that are responsible for our fear of failure and our fear of success. These are the points in the brain where we debate risk and reward. By studying brainwaves emanating from these two locations, Dr. Bechara has found that in a normally functioning brain, failure is welcomed as an opportunity for learning, and for strengthening us. What we learn from these studies is that failure is normal, healthy and necessary to learning. Great coaches and teachers know this, and they give us the opportunities we need to fail in a controlled environment so that we can learn and grow.]]>

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