Fear of failure

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Fear of failure

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We’ve all heard the term fear of failure. And we all know people who won’t take any risks, because they’re afraid of failure. And it does afflict many children. Research has shown that fear of failure can grow out of a fixed mindset. You think you have a certain amount of ability or talent and if you do something too hard or you have to work too hard at something or you make a mistake, that’s going to mean that you’re not smart or talented. That’s where fear of failure comes from – when you think the failure reflects on you as a person. In a growth mindset, a failure isn’t delightful, but it’s information about what you did wrong and what you need to do to succeed in the future. It’s important to know that almost everyone who has achieved great things has failed many, many times. It’s important for that to be put into a framework of learning. I heard about a high school in Chicago that gives the grade “not yet”. Instead of telling students they failed, they get the grade “not yet.” And what that means is that the student is on a trajectory of learning. Failure means, “Oh, you’re zero.” But “not yet’ means, “Oh you could be here and you need to be there.” It’s very hopeful. When you have this idea of learning over time, of “not yet,” you don’t fear the failure.

View Carol Dweck, PhD's video on Fear of failure...

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Carol Dweck, PhD

Psychologist & Author

Carol S. Dweck, PhD, is a leading researcher in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford. Her research focuses on why students succeed and how to foster their success. More specifically, her work has demonstrated the role of mindsets in success and has shown how praise for intelligence can undermine students’ motivation and learning.

She has also held professorships at and Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured to education, business, and sports groups all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the National Academy of Sciences. She recently won the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the highest award in Psychology. 

Her work has been prominently featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, and The London Times, with recent feature stories on her work in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post, and she has appeared on such shows as Today, Good Morning America, NPR’s Morning Edition, and 20/20. Her bestselling book Mindset (published by Random House) has been widely acclaimed and has been translated into 20 languages.

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