Failure – It’s All in Your Head

by Jennifer Miller on July 26, 2012

in Learning, Personal Effectiveness

newspaper with epic fail headlineDid you know that failure is a good thing? That’s right – learning to fail is a skill that savvy workplace professionals should cultivate, because failure helps you build resiliency. There’s a key distinction between people who give up and those who push through set-backs: how they view their situation.

For decades, Stanford professor and psychologist Carol Dweck has studied the correlation between a person’s mindset and achievement. She says people tend to either have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” A person with a fixed mindset believes that each time he/she attempts something it’s a reflection of how smart/talented he/she is. A fixed mindset sees things in a winner/loser frame and therefore tends to see little that can be done to change the outcome.

By contrast, someone with a growth mindset sees failure as a way to learn. This person welcomes feedback and is willing to practice continually. Someone with a “growth” mindset looks at failure as “a time to be grateful that you are living life fully rather than playing it safe.”

According to Dr. Dweck, people who have this growth viewpoint create “a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”  Her research indicates it’s not your innate talent or intelligence that determines your accomplishment but the way you look at yourself and your world.

So, a “people equation” for this idea might look like:

growth mindset + perseverance + feedback = achievement


hand holding blooming plantLooking for ways to cultivate your growth mindset?

Try these on for size:



Watch the movie Meet the Robinsons – It’s about a family of inventors and is one of the best depictions I’ve seen of how to foster a “growth mindset”. They actually cheer when someone’s experiment fails 🙂

Review these tips on building resilience via the Very Well Psychology site.

Read the comments section on the Mayo Clinic’s blog about “resiliency – who goes the distance and why?” –  as with all blog comments, there are wide-ranging viewpoints. Sift it and you’re sure to find something of use for your particular situation.

Practice accepting feedback with grace.

Check out the book by Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and test your mindset with this free quiz on her website.

You may also enjoy reading 5 Lessons Learned from a Failed Project and Redemption, my own stories of learning from failure.




Disclosure: some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning if you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Simply browsing is free. Hey, a girl’s gotta cover her blogging habit, right?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Art Petty July 26, 2012 at 9:31 am

Jennifer, your post is required reading for all of us, particularly in a world that seems to thrive on reporting failure. (It’s hard to watch the news these days.) Thanks for sharing.

You mention the Mayo website. Another source from Mayo is Dr. Amit Sood, and his excellent book (a guided program): Train Your Brain, Engage Your Heart, Transform Your Life. The subtitle says it all: “a Two Step Program to Enhance Attention, Decrease Stress, Cultivate Peace, Joy and Resilience…and Practice Presence with Love.” I’ll take two of all of that, please!

Thanks for your added resources and wonderful post! -Art

Jennifer Miller July 26, 2012 at 9:44 am


It’s a sad but true commentary on the human condition – bad news sells, good news doesn’t.

Thank you so much for providing yet another fantastic resource, because even though bad news sells, “bad thinking” doesn’t get people what they want. Oh, the irony!

Prasad Reddy July 26, 2012 at 9:45 am

Heartening that you have touched on this, Jennifer.

Having experienced failure (s) and able to pull up myself out those, one thing that I realized is we have never been taught or we have never been sensitized on how to handle a failure (at least the cultures I have seen and the culture I have been part of). It is left to the individual to cope with a failure. Forget about the learning, coming out of failure it self is a challenge for most of us.

I normally tell my audience, whenever I talk, to anticipate/expect a failure and prepare themselves to tackle/handle it right. I believe, preparing one to handle failure will work as he/she will be mentally tuned to.

Thanks for writing on this and sharing good reading/watching resources.

Jennifer Miller July 26, 2012 at 10:00 am


What a pragmatic response, “forget about the learning, coming out of the failure is a challenge for most of us.” That’s certainly the case with most people, especially those wired with a high-achievement mindset.

And, what a wise thing to do – to help your audience to understand how to cope with failure should it happen. Nicely done!

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