Failure and why you should run towards it.

I sat down at my computer to type yesterday and nothing was coming out. I was stuck…frozen….NO IDEAS! I was in Mayday Mode and didn’t even realize it.

Actually that “no ideas” piece of the picture was what I perceived at first, but it was a lie. I had tons of ideas, but non of them were good enough. I was procrastinating and honestly fearful. I was scared of failure.

What’s really happening:

It took a lot of self analysis to figure out what was going on.

Then it hit me….

People have started reading my articles, and suddenly I started to procrastinate. I was feeling a pressure to perform.

It wasn’t obvious, but I finally realized my fear could be summed up in one question: “What if I’m not good enough for people to accept me?”

For me, not being accepted is FAILURE.

Being a recovering perfectionist, I hate failure. It is not an in your face feeling either. It is extremely subtle. I find myself procrastinating mostly on tasks simply because I am nervous about messing them up. What if my outcome is not perfect. What if I fail?

Then, I self sabotage. I simply procrastinate until it is too late to recover. I basically give up, and my worry becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

The cycle is the following: Worry about failure -> Procrastinate / Postpone -> Prophecy fulfilled.

It’s not just me.

Many of our students are going through the same cycle right now as we speak. Classes are coming to a close and exams are looming in the near future or already passed. This is the time of year that I would start to hear things like “Profe, I’m going to fail” and “I can never do that.”

I used to write it off as pure laziness…an excuse not to study. Now I have changed my opinion. It is the fear of failure cycle kicking in, and if we don’t help our students shift their mindset, it will become that self fulfilling prophecy.

Here are a 5 ways to deal with failure in the classroom.

They all have to do with mindset. Since mindset is made of habit of thought and neural pathways, it will take practice and intentionality to change. It would be wise to actually teach our students these concepts.

1. Recognize your emotion behind failure. The first step to changing your mindset on any issue is to recognize how you think and feel about the issue. Have your students sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Have them close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to receive an important test or an exam with the letter “F” written in big bold red ink on the top. Have them write down how they would feel if they received that. Then talk about it. Talking about feelings helps with emotional processing and releases fear’s power over us. Fear will loose its punch when we talk about it.

2. Change your idea of failure. Another step in this process is to change your idea about what failure is. I don’t remember who said this quote, but it is a good one: “You don’t really fail until you give up.” Until you stop and make failure the final destination, failure simply becomes a stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison seemed like a pretty smart guy, and this is what he had to say about failure:

“When I have finally decided that a result is worth getting, I go ahead on it and make trial after trial until it comes.”

In other words, Edison failed and failed until he got the result he wanted.

Failure is not the destination, it is the byproduct of necessary risk to reach your wanted outcome.

That last one was my quote :) .

Talk about this concept with your students. We can’t condemn them for bad grades. We should really only talk to them about what they learned in the process and what they will do differently next time. After a graded assignment, have the students write down what they learned in the process and what action they will take for the next assignment.

3. Change your self talk. We self talk more than people actually talk to us. We make assumptions about what others are thinking and say, but these assumptions are fantasy. We talk to ourselves constantly about what we believe is reality, when really, reality is outside of our thoughts (ouch….brain explosion).

Instead of telling yourself, “I’m going to fail,” be kind to yourself. Have a class dedicated to encouragement. Have a student stand in the front of the room and have others give encouragement about what they experience with that student. Then have the student declare one encouraging statement about themselves to the class (example: “I am super intelligent!”). You will be amazed about how your student will OWN what they say after they declare it to the class. This is a step to changing self talk.

4. Be — Do — Have. I’m opening up a can of worms here, but actions don’t lead to identity. You are created a certain way and from that identity you act. To live life fully, we must decide and discover who we are, act accordingly, and reap the results. Have a classroom discussion about living from identity. If you aren’t defined by your actions, can you ever really fail?

5. Run towards it, not from it. Lastly, as stated before, failure is the byproduct of necessary risk. We must take risks if we want to succeed. Running towards actions that come with the risk of failure is the only way to truly reach successful outcomes. Reassure your students that their identity is not based on their classroom outcomes. They can feel free to fail.

Although this might sound counterintuitive and some students make take it as an excuse to do nothing. It is worth releasing the pressure from all the students who are being held back by fear.

So, take the time to teach your students about failure.

While your at it, record your lesson and send me a copy so I can remind myself to wake up everyday and write again.

Go Deeper

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