Failure can fracture
The fork in the road that is failure depends on our ability to distance or not distance ourselves from the failure.
Framing failure is the name of the game.
Attribution theory, or how blame is assigned in this case, illuminates corresponding levels of effort and mindset (21). Loci is similar. The focus must be internal versus external, or within our control versus some outside circumstance (22).
A truth path divider is psychological distance, or the ability to separate from an outcome. Without it, the cause for failure falls on the individual, cascading into a cycle and habit of learned helplessness, fixed mindset, and self-suppressive activation, where effort becomes pointless, abilities lack, and self-esteem turns to shambles (23–25).
Accepting responsibility is too painful when our identities are on the line, or as one athlete confessed that it felt they had “failed as a human being.” (26).
It is no wonder that stakes such as these athletes choke and the very best performers such as chess great Bobby Fischer refuse to compete for fear of failing (27–28).
On the other hand, failure with distance gives space for learning and growth mindset, self-expansion, and effort (29–30).
Children, when completing a task as a superhero for example, persisted longer than those not being a hero (31). While enclothed cognition of this sort certainly has merit, it is not the only strategy for fracturing failure:
- Exposing oneself to uncomfortable stimuli reduces perceived fear attached (32).
- Assurance, from an adult, friend, or coach, relaxes and ensures that an unsuccessful attempt or effort won’t be ridiculed (33).
- Mindfulness meditation can train the brain to create space between stimulus and response, thoughts and actions, and even increase access to flow states in baseball players (34–35).
- Even our own parents and their attitudes towards failure — not ours — can affect our growth mindset years later (36).
Truly, these approaches are applicable, admirable.
In our next segment, we’ll explore how to go beyond failure and into flow through games, the ultimate failure fracturer.