The Failure Challenge

I go through phases and lately I have been very introspective, as I’m sure you have noticed but I wanted to break up all that seriousness and write something fun and helpful. I really like reading and for right now education is my obsession. Maybe because I’m elbow deep in it with my children and I really don’t want to mess them up. Whatever the reason, the obsession lead me to a whole new topic, The “Growth Mindset”.

Thanks to Salman Khan (the founder of Khan Academy) there has been a lot of focus on the “Growth Mindset” and treating your brain like a muscle. Originally coined by Carol Dweck, the term refers to how we think about intelligence. Dweck has literally written the book on this and I cannot wait to get my hands on the entire thing, Mindset is already fascinating me and I have only read small bits and pieces online via her articles.

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I read another article today on the Huffington Post which made me think about how we train our brain and our children’s brains. The article talks about how we praise our children and Khan also has a video based on the same thing. This whole concept makes me think about what I say to my kids and how we as a family approach learning. We already do so much to help them develop independency in their learning and to promote a healthy view of learning so imagine my surprise when I found myself in the static intelligence camp! I am totally guilty of saying “wow, you did such a great job!” instead of “wow, you worked so hard on that” or at jumping in when I see them getting physically agitated and asking if they would like my help. I wasn’t jumping in and taking over, I was offering assistance… but looking back, yeah I really could have let them keep trying and instead encourage the process. In this photo my big boy is riding a dirt bike for the first time. I wasn’t praising him, his father and uncle ran along side him shouting encouragement…right up until he lost control and crashed into a bush. His yellow sweatshirt leaped out of the bushes and with pride he removed his helmet and screamed with excitement “That was AWESOME! Can I do it again?” He did. He got back on that bike again and again. Little Miss did too, even after getting burned on the leg when the bike fell on top of her. We treated the burn and within 10 minutes she was back on the bike, refusing help because she knew she could do it.

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I will admit, if given the choice between an easy option that ensures success and a harder option that I might fail, I will always choose the easy option. I don’t like failure. I despise it. Every perfectionist tendency screams at the thought of failure. I will also admit that because the early years of mothering were so demanding, exhausting and downright hard, I have lost my ability to read hard books. Before the both of my younger two I read The Prince and The Leviathan for fun. I picked up Einstien, Darwin and Plato…for fun. Often out loud to my son because I didn’t like talking about nonsense to a baby playing with blocks, I felt silly giving a running commentary on the state of blocks and so I just read out loud so that he would still hear language being spoken around him when it was just the two of us. I read them because I wanted to know why they were considered classics. I also read Farenheit 451, Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar (again) just because I could. I tried, and tried, and tried after the younger two were born and I couldn’t get past page 3 of ANY book above a tween/teen reading level. Now I can focus better but I have to build it all back up to my previous ability and its hard, so often I really did not even try. It actually saddened me and for a while there I was convinced that it is just how things worked. It is not how things work. I can change.

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This newer way of looking at intelligence though doesn’t say that your born with innate intelligence and once you met that cap you must give up all hope of rising above. Your not smart or dumb. Instead you learn and grow through failure. Novel concept isn’t it? I am fairly certain that this isn’t a new way of thinking. In fact, I am positive that this is not new. There is nothing new about it because it is the very foundation of the scientific method! It is not new but it has been renamed and re-marketed to the current generation of parents. A response, if I may be so bold as to make a generalization, to the growing resentment our generation has with the whole instant gratification concept that we have been duped by. This idea is probably gaining so much steam because it is a kernel of wisdom that has been lost with the rise of instant gratification and labeling. My question is how do I actively instill this in my own gremlins so that they do not fall prey to thoughts of inability?

The answer scares me and challenges me.

We Fail.

All of us, openly and proudly.

We fail, we analyze and we try again until we find a way that works.

The whole thing actually reminds me of Disney’s Meet the Robinson’s and the “Keep Moving Forward” catch phrase that came with it. I loved that movie, my son LOVED that movie…so much so that he destroyed the disc by watching it too many times. My favorite scene in the whole movie is when the family has a party to celebrate the main characters failure. How cool is that? A Failure Party.

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I am going to create a challenge, a Failure Challenge, to celebrate learning through failure.

There are a couple of ways to join in the fun, choose one or do both:

1) Choose a day, once a week to celebrate your failures as a family or keep. If your a Tea Party kind of family then have a Failure Tea where you celebrate each others failures and the learning that grew from it. It doesn’t have to be a Tea Party, it can be any kind of party that fits your family.

2) Keep a Failure Journal: its like a thankfulness journal or a blessings journal, only we are going to chronicle our failures and the lessons we are learning from them. This is not a bashing exercise of everything we are doing wrong. This is an active way to change how we view failures. Do not look down or feel ashamed of these failures, each one is teaching us or preparing us.

The point of this challenge is to celebrate growth. To teach our children and ourselves not to fear failure but to expect it, grow from it and preserver.

Are you brave enough to Fail publicly?

To appear fallible in front of your children, family or peers?

If so join me!

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