Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Accepting failure as learning

I hope L and I can teach our kids to see failure in the right way. This is a great article on how to start training them to do it.


via Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow on 11/25/08

Stanford Magazine reports on the applications from psychological research Carol Dweck's work, which uses careful experiments to determine why some people give up when confronted with failure, while others roll up their sleeves and dive in.

Through a series of exercises, the experimenters trained half the students to chalk up their errors to insufficient effort, and encouraged them to keep going. Those children learned to persist in the face of failure—and to succeed. The control group showed no improvement at all, continuing to fall apart quickly and to recover slowly. These findings, says Dweck, “really supported the idea that the attributions were a key ingredient driving the helpless and mastery-oriented patterns.” Her 1975 article on the topic has become one of the most widely cited in contemporary psychology.

Attribution theory, concerned with people’s judgments about the causes of events and behavior, already was an active area of psychological research. But the focus at the time was on how we make attributions, explains Stanford psychology professor Lee Ross, who coined the term “fundamental attribution error” for our tendency to explain other people’s actions by their character traits, overlooking the power of circumstances. Dweck, he says, helped “shift the emphasis from attributional errors and biases to the consequences of attributions—why it matters what attributions people make.” Dweck had put attribution theory to practical use...

...[S]ome of the children who put forth lots of effort didn’t make attributions at all. These children didn’t think they were failing. Diener puts it this way: “Failure is information—we label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, I’m a problem solver, and I’ll try something else.’” During one unforgettable moment, one boy—something of a poster child for the mastery-oriented type—faced his first stumper by pulling up his chair, rubbing his hands together, smacking his lips and announcing, “I love a challenge.”

Such zest for challenge helped explain why other capable students thought they lacked ability just because they’d hit a setback. Common sense suggests that ability inspires self-confidence. And it does for a while—so long as the going is easy. But setbacks change everything. Dweck realized—and, with colleague Elaine Elliott soon demonstrated—that the difference lay in the kids’ goals. “The mastery-oriented children are really hell-bent on learning something,” Dweck says, and “learning goals” inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviors than “performance goals.”

The Effort Effect, Carol Dweck's book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" (Thanks, Dad!)

Posted by email from jsheldonus's posterous

1 comment:

Tamar said...

Thanks for posting this great article. Carol Dweck's work is so important to motivating children to keep on trying. I have written a new book for parents and professionals which draws on this research called, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness.

In addition to chapters on all the ins and outs of kids who are too hard on themselves, see the flaws to the exclusion of the strengths, I devote an entire chapter to the topic of teaching kids (and giving parents the language to do so) how to think their way through and overcome failure, losing, disappointment and jealousy. If you'd like to check out an excerpt, please go to www.freeingyourchild.com.

Here's to more resilient kids!

Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.