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Issue 66

Defeat and/or victory?

Noela Anastasia
Research Specialist @ Azimut Happy Employees
MANAGEMENT

For myself, and for many of us, the first thing that goes through our mind after we wake up is: I haven't slept enough. And the second one is: I don't have enough time. It doesn't matter if it's true or false,the thought of not having enough pops into our head automatically, and we don't have enough time to question its accuracy or to examine it carefully. Even before getting out of bed, even before our feet touch the floor, we have the feeling that things aren't going as they should, that we are behind with something, that we are missing something. Moreover, in the evening, when we get back to bed, our mind is contemplating all the things we managed to achieve or didn't achieve on that day. We go to sleep under the weight of our thoughts and we wake up again thinking about what we are missing…' (Lynne Twist in her book The soul of money)

In today's society, the feeling of insufficiency, of not having enough is more and more prevailing. Ranging from material things to higher positions and influence, most of us arechasing after something more or something better. From ,, I don't have enough'' to ,, I'm not good enough'', the transition is so smooth that we get to easily confuse thetwo. The feeling of discontentflourishes in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of what they are missing.

This culture of scarcity, as the researcher Brene Brown calls it, brings alongthe pressure of having success and being successful. In the newspapers, on TV or on the internet we can constantly see personalities admired and praisedfor their huge success and their impact on society. On the other hand,society doesn't reward defeat, and you won't find many failures documented or promoted. So what? What's wrong with wanting to be successful? Oh well, achieving success is not a one-step process and you usually have to endure a long, winding road filled with obstacles and setbacks. Or, we, as a society, chose to reward only the final step, the glory and the victory. We want the success but we do not want to deal with failure and all the shame it brings along, so we try to criticize, make fun or hide it away.

This way of perceiving failure as opposed to success forces us to adopt a dichotomous way of thinking, in which people are divided into two categories: the winners and the losers. This inflexible categorization becomes our main source of fear of failure, of avoiding at any cost to be in the "losers group".

What does research say about this?

One of the researchers that dedicated her work to the study of how people react to failure is Carol Dweck. After 30 years of research in different contexts and on different populations, the Stanford psychologist launched the theory of what she calls a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

A "fixed mindset" assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can't change in any meaningful way. A person with a fixed mindset will make effort to constantly demonstrate their traits and talents because they think that success is the affirmation of inherent traits. He or she will not make any extra effort for their personal development, since they consider those traits a fixed given.

Depending on how we perceive our traits and talents, the fixed mindset can foster two kinds of goals: approach goals and avoidance goals. In the happier scenario, we are contentwith our traits and we think that they are enough in order to be successful. So, our approach goal will be to continuously demonstrate how intelligent, creative,sociable, etc. we are (for example, I want to become a team leader because I want to demonstrate to my colleagues that I am a good leader).

The second mix, the least happy one, is the one consisting of a fixed mindset to which we add a negative self-image. Most often, this negative self-image takes the form of thoughts like ,,I'm not ... enough'' and they lead to what research callsavoidance goals. A person in this category will think that he or she is not good enough, and that there is nothing that can be done to change that. Therefore, the only viable strategy is to avoid any situation or context that might let the others see his or her real not-good-enough self. This avoidance orientation helps us survive but it impedes our growing. By avoiding situations where our performance might be evaluated, we miss out on the opportunities which could be the proof that we were wrongly under-evaluated our capabilities. Most importantly, we miss out onthe failures. Besides being a normal part of any developmental process, the confrontation with failure is standing proof that we can survive it. Avoidance is the self-sabotaging mechanism through which fear of failure and fixed mentality are rewarded.  Each time you attempt to accomplish a goal, but you let fear take control and back down, you reinforce the belief that you couldn't have done that anyway.

A "growth mindset," on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. At the heart of what makes the "growth mindset" so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.

If we have this mindset, we perceive obstacles as challenges, we enter the flow state more easily, we approach tasks with more enthusiasm and we thrive after dealing with failure (Dweck, 2006). Not only are we not discouraged by failure, but we don't actually see ourselves as failing in those situations — we see ourselves as learning. In addition, when it comes to receiving feedback, having this mindset helps us become more open and not so easily defensive.

By accepting challenges and not shying away from opportunities we create a learning loop. The interesting part about this loop is that successes as well as failures are perceived as learning experiences, and they act as rewards that reinforce the behavior, which makes us try again.

Most people don't belong to a single category; they have a mixture of different proportions of both mindsets. The good news is that mindset is learned! Life experiences, and the information received from our family and friends predisposes us to adopt one of those two mindsets. This means that, if we are willing to do something about it, we will most likely succeed at changing it.

How to foster a growth mindset?

There are two powerful questions that can help you see a bad experience in a new light. Take a few minutes and answer these questions honestly. Don't expect to see amazing results right away, but if you're persistent in your effort, you will slowly see some changes.

The two questions are:

  1. What did I learn from this situation?

  2. How can I grow as a person from this experience?

We all have this problem - shame is universal. The only people who don't feel shame are those that lack empathy and can't form emotional connections with others, the sociopaths. Shame is the fear that, because of something that we did (or didn't do), we will be judged and pushed away by others. We are biologically and psychologically wired to need human connection and to belong to a group. No wonder we try at any cost to maintain our social connections and to avoid damaging them!

In order to develop shame resilience, you need to do exactly the opposite of what shame is telling you: to go and to talk to someone about what's causing you shame. If you can share that experience and the person responds with compassion and empathy, shame will not thrive. Taking into consideration that shame is a social phenomenon- it appears in the context of human interaction- that is where it heals best.

*These suggestions are just a few possible ways to help you adopt a growth mindset. If you are curious to learn more about this topic, check the work of Carol Dweck and Brene Brown.

The ball is in your court now. It's up to you to try and embrace challenges and to accept failure as a natural part on the road to success. Keep the following words in your mind: "To dare greatly has nothing to do with victory of defeat. It is about courage. In a world dominated by the culture of scarcity, where being afraid has become our second nature, to fail is something subversive, something uncomfortable, something dangerous. [...] Even so, I can honestly say that there is nothing as uncomfortable, or dangerous and painful than to wander how your life would be if you had had the courage to show yourself to the world exactly as you are. '( Brene Brown, Daring Greatly)

Bibliography

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