Failure, what does it mean?
A lack of success in a physical or mental task
Failure could be an outcome failure – You have failed the exam,
or a process failure – You passed the exam but with a disappointing performance
Very young children don’t fear failure . They fall over many times as they try to learn to walk for example . They are naturally attracted to things that can cause injury. They show little sign of risk aversion . They seem universally attracted to six ‘dangerous’ things:
- Heights – They love to climb, often going dangerously high
- Going fast – Swings and roundabouts they shout to go faster
- Dangerous tools – They love a sharp knife or scissors
- Dangerous elements – Fire is fascinating !
- Rough and tumble – Play fighting runs the risk of injury
- Getting lost – Hide and seek and wandering off
All of these things are thrilling, but also have potentially dire consequences if they go wrong.
As we get older we tend to become more risk averse. The pain (sometimes literally ) of failure looms larger in our lives. High stakes testing in early education makes both process and outcome failures a real possibility. Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless it becomes out of proportion and causes performance anxiety that is limiting. Then we turn to failure avoidance.
How to be brilliant at failure avoidance.
We all have taught students who put far more effort into avoiding failure than in trying to be successful. What are their key strategies?
- Do nothing – this is quite simply the perfect fail safe mechanism. If you don’t do anything you cant possible get it wrong. This is commonly used by disengaged boys and high achieving desperate to please girls.
- Feign indifference – I really don’t care, so I wont try. In doing this you can easily hide your true ability. Failure is from lack of effort, not through any personal inadequacy. This can be extended in more interesting ways by becoming outwardly hostile.
- Blame external factors. Other people – My teacher is useless ! Situations – The equipment is really poor quality , State of mind – Im tired. There are unlimited options here for the advanced skills failure avoider.
- Copying others. A low risk strategy. If I do the same as others then I cant fail relative to them. So I buy my designer label clothes as they are the safe option. I copy a friends homework
- Cheating – Given the option of appearing really good falsely or being quite good in reality. The failure avoider will choose the short term gain even though their inability to do it themselves will probably unravel at a later date.
- Lie – A much easier solution than telling the truth. Failure avoiders are short term fixers, we’ll just get this problem sorted regardless of the long term consequences
- Procrastination – Making decisions is always accompanied by a sense of loss. We now have less options than we did before. By not making a decision I cant get it wrong !
- Ignoring the problem. Reality is far less important than our perception of reality. Lets live in our fantasy world because reality sucks!
- Disappear – Just don’t turn up for the challenge !
Its great being a failure avoider because you don’t have to take responsibility if things go wrong. In your mind you’re still doing ok !
So how many of the strategies above do your students use?
How many do you use ?
Please add any more ideas in the comments
Next post will be – How to change the mindset of a failure avoider !