Is Failure the Key to Success?
By Sarah Godfrey


We place a lot of emphasis on encouraging our children to succeed. But have we ignored a vital ingredient to achieving? The American Psychological Association published a study that indicated that if we tell our kids that failing is an option and that failing is a normal process of learning they are able to learn better.

A bunch of sixth grade students were given a difficult problem to solve. Afterwards half were told failure is normal and practice helps to overcome failure. The other half were asked how they attempted to solve the problem. They were assessed on working memory (a function that helps us succeed in academic learning) and reading comprehension. The kids who were given permission to fail had better results than those who had not been given the failure option.

Surprised? Let’s think about it. Our kids appear to be struggling with increasing anxiety related to performance. There is enormous pressure on students to achieve and by achieve we mean high achievement. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and high standards. On the contrary. It is important for all of us to strive for our best.

images (1) But what happens when our best is below par? What happens when we have a bad day or life, hormones and being a kid gets in the way of performance and ability? How does the emotional brain bounce back if it hasn’t a blueprint on the meaning of failure?

And what about intellectual risk taking. How do we encourage our kids to learn new and novel things if success is the total end game without understanding the concept of failing? The more we try to learn, the more chance we have of failing so sticking with “what you know” becomes a safe option.

Have we, in an eagerness to be positive and encouraging to our kids forgotten the golden rule for success. It is in attempting to solve problems or learn something new that we succeed, even when the results may fail at first or we may not reach the goals we initially set ourselves. The try, try again philosophy is built on an understanding that we will often fail before we succeed. And this process is integral to learning and achieving.102815-Failure-21

Incorporating an understanding of failure as part of the overall learning process may be just as important as encouraging our kids to succeed. The end result may be more resilient students, more intellectual risk taking and a reduction in performance anxiety.

That can only mean success for our kids.


Perfect is not an attainable goal.

“One failed exam doth not maketh the man (or woman)” in other words we are far more than a lousy mark on a piece of paper. Learn from the mistake or failed grade. If you bummed out in Maths but got a part in the school play, or passed your English exam then it tells you something important about how your brain is wired. It struggles with numbers and enjoys words. It is not that you can’t succeed at maths, you will have to focus more on learning it. Being perfect means you have no place to grow, so accept imperfection and see things as a challenge not a failure. Pushing yourself from a fail to a just pass is success, don’t discard the small achievements.

Study what went wrong to learn what went right.

Stay in the now.

Anchor those ruminating thoughts. Stop thinking on what will happen and focus on the now. What do you need to do right this minute? Finish the chapter? Write up your notes? The worry that “I  have an exam to pass and it is too much to learn” can become “I have a chapter in a book to read right now and if I try to find one thing interesting in the whole chapter, then I have succeeded in learning.” Use your mind to control the worry rather than letting it control you. Stay with the details not the big picture when you are trying to study.

Failure is Growth

When you fail you learn to be smarter, more resilient, humble, compassionate for others who fail and determined. You will learn more about who you are by the way you manage disappointment and failure than you ever will know by the successes you achieve.