The Myth of Mistakes and Why Struggle is Valuable
Updated: Apr 26
“Every time we learn, our brains form, strengthen, or connect neural pathways. We need to replace the idea that learning ability is fixed, with the recognition that we are all on a growth journey.” – Jo Boaler, Limitless Mind
“Growth Mindset” and “Fixed Mindset” are terms that are becoming more and more widely used. First researched and coined by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, growth mindset (in a nutshell) is the belief that one can learn, grow and progress, coupled with the desire to.
So why develop a growth mindset? When we learn about and then actively cultivate it, we inevitably begin to open ourselves up to the truth of who we are and what we can do. Whether we are aware of this or not, We are in fact beings of infinite possibility and limitless potential.
What does this mean? It means that if we are willing to put in the time, effort, patience and perseverance, we can learn anything. It means that if we have the courage to let go of false messaging such as “I’m just not good at [fill in the blank]” or “I just don’t have a [fill in the blank] brain,” we’ll allow ourselves to face the reality that usually the main thing that holds us back is…ourselves. Why does it take courage? Sometimes these “false messaging myths” are a type of comfort; if we believe them, or convince ourselves that we do, then they become an excuse, a reason not to try. If we don't try then we don't need to put in the effort. We don't need to look at ourselves with the knowledge that we really can be better. If we don't try, then we can't fail, right? But what is failure, truly? Is it making the endeavor and not succeeding? Or is it not trying at all in the first place? If we are honest and transparent with ourselves, we will understand that choosing not to do something is not the same as telling ourselves that we “can’t” do it.
Of course, there are also those times when we “try,” don’t do well, and then tell ourselves “I’m obviously just not good at this.” Why? Because we didn’t pick it up right away? Who does? Because it takes a lot of effort and hard work? That’s what it takes to grow. People watch videos of “geniuses” and “super-talented people” who seem to excel at what they’re doing so effortlessly, but the hard truth is that they work at those skills every single day, often for countless hours on end. Albert Einstein, considered by most to be a “genius,” himself said: “It’s not that I am smart[er]. It is just that I stay with problems longer.” Anders Ericson, who studies expertise, illustrates these concepts with Mozart. Mozart is often considered to have been born with “special gifts,” including a “perfect pitch,” considered a rare ability. However, when Mozart’s life is examined, it becomes clear that he engaged in specific activities and exercises that developed his musical abilities, including his pitch.
Our society has developed a damaging belief that mistakes equal failure. In reality, when we are learning concepts and/ or developing skills and abilities, making mistakes and struggling through them is when our physical brain pathways grow the most. Remember that no one is “good” at something from the outset. So called “geniuses” and “talented” individuals? They work hard to develop specific skills. Failure isn’t making mistakes. Failure is not trying. So embrace challenges, seek after new skills and abilities, and the next time you find yourself wanting to say “I can’t” or “I’m not good at this,” remember that struggle equals growth. Keep going, and then compare your initial attempts with your work a few months later; as long as you persevere, you’ll see improvement - proof that your brain pathways are expanding.
Because you are limitless.