Afraid to Fail


On New Year’s Eve, millions resolve to exercise, be nicer, to be better learners/students, and more.   New Year’s resolutions rarely work.  Many dream and strategize, but few make the jump.

The authors of Immunity to Change state most goals fail because of competing commitments that lead to paralyzing assumptions (Kegan and Lahey, 2009).  For example, in my early teens, I needed to work harder in school.  Yet my competing commitment being active with my friends.  Another competing commitment was working to have my own money.  I assumed getting serious about studying and homework led to losing friendships and financially burdening my mother.  My flawed thinking set me up to struggle, I just didn’t realize it.

How does this apply to schools?  Everyone has competing commitments and assumptions keeping them from their goals.  Some students assume, “If I make myself work harder, I might fail and be disappointed.”  It feels easier to not try or care at all.  It’s the fear of failure.

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”  -Sven Eriksson

Kegan and Lahey (2009) claim we undo paralyzing assumptions by testing them with safe, yet risky actions.  Perhaps my teenage self could have cut work hours or attended tutorials for one week to see if those assumptions were true.  The test helps our brains let the assumption go and become comfortable with a new behavior.

As educators, we play an important role.  We can acknowledge the competing commitment.  We can help untangle competing commitments by helping students feel successful.  We can make a point to engage and praise student efforts when they take a risk in the right direction.

Our students engage in activities that make them feel effective.  Sadly, the opposite is commonly true.

What is your goal?  What competing commitments and assumptions hold you back?


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