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Posts Tagged ‘barriers’

What’s Stopping You?

July 3, 2012 2 comments

What is your first response when you are faced with something new and unfamiliar?  If, like me, you work with young people what would their first response be?

This will certainly be influenced by your past experiences and, most importantly perhaps, your perceptions and beliefs about your own abilities.

It has become something of a cliché to assert that individuals learn more from failure than from success but that does not necessarily mean we should discard the sentiment.

Of course, in reality, what and how we learn from failure is far more complex than this bald statement can possibly convey.

In Engaging all young people in meaningful learning after 16: A review Naomi Haywood et al assert that “Some young people develop an ingrained sense of failure. This can be due to the emphasis schools place on academic achievement and measuring success by test results and levels of qualification[1]”.

This damning indictment of the way the testing system in our schools can create, and then continuously reinforce, self-limiting beliefs that actually condition our children and young people to switch off from learning is something that I have seen frequently in young people.

Perhaps though, it would be more accurate to state that it is the ingrained fear of failure which creates the most significant barrier to learning and makes it so hard for some young people to face new situations and challenges.  The fear of failure triggers ‘fight or flight’ responses in the body, the physiological effect of which is to divert blood flow from the brain and thus make it almost impossible to learn.

Of course this fear is not limited only to ‘academic’ learning.  It includes all learning, all new experiences and challenges that each of us faces almost every day of our lives.

There is a strong likelihood that you will be more comfortable when faced with a new challenge if you have previously had the chance to ‘fail’ in a safe and supportive environment. If you’ve never had that chance, everything new and unfamiliar can seem impossible and you are likely to ‘fly’ from it.

This has led me to think about how we can help young people to unlearn those self-limiting beliefs that are born from the fear of failure.  How can we create a place where young people can begin to ‘fail’ safely? How can we enable them to face new challenges secure in the knowledge that it’s not only ok but good to fail because everyone does (in my case frequently), and that the experience we gain from the attempt improves our chance of future success.

I haven’t got any answers.  I’m asking the question of myself, my colleagues and the young people we work with though so watch this space! Perhaps you’ve got some ideas you’d like to share too…

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