Today, I told one of my students that ‘feedback is information’ and ‘that there is no such thing as failure’. They responded by saying: ‘yes, there is and it’s not a pleasant experience’.

 Is failure having an impact on our ability to learn and change?

The NLP presuppositions

When I trained in NLP, I discovered the NLP presuppositions or the critical mindsets that many successful people seem to have and at the heart of these lie a fundamental concept: we cannot change other people nor their behaviours, we can only change our own.

Two of my favourite presuppositions are ‘The map is not the territory’ and ‘There is no failure, only feedback. There are no mistakes, only learning’.

  • The map is not the territory

We are all responding not to an external event but to the internal maps of the world we have created over the years. They are based on the emotions and experiences we have encountered throughout our lives and through which we have developed values, beliefs and memories.

Imagine an iceberg – your environment and behaviours are at surface level and what you can see above the water line and your capabilites/values/beliefs/purpose deep under the water.

Some of these maps are very useful and others are not. The most important thing is to become aware of these maps and how they impact your thinking and your communication and to recognise that they are just that, a map (and that they can be changed).

If you don’t believe me – have you ever heard someone describe a situation you were involved in and them depicting the event in a completely different way from the mental picture or memory you had? This is also the reason why when the police asks for witnesses for an event, they often get 5 witnesses and 5 different versions of what happened…

  • There is no failure, only feedback. There are no mistakes, only learning’.

If I apply for a job and don’t get it, I can choose to see this as a failure or as useful feedback. It can tell me what I haven’t done well enough and what needs to be done or changed to ‘bridge the gap’ between where I currently am in terms of skills, knowledge etc and where I want to be (goal). Seeing failures as feedback is so much more empowering. The same if we see mistakes as something new we have learned.

When we think about failures it is negative and it doesn’t feel good. When we feel about feedback, it is much more positive and motivates us toward success. There is a clear difference between the two. Feedback enables us to learn from our ‘mistakes’ – for instance we put more effort into the task, change our behaviour or simply adjust our priorities.

Eddison seemed to agree with this when he said:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Eddison

What would happen if we taught this to children?

When my children went to primary school, I bought them a pencil and a rubber and told them to use both freely and with pleasure for every time they would use the rubber to correct what they had written and write something else, they would have discovered, learned and understood something new.

It seems to have helped them because they don’t have issues rubbing things off and ‘making mistakes’ or as we call it ‘receiving feedback’.

What would happen if we introduced this concept to young people from primary schools and if we taught this in secondary and Higher Education?

Would students be more inclined to learn?

Dr Dweck and her Growth Mindset work seem to corroborate these ideas.

What do you reckon? Feel free to comment below.



Flourishing Education