How to Fail Well

Question: What is the importance of failure?

Tal Ben-Shahar: One of the mantras that I repeat over and over again to myself, to my students, is learn to fail or fail to learn. One of the things that I tell my students about halfway through the class -- when it's too late to drop the class and they've already gotten to know me a little bit better -- I tell them that I wish them that they fail more, and I truly, sincerely mean it, because it's only through failure that we can learn -- no, it's not true. It's through failure that we can enjoy deep learning. It's through failure that we become more resilient and stronger. And if you look at the life of any successful person, they've always had major as well as minor failures.

Question: Have any historical figures exemplified the concept of failing well?

Tal Ben-Shahar: Sure. Thomas Edison patented 1,093 inventions, more than any other scientist inventor in history. He's also the scientist, as far as we know, who has failed the most times. When Edison was working on a battery, one of his inventions, an interviewer came over and said to him in the interview, "Edison, you have failed a thousand times; give it up." To which Edison responded, "I haven't failed a thousand times; I've succeeded a thousand times. I've succeeded in showing what doesn't work." Edison also famously said, "I failed my way to success."

Recorded on:  September 23, 2009

Tal Ben-Shahar’s most important lesson to his students to be sure to fail, and to fail well. He explains why this is and introduces us to the most successful individual in history at failing, Thomas Edison.

Are you a Boltzmann Brain? Why nothing in the Universe may be real

A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Boltzmann Brains are hypothetical disembodied entities with self-awareness.
  • It may be more likely for a Boltzmann Brain to come into existence than the whole Universe.
  • The idea highlights a paradox in thermodynamics.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain
  • When it comes to educating, says Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a brave failure is preferable to timid success.
  • Fostering an environment where one isn't afraid to fail is tantamount to learning.
  • Human beings are complicated and flawed. Working with those complications and flaws leads to true knowledge.
Keep reading Show less

What is kalsarikänni? The Finnish art of being "pantsdrunk"

Drinking home alone in your underwear just might be what you need to be as relaxed as the Finnish.

Big Think art department / Finnish tourism department
Personal Growth
  • Päntsdrunk is the latest trend to come out of Northern Europe and it involves drinking alone at home.
  • Finnish writer Miska Rantanen outlines the philosophy in his newest book titled: Pantsdrunk: Kalsarikanni: The Finnish Path to Relaxation.
  • Kalsarikänni is a word in Finnish that literally means "drinking at home and alone in your underwear."
Keep reading Show less