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Failing and Failure

A Crucial Difference to Escaping the Trap of Pornography

When animals, be them tadpole or human, win at something, their brains release testosterone and dopamine. With time and repetition, this signal morphs the brain’s structure and chemical configuration to make successful animals smarter, better trained, more confident and more likely to succeed in the future. Biologists call it the Winner Effect.

The not-yet-named Loser Effect is equally cyclical: contrary to Nietzsche's adage, what doesn’t kill you often makes you weaker. In one study, monkeys who made a mistake in a trial—even after mastering the task on par with other monkeys—later performed worse than monkeys who made no mistakes. “In other words,” explains Scientific American, they were “thrown off by mistakes instead of learning from them.” Some research similarly suggests that failure can impede concentration, thereby sabotaging future performance. Students arbitrarily told they failed compared to their peers later displayed worse reading comprehension.

Finally, when we fail once, we’re more likely to fail again at the same goal—and sometimes more catastrophically. In one study, dieters fed pizza and convinced they’d “ruined” their daily diet goal ate 50% more cookies immediately afterward than those not on diets at all. When we fall short of our goals once, our brains say “Abandon ship!” This spiral explains why one failure can seem to set many others in motion. Unfortunately, we often do exactly the wrong things after failing, thereby perpetuating our failure. Understanding these two “effects” are a key part in for one to escape the TRAP of pornography.

There’s a difference between failing and being a failure. I’ve met people who see each failure as a sign that they are a failure. But everyone fails. Even successful people. Even our heroes. Even the people who seem like everything they touch turns to gold. Often, we hear about people who’ve succeeded long after they’ve trudged through all those failures along the way, so it can seem like their success came easily. Perhaps the most important difference between failing and being a failure is that “failing” is just a setback/disappointment whereas “being a failure” is a mindset.

We must separate the failure from our identity. Just because we haven’t found a successful way of doing something (yet) doesn’t mean we are a failure. These are completely separate thoughts, yet many of us blur the lines between them. Personalizing failure can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and confidence. Get the “maximum mileage” from a failure, by learning what went wrong and adjust behavior to avoid repeating it. Like it or not, failing is a part of life which can spur growth and self-knowledge rather that discouragement.

Acceptance of and application of these truths are crucial for those escaping the TRAP. “Being” a failure connotes permanence and acceptance of a self-defeating mindset. Recognizing that failing at times in their progress is an opportunity to grow, and part of the journey. And for the parents, family, friends, mentors, and ecclesiastical leaders supporting their escape, knowing the difference is essential.

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