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Success rarely comes without roadblocks, hardship, and failure.

If you’ve ever read anyone’s success story, then you have undoubtedly found out that their victories weren’t absent from previous failures and struggles.

In many ways, those past failures are what make successful people who they are today.

Recent research has shown that when we focus on both the failures and successes of our role models, we are much more likely to be motivated and inspired by them to improve ourselves.

This is because when we see ourselves going through similar struggles as people who we look up to, we can relate to them much more. We see them as humans, and imperfect, just like the rest of us – regardless of how perfect they may seem inside our heads.

By acknowledging the more humble, imperfect, and “human-like” characteristics of our role models, we feel much more capable of overcoming similar obstacles and achieving our goals.

The truth is that even the happiest and most successful person in the world experiences downfalls every now and again. We should therefore expect to have similar struggles when pursuing our own values and goals.

A related study (PDF) published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students who learned about a topic in science, as well as the struggles scientists go through when discovering their theories, ended up better understanding the curriculum when compared to individuals who didn’t learn the history of scientists’ struggles.

Researchers say this is because students often hold a stereotype that scientists are big brained, super geniuses. In other words, they hold an ideal about who these people are – and it’s an ideal they can’t relate to. Therefore they think scientists are somehow “special” and different from us.

But when students learn about the background of most scientists – they find that they aren’t that special, and often times they go through their own frustrations and failures.

Their success is just as much based on hard work and perseverance as it is their genes or biology. Knowing this, students become more motivated and inspired to overcome their own struggles and frustrations.

The big lesson here is to be careful of idealizing mentors, role models, and other people who we may look up to. They are, in fact, human. And they often share much of the same pain we do when trying to improve ourselves and achieve our goals.

Once we understand that even the most successful people go through rough times, we feel more capable of overcoming rough times of our own.


Discover more tools to daily growth in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement

The Science of Self Improvement

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