I think sometimes students would rather not try (and fail) than try and fail. In the first option it's easy to say, "Oh, I just didn't try." But in the second option it's much harder, because you have to admit that you did try and still weren't successful. But here's the key - almost anyone who has done anything worthwhile has failed. Not just once, but multiple times. We often learn more from trying something and not succeeding than we do from trying something and succeeding, especially if we limit ourselves to only trying "easy" things that we know we'll be successful at.
Here are a couple of videos that illustrate this point that I think are worth your time. The first is from the TED Conference I attended, which speaker Brene Brown (who also has an excellent TED Talk) described this way:
You know what the big secret about TED is? . . . This is like the failure conference. No, it is. You know why this place is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on stage, so far that I've seen, has not failed. I've failed miserably, many times.The key is still to try hard things, even knowing that you might fail, but then learning from it. So the first video is from TED Fellow Myshkin Ingawale. It's a little over 6 minutes, so please take the time to watch it. The important point to realize is that he built this device - and it failed. So then he built it 32 more times until it worked. After watching this video, think how important his invention is and how many times he had to "fail" to get a working version.
The second video is designed to be motivational, but I still think it has a good message about "failure."
So, what are you willing to try (and perhaps fail) at?
Update 3-22-12: From @kaherbert comes this relevant post from Neil Gaiman