When you want to go out into the world and make something of your life, it can be tempting to think that to make it happen you have to make sure failure is never an option.
It’s a mindset you’ll hear people talk about online and see everywhere in the media, but is it really true? What really is failure? And how can you make it work in your best interests?
We’ve been thinking about these questions, and more, in depth for a while now, so we thought it time to get our thoughts down on paper. To make sure you don’t miss our train of thought, here’s everything you need to know…
What is failure?
Failure means different things to different people, and there are also varying degrees of failure. Being let go from a job because you weren’t up to the task is failure. Coming second in a race you know you should have won is failure. And not fulfilling your full potential is failure. So, how can we get a handle on it and come up with a simple definition that works for this discussion?
This is what we came up with: failure is the inability to achieve what you set out to do and the unwillingness to learn from what went wrong. This means there’s two parts to failure. The first part is where you haven’t reached your goal. You need to try things differently and that’s fine — you’re not going to win all the time because that’s just not how life works. The second point is deeper and is essential if you’re going to reframe failure. Failing to learn from what went wrong isn’t just a mistake, it’s what will set you up for failing over and over again when all you had to really do was stand back and listen to the world around you. In this piece we’re going to take a look at both aspects of failure so you have a better idea of how to reframe it and use it as something positive in your life.
Are failing and abject failure the same thing?
No, not really, because failing could be a one-off instance, whereas abject failure tends to result from either a catastrophic event or change of circumstances, or a chronic inability to feed back in what you’ve learned.
Failing at a task is a part of life and it’s not something to be ashamed of (more on that shortly) but abject failure is avoidable in almost every instance. What you need to do is take stock, reassess what you’re doing, and then feed back in the results and insights you can get from your past efforts and performance. If you do this on a consistent basis you can then start to see failure as a tool for improvement which you can use in any area of your life. Now that we’ve covered the background, let’s take a look at the first way you can reframe failure in your mind and use it as something positive.
Move quickly without losing enthusiasm
Moving quickly from one thing to the next, giving each your best, and then feeding back in what you learned is the name of the game. We don’t mean jumping between competing tasks with little thought, we’re talking about not being afraid to fail fast. Would you rather spend a week trying to perfect a project that you could have found out was doomed to fail if you’d have run a few simple tests in the first half hour after you dreamt it up? You might not like to hear that the idea you have isn’t a winner, but once you know you can spend your time, money, and effort doing something else that could prove to be wildly successful.
Simply by taking the time to be critical of your starting ideas and sparks of inspiration you can find new ways to approach problems. Here’s 3 ways you can start using this approach to life to really make significant progress in almost any area:
- Tell yourself that each idea you reject is getting you one step closer to where you really want to be because you’re homing in on the best way forward
- Remember to try and learn something from each and every idea you come up with, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear at the time
- Take the time to remind yourself that you shouldn’t be too proud to reject an idea or stop doing something and put your efforts somewhere else
If you can begin to start thinking in this way, you’ll find that you can make failure a key tool in your personal growth and progression.
Become braver in your choices
You can be anyone or anything you want to be, provided you believe that it’s possible in the first place. Why? Because if you decide that it’s not possible, it’s virtually certain that you’ll prove yourself correct in record time.
A great approach to reframing is to remind yourself that the fear of failure is always going to be there, and that because it’s a natural part of the human psyche there’s nothing wrong with it. Granted, you don’t want it to get so far out of control that you feel paralysed by it and unable to do anything, but there’s a lot of space in the middle for you to operate in.
If you can break the task at hand down into smaller and smaller steps until you find one which you can face attempting, then go for it. Do so in a way that you’re willing to work through (don’t ask anyone to force you into it) and then tell yourself how brave you’re being for trying to do something new. You may not become less afraid over time, but you can teach yourself to become more brave and there’s a lot to be taken from that.
Understand where your fear of failure really comes from
We’re about halfway through so it’s important here to take stock and remember that your fear will come from somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way because it’s completely natural for your mind to work in this way, but if you can get some insights into what your triggers might be then you may be able to push them to the side a little more effectively. Here’s 3 things to consider when you want to understand the origin of your fear:
- Is the fear you experience linked to a specific past event or experience that you have found hard to process, and would speaking to someone about it allow you to let things out?
- What would you tell yourself if you were someone else? Would you be unkind to yourself for feeling fearful? Or would you empathise and encourage?
- How would you feel if you released your fear by saying it out loud when you’re by yourself? Would simply naming it and voicing it allow you to see that it isn’t the giant roadblock part of your mind has turned it into?
There’s no right or wrong answer with any of these, so take a little time to think things through and then start experimenting with the ones which feel like a natural fit.
Use failure as a learning tool
The key thing to remember is that each time you fail, you’re giving yourself a chance to learn. Succeeding and winning certainly feels great, but it’s easy to get swept up in the moment and assume that because you got what you wanted everything associated with your achievement must have gone perfectly. Failure is different because the absence of a desirable end result pushes you to sit and reflect about where things went wrong and what you could do differently next time.
If you adopt the mindset that you either win or learn, you can start to see what we’re talking about. It will give you the freedom you need to really start to learn from your mistakes, accept that they happened, and then make a commitment to doing everything you can to ensure they don’t happen again.
Accept it as a normal part of personal growth
Lastly, failure is normal and therefore you don’t have to be overly fearful of it. You want a little apprehension in your mind when you’re about to embark on something challenging and taxing because it will ensure that you focus your mind and definitely take it seriously. But what you don’t want to do is allow yourself to be struck down and rendered immobile by fear because all that will do is stop you being able to take the action you need to see the results you’re truly capable of.
Once you see fear as normal and understand that even the most successful, outwardly confident people in the world experience the same thing, you can show yourself that there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. It isn’t a sign that you’re unprepared and incapable, it’s a sign that you care about what you’re doing and want to give a good account of yourself. Most of all, it’s a sign that you’re human.
What happens next?
Rereading this article will allow you to form a strong connection with at least one of our suggestions above. Choose the one you feel closest too and then get to work integrating it into your life. Results and changes won’t happen overnight, but by starting today you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re committing to reframing fear in your mind and using it to propel yourself forward in life.