In the previous post, we highlighted the importance of the experience of failure. We also introduced small wins and leveraging a growth mindset as strategies for handling failure more effectively. In this post, we will explore three additional strategies to build our resilience in the face of failure.
Make (Some) Space for the Suck
Failing is still uncomfortable. It challenges our self-efficacy and worthiness. It is okay to “embrace the suck” and experience the negative emotions associated with that failure—temporarily. If we run from these feelings, we will likely avoid putting ourselves out there so we don’t experience those feelings again. We might stop trying. But negative emotions have an evolutionary purpose. They help protect us and can spur us into corrective action. Try exploring those emotions with a sense of curiosity. How do these emotions actually feel? What changes do you notice in your physical state as a result of these emotions? A super fail-er will create some space to wallow in the negative emotions associated with failure, but will then redirect that energy into something productive.
Redirect Energy (By Redirecting Thoughts)
Now that the super fail-er has made space to feel the negative emotions associated with failure, it’s time to turn that energy into action.
Satya, or truthfulness, is one of the moral codes taught in the Yoga Sutras. When examining a thought, statement or action, a super fail-er might ask these three questions to determine if her thoughts and energy are directed in a productive way: Is it true? Is it really true? Is it helpful? For example, perhaps I experienced a failure or setback and I think to myself “I’ll never be good at this. I’ll never succeed.” This thought can be very powerful at generating negative emotions, draining your energy, and lowering your confidence to try again. Let’s explore this thought again through the lens of Satya:
Is it true? Is it accurate to assume that I will really never be good at this or succeed? Probably not. It’s likely I will succeed if I keep trying.
Is it really and wholly true? Does thinking “I’ll never be good at this” reflect the big picture? No. I made some mistakes this time around. If I don’t make those mistakes again, I will improve significantly.
Is it helpful? This question is immensely important. Is it helpful to assume I’ll never succeed? No. If I think I will never succeed, I will stop trying. It is very limiting for me to think this way.
A super fail-er might also redirect energy by examining how he is explaining the failure. We can make the experience of failure worse if we think it is permanent, it will affect many areas of our lives, and we can’t do anything about it. It is much more effective to acknowledge that certain actions, decisions and circumstances led to that failure, and those don’t need to be repeated. In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman teaches three ways to more effectively explain failures and adversity:
The failure is temporary. It happened, it might suck, but it won’t be around forever—the super fail-er isn’t stuck in this failure.
The failure is specific or local. It is compartmentalized to specific areas of our lives. For example, failing to meet a deadline on a project at work doesn’t earn the title of terrible employee, and it certainly doesn’t earn the title of bad parent.
The failure is changeable. This is key. A super fail-er finds something about the situation that can be changed. Corrective action can be taken and lessons learned can be gathered from this mistake. A super fail-er can control where she puts her thoughts and efforts and what new strategy is tried next. This gives the super fail-er power and influence.
What Can We Learn?
This is perhaps the most important element of being a super fail-er. A super fail-er can look at the failure and find lessons to take forward. In The Leadership Challenge, when encouraging leaders to experiment and take risks, Kouzes and Posner propose leaders ask “what can we learn” in a group setting to set the tone that taking risks and making mistakes is acceptable, as long as we take the lessons learned from those mistakes and use them moving forward. Perhaps we learned that we used the right strategy, we just didn’t put in enough effort. Perhaps we learned that we has the right effort, but didn’t use the right strategy. Perhaps we didn’t create proper accountability measures for the small steps along the way. Perhaps we didn’t allocate time to predict and handle obstacles.
Be a Super Fail-er
Failure is a part of life. Without risking failure, we can never truly succeed or achieve greatness. While our mistakes, missteps, additional learning opportunities and failures may never register as famous failures, they will nearly always register on our Suck-O-Meters. We can build our resilience and learn to be better at handling these failures by generating small wins, embracing the suck, redirecting our energy, putting in quality effort and focusing on lessons we can learn.
We aren’t going to get to epic success without some epic fails along the way. With these strategies, we can become super fail-ers. So go forth and fail!
Avery, H. (2015, October 23). Satya: Find Your Truth. Retrieved from https://wanderlust.com/journal/satya-find-your-truth/
Costa, D. (2015, September 28). The Benefits of Negative Emotions: The Key to Wellbeing. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/negative-emotions/
Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2012). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Seligman, M.E.P. (1990). Learned Optimism. New York: Random House.