Feelings of failure can become all-encompassing, overwhelming, and cause us to feel very stuck. One issue explored in Part 1 is that becoming consumed with our sense of failure keeps us stuck in the past and prevents us from moving forward in life. Depression, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness are some of the major symptoms that begin to present as a result of feeling stuck in the past. So how do we keep building skills to get away from this perspective? Let’s dive further into how to approach failures in life.
1. Be thankful for your failure. Whoa, did you hear me right? Gratitude for failure? How can that be?
This doesn’t mean we aren’t disappointed or frustrated when failure occurs. It’s important to acknowledge and validate the difficult emotions that come up when failure occurs. But, we can still practice the skill of gratitude in trial and disappointment. Why is this beneficial? Because in the depths of tribulation and difficulty is when growth happens. If life was a constant cakewalk and we never made mistakes or slip-ups, we would never really get to learn and develop. The pain of failure forces us to learn and adapt so that we don’t face that situation again. Growth and learning is a beautiful gift, and something we often don’t fully embrace until we feel desperate. For example, think of a person who endures a failed romantic relationship. This is a painful and undesired experience, but both parties involved in the heartbreak learn what each wants or needs in a relationship for the “next time” they pursue dating. The person who fails certain questions on a test learns which content he needs to study more, and once he masters those concepts will likely never forget them again because failing those answers was so painful!
So, difficult experiences like failure can be remembered with thankfulness, because you learned about how to adapt, recover, and rebuild. It made you the person you are now.
2. Learn the skill of failing upwards. Similar to practicing gratitude, learning how to fail upwards is a critical life practice. What is failing upwards? Failing upwards means you take failure as data to determine what works and what doesn’t, and you apply that data to continually improve. Using this skill means you do not personalize feedback or when things don’t work. Negative data doesn’t necessarily mean you are inadequate, are unintelligent, are a failure or that you should stop trying. It just means you need to change or reform your efforts. With this skill, you keep moving, accept the learning journey, and aim for “better” each time. Failing upwards is easier to understand from an athlete perspective. When a basketball player is trying to master a 3-point throw, he has to practice over and over again, and accept that most of his shots will probably miss…. At first. But with each air ball or rim shot, the athlete learns how to perfect his hand placement, foot placement, jump timing, and wrist movement. Every time he practices that shot, he allows his body to learn that automatic muscle movement so that it becomes second nature. And he allows himself to learn which movements or angles cause him to miss. It’s not a matter of whether he is a good athlete or not, he’s just perfecting a skill, and committed to getting better and better over time.
Reducing risks for mistakes carries nothing but risks of its own. Just like in a developing child, when all of their opportunities to learn and grow are taken away, they become stuck in this helpless and needy state. They become dependent on their parents for their needs. Children must get up every time they fall, just like how we must learn everytime we fail.
With the practice of failing upwards, it helps you to appreciate life’s feedback. It’s not a race or a competition. Slow down, review the data, adapt, and keep going.
3. Normalize failure. Failure isn’t fun, desirable, or something we aim for. But we have to remember that failure is normal and expected in the human experience. Life is messy and humans are imperfect. We won’t get it right the first time. And like we mentioned last time, most of history’s smartest and most innovative people failed 90% of the time until they finally figured out what works.
St. Augustine is quoted as saying, "I err therefore I am," in Kathryn Schulz's TED Talk "On Being Wrong," she claims that St. Augustine knew that our capacity for mistakes is not a flaw in the human system. It's not something we need to get rid of or conquer. We are fundamentally impacted by it. Failure should be viewed as a tool for personal development. Since it teaches us what not to do, failure may help us develop as individuals. We can develop our resilience and acquire coping mechanisms as a result of it. This is encouraging for the next time.
Let's review some of the most helpful quotes from influential men in history:
- “I have not failed 10,000 times—I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” - Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb
Edison also wrote: “Restlessness is discontent – and discontent is the first necessity to progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man – and I will show you a failure.”
“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” — J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan
“Failure is success in progress.” – Albert Einstein
“Everyone falls down. Getting up is how you learn to walk.” – Walt Disney, in reflection of his experience getting fired from a newspaper editor because he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Abraham Lincoln
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
4. Was it actually a failure? One common mistake that individuals make is considering any set-back, disappointment, or mishap as a total failure on their part or even as a judgment on their character. One of the common cognitive distortions is to personalize every life circumstance as something that is a rejection, a flaw or total failure on our part. Another cognitive distortion is to have all or nothing thinking, where your actions or life is all about absolute success or absolute disappointment, with no in-between. But when it’s a distortion, it’s not actually reality. It’s just our perception of reality because we feel insecure and are desperate to be accepted by others. Some tips to determine if what you are perceiving to be a failure is actually a failure is to:
- Get insight from a therapist or counselor
- Fact check with a trusted, stable member of your support system
- Take a step out of your shoes and try to see your circumstances from a friend’s point of view - what would you say to your closest friend if they were in this exact situation?
5. Step away from the shame circle. Shame is normally the primary emotion that takes place when we hit true failure points. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt tells you that you did something wrong and that you need to correct it. Shame tells you that you are wrong, bad, and it becomes a judgment on your value and worth as a person. Shame is heavy, burdensome, and never constructive.
If you’ve hit rock bottom, shame only keeps you there. Rather than allow yourself to fester in that shame circle, take a step out and reset your perspective. This means you separate your worth from your actions. This can look like the following statements to yourself:
- “I am not a failure, but my actions were not helpful. Let’s regroup and find what actions will be successful for me”
- “I feel like I am a total disappointment but that doesn’t mean that it’s true, I am just disappointed that my ideas did not get me where I wanted them to be”
- “I still hold value as a person regardless of how soon I meet my goals”If you haven’t already, start a healthy habit. Go for walks, practice breathing exercises, take a bubble bath, meet with family and friends; anything that keeps your mind clear and free from negative thoughts. Draw up a list of healthy habits or activities that you might enjoy, decide on a few that you like, and make an effort to practice them on a regular basis. Who knows? One of these healthy habits might even be the secret to your success!
The greatest men and women let loss and emotions inform their life. If you need an outside perspective or professional support to get moving again, call or text us at 949-200-7929.
You can read Part I here.