We tend to think of failure as something shameful, undesirable.
Understandably, failing to achieve anything often causes negative feelings, no matter how big or small the goal or task was.
Asking yourself ‘what can I learn from this?’ is the only way to overcome those feelings -- by changing the way we understand failure -- changing the way we look at it -- it is part of the process of success and leaves valuable lessons if we know how to learn from it.
Two ways to redefine failure and learn from it effectively--
1 - Don't be afraid to make mistakes - Learning from your mistakes is about more than just thinking about what went wrong. The first step towards using failure as a tool for success is to stop seeing mistakes as shameful. Just because you may have failed does not make you a failure!
2 - Think about it - a mistake is not just a natural part of embarking on a new project; it is also part of the human experience. As such, they should be accepted as a necessary step towards achieving your goals.
In her article "Strategies for Learning from Failure", Amy C. Edmondson classifies mistakes in three categories:
1 - Preventable
These are the mistakes we often think of as really bad. They result from lack of focus or attention to the procedures needed to achieve the goal. We’re often so hard on ourselves, needlessly, after such mistakes. This often follows with damaging, negative self-talk like, "Oh, I am so stupid, how could I have done that?!"
2 - Complexity-related
These mistakes happen when the goal is the product of many factors: your own motivation, previous skills, your environment, support network and the resources you have to accomplish it. If any of these fail, you might be unable to achieve the goal.
3 - Intelligent mistakes
According to Adam Mendler in his article "What Sales Executives Can Learn From Failure", having the freedom to make mistakes increases creativity and work performance. Without unnecessary pressures to avoid mistakes and the shame that comes with it, employees contribute more frequently and are able to express more original ideas.
For example, many great inventions were discovered by ‘accident’ (like Post-It notes and penicillin) during the process of trying to do or create something else, entirely! That’s incredible! Whatever the source of the mistake, removing any negative feelings about it and re-framing it as a source of new knowledge is the first step towards learning from failure effectively.
But what's next?
Rethink your approach to your goal
Now that you're looking at the mistake without judgment, think of how you got into the situation. Do not judge how you got into the situation. Simply think about it and through it. What can you learn?
In his article "The 4 Keys to Learning From Failure", Guy Winch suggests you analyze your motivation levels, focus and mindset. Did you feel less motivated to achieve your goal at some point? Did something else distract you from it? Were you approaching your goal with a limited or a growth mindset?**
If your dedication and focus decreased at any time, make note of it and try to find the cause. Identifying the internal and external causes that affected your resolve helps you prepare for them in the future.
In some cases, discussing the failure with someone you trust can help you see the issues from a different perspective. Rely on your support network to pinpoint what went wrong and how you could prevent it.
Identifying what caused the mistake is not enough to prevent it in the future. You need to take steps to prevent that mistake from happening again, i.e., change your approach, your strategy. If Thomas Edison used the same approach and strategy with each and every attempt to perfect the light bulb, he would have been doing the exact same thing expecting a different result. And this, you may very well know, is the definition of insanity! Learn what did not produce the results you wanted, change your approach and hit it again!
If your goal was to write a novel in six months, you've probably identified a few reasons why you couldn't achieve it: lack of time, insufficient planning, or lack of motivation.
But what can you do to prevent those issues to get in the way of your goal in the future? In our example, you could scale down the scope of the novel, spend more time planning the story, or set a specific time to write undisturbed.
In summary, failure is not permanent. As Tony Robbins says, ‘failure is feedback.’ By accepting failure (accepting your feedback of what didn’t work right), analyzing its causes and defining how you can eliminate those causes, you're on your way to achieving your goals.
This, below, is a real game-changer book recommendation I absolutely love and prescribe(!) in the areas of "growth" and "limited" mindset, failure and motivation: Mindset by Carol Dweck
▶️CLICK HERE to watch a short video I produced on Creating Mental Movies to Achieve Your Goals!