How to benefit from failure

Failure is an inevitable part of life. Some failures define us to the core and others slip under the radar and go unnoticed. Usually, failure is accompanied by a sense of embarrassment and insecurity. Thus, we have to be careful to make our relationship with failure productive rather than destructive.

As children we are taught that failures are shameful and we should avoid them as much as possible. This leads to a fear of failing which leaves us paralyzed and unsure of how to act and proceed. The purpose of this article is to redefine failure, outline steps to effectively learn from failure, and provide a simple framework on what to do when faced with failure.

Imagine a new born baby reaching for a toy. As the infant reaches for the toy, its aim is off, and it grasps the air beside it. However, each of these ‘failures’ register in its tiny subconscious mind and the baby learns to make slight adjustments every time it reaches for the toy. Eventually the baby develops the necessary hand-eye coordination to successfully grab the toy. The baby adds this skill to its repertoire of skills and moves on with its life – happy and content.

Why is it that as adults we are unable to view failure in the same way the baby in the example above does? I believe, because the consequences of our mistakes are larger, we find it harder to accept failure as a learning opportunity and opt to avoid making mistakes and failing.

Failure is defined in the dictionary as the following:

“Failure is the lack of success”

The definition above is akin to saying, “Cold is the absence of heat”. I say we ditch this bland definition and instead redefine failure as the following:

“Failure is a natural feedback mechanism guiding you to try a different approach to reach your goal”

How to effectively learn from failures

1. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Life will keep throwing the same test back at you again and again until you learn your lesson. Save yourself the time and effort and avoid making the same mistake again.

2. Learn from others’ failures. Some mistakes don’t have to be repeated and you can learn a lot by observing others and listening to them when they speak about their past failures. It might not always apply to you, but could be useful information.

3. Failures don’t make you a failure, only your attitude towards yourself can do that. Detach your self-image from the actions you took that caused the failure. Change your actions to gain a more favorable outcome.

4. You can’t change failures, but you can choose how to respond to them. This can be quite hard for some to manage. Controlling your emotions and responding in a calm and collected manner can be difficult to execute. With time and practice, acting graciously in the face of failure will make it easier to handle failure which will eliminate your fear of failure.

What to do when you’re faced with failure?

Below is a simple framework on what to do when faced with failure.

Admit

The first step is admitting the failure and acknowledging its presence. This might be difficult for some people to do, however, is crucial because if you think no failure was made, then why would you change anything?

Analyze

The second step is to analyze the failure and understand why it happened. The following questions will help you analyze what caused the failure:

  • Why did you fail?
  • What steps led up to the failure?
  • Did your reaction or behavior contribute to the failure?

Adapt

The final step is where the magic happens. Learning from a failure is the most important step in evolving and growing into a newer, wiser version of yourself. Just like the baby learning a new skill and grabbing its rattle, you’ll learn something new and grab your rattle too – whatever that might be.

  • What could you do differently that would result in a better outcome?

What do you think about the ideas discussed above? How do you view failure?

Let me know in the comments section below.

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