I failed at something recently and I found myself repeating a pattern that follows my thoughts of failure, which starts with a lot of finding what is wrong and focusing there. I think it is human nature when we fail at something. our brains try to find all the things that went wrong so that we can figure out how to not repeat it.
Yet, when our brains spend so much time on what went wrong, we can find ourselves in the spiral of shame and blame and those thoughts can keep us stuck on what went wrong, and have complete blinders to what went well (and to be honest, most failures are not total and complete failures, there are things that go well or work in the process).
Here are the first stages of failure that I go through:
question everything, including my own value and ability
blame circumstances outside my control, leaving ownership at someone else's feet
guilt and shame about not being good enough, smart enough, tough enough, you name the 'not enough' and I can jump right in that pool
anger and frustration that I did not see the challenge or the issue soon enough to avoid the failure
These stages are SO easy to go through - they happen quickly and
feel like the default position in my brain. Finding the good, or the value, in the failure feels like a much bigger lift.
James Clear, who wrote one of my favorite books, Atomic Habits, has an article he wrote about the three stages of failure and they are basically the how, what and why mistakes, which he refers to as failure of tactics, failure of strategy and failure of vision. I love how he frames the stages because it allows us a system to identify where the failure occurred and implement key actions to find success.
By using tools that help me evaluate the failure from a more neutral place, I am able to move more quickly through some of my normal stages, and even skip a couple on occasion! A big part of what I have learned is that managing failure does not mean never failing - it means that all of the thoughts and feelings we have about the situation drive our actions and outcomes, so if I want different results, I have to think differently about what happened.
So, what are my top tricks to move through the failure with the ability to acknowledge the negative thoughts and feelings but also find the success?
Be Curious: this is really the core of my strategy - I ask myself questions, I wonder what I would tell my best friend if they were in the same situation and I use "what if" thoughts - what if this is exactly how it was supposed to happen? what if I actually did it correctly? It allows my brain space to explore the idea that what was a failure can still have value in it.
Allow but don't wallow: as a master overthinker, this can be challenging for me, I often can replay scenarios, conversations and decisions over and over in my head. Even though I know I cannot go back in time, I can consume myself with thinking about how one or two things done differently could have avoided this whole scenario and so on. Now I practice allowing myself to go through those feelings but not stay in them. It is normal to feel what we call "negative" feelings and trying to avoid them only creates more challenges so learning how to allow them, but not get stuck wallowing in them is one of my key actions.
Be willing to fail again: in the moments of failure, it can be easy for me to think "never again" and start to consider what I need to do to not fail again. What I have learned is that perspective assumes that failure is bad and success is good, when in reality, they are both outcomes that have value and often, our best successes come out of our willingness to fail. So, now I focus on not quitting on myself or making myself smaller to "play it safe" and embrace that mindset that being willing to fail is one of the keys to my success.
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