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Why is failure the key to success?

In an effort to avoid failing, I found myself doing something I had not previously done. I stopped setting goals. For real, I just stopped doing it and I even went so far as to work against my own success in some cases, like I was *really* going to prove to everyone that I did not need goals to achieve anything.

My brain had started throwing up all these thoughts at me:

  • "you have not achieved this goal yet, why keep trying?"

  • "you are putting in the work, but you are not getting the results, so why bother?"

  • "this is a waste of time"

  • "you have too much to do to spend time on that"

  • 'you are not a runner/a VP/a morning person/(insert goal you have not achieved)"

And then it started with what we call "sneaky thoughts":

  • "you are not defined by the number on the scale/miles you can run/title you have"

  • "you are worth more than this one thing you are defining yourself by"

  • "look at all of these other things you have done, stop focusing on the one you haven't"

  • "stop wasting your time on what you don't have, and start focusing on what you do"

We call these sneaky thoughts because they seem helpful reminding us that we are worth more than the thing we are struggling to achieve (which we are!) but they are also our brains giving us an out on something because it is uncomfortable or we are not currently succeeding at doing it. It can both be true that we are not defined by the one thing that we are struggling with AND that we are capable of achieving it.

This is where embracing failure comes in and is critical to achieving success.

And, as I shared at the beginning, stopping setting goals does not avoid failure, it just creates a different path for failure by not showing up. I was failing beforehand, which might be the most painful kind of failure for me to experience, but I did not realize that until I started doing the work with my own coach on how I was showing up and how I was setting myself up to fail in advance.

We often use the example of failure creating success in toddlers learning to walk. Imagine that the first time a little kid stood up to take a step, fell down and decided "well, that's it, clearly I do not know how to walk, I am a failure at walking so I will just accept that I cannot walk. I am sure there are other things that I can do so I will focus there and walking just won't be my thing" We know it sounds ridiculous but sometimes we need those simple examples to help us see the disconnect in our thoughts. Really, everything we learn from birth to somewhere in those young kid years is a reminder that failure is necessary to success. Learning to crawl, walk, talk, feed ourselves, get out of diapers, read, just to name a few, are steeped in failure. The difference is not that we have to suddenly learn how to fail, it is that we have to learn how to frame failure as part of the process, not the outlier to it.

So, how do you teach yourself that failure is not just part of success, but it is necessary? How do you shift your thoughts from "failure is bad" to "failure is important"? We use a couple of strategies in our work that we have found to be simple actions that have big impact:

  • Use questions: we ask ourselves two questions when we are struggling with a goal or to reach a priority:

1) if I fail at this goal, what will happen?

2) what would I say to my best friend?

  • Write it down: spend 5 minutes writing down every thought you have about the goal and failing it

Using these two actions have helped in shifting how we think about failure, and ultimately improved our outcomes and successes. Because one of the biggest lessons we have learned is that our path to our success goes straight through failure, it has shown us that by learning how to experience failure, we actually drive ourselves toward the ultimate goal we want to reach.

So, are you ready to join us in embracing failure and finding your path to success? We are excited to hear your stories!

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