At some point in our lives, we all experience failure.
Those that are resilient to failure bounce back from setbacks and struggles to try again and again.
Those that dwell on failure become disenfranchised and struggle to continue on even when faced with minor setbacks.
All of us know where we stand on this continuum. For some of us, our ability to bounce back is situational. We may be perfectly able to bounce back from a lost sale but horrible at getting over a broken relationship.
Situational failure modes are usually driven by some sort of self worth we tie to the situation or something we have never experienced. The good news is that since we can overcome some types of failure easily, it’s simply a matter of applying those same attitudes towards our other failures. I know, simple to say, but as usual, hard to do.
Failure is a State of Mind
Our mind is a power thing. It controls how we feel about every situation we experience. Those feelings that the mind releases primarily have to do with our attitudes about ourselves and our experiences.
When our attitudes are negative or defeatist or melancholy, it affects us both physically and mentally. The converse is also true when it comes to positive emotions.
The problem is that the negative gets amplified more than the positive. This is primarily due to how positive and negative emotions are processed in our brains.
Negative emotions, generally, involve more thinking and thus get processed more deeply in the brain — making them easier to remember. This tendency to dwell on the negative also has evolutionary roots since those that learned from past mistakes survived to pass along their genes.
Negativity also releases stress producing hormones that can make us anxious or depressed. Even saying or seeing negative words will produce these effects. Those stress hormones can cause all sorts of havoc on both our physical and mental wellbeing.
We Live In A Relativity Safe World
Nowadays, we don’t really need to worry so much about being eaten by a saber toothed tiger or which berry makes us sick. We have pretty much mitigated all those survival risks by building institutions and collaborating with our fellow humans.
Of course, some parts of the world are dangerous and safety is a major concern. That can’t be marginalized and needs to be dealt with practically but that has nothing to do with our failures.
Even though we are a lot safer, our mind still latches on to the negative and that makes us still prone to amplify the negative while marginalizing the positive.
In order to mitigate this “latching on to the negative”, we have to consciously and consistently interrupt this deep processing of the negative. We can do that by not thinking of failure as failure put practice for next time. This is akin to when great leaders zig and zag around barriers or setbacks.
Practice for Next Time
When we think of failure, any failure, as just practice for next time, we interrupt this deep brain processing because all of us know that practice makes perfect so therefore, our practices will never be perfect.
You can fail a lot at practice and still play a good game. It’s practice where you refine your technique and breakdown the individual motions to allow you to reconstruct the skill. That’s the same attitude to take with failure.
By practicing, you get better. This attitude about getting better will break the deep processing of the negative. This makes it not about the disappointing result or the place you finished but the practice you got in that situation that’s going to prepare you for next time.
Now, I’m sure the negative among you (I know you’re out there), will say what about failure after failure after failure.
Even if you fail repeatedly, you still learn something and can still consider it practice. In fact, repeated fails may mean you should spend your time practicing other things. Don’t let the fear of failure cause you to worry about excessively about failure or the risks associated with failure. Rather, consider the risk of failure a natural consequence of practice.
Get Out There and Practice
Almost all failures are recoverable. Of course, the ones that involve life and limb are not but in general, all failures can be points of practice and learning. By embracing this practice attitude, any failure or setback will become more of a positive growth experience instead of a deep and dark source of anger and anxiety.