The Truth is, failure happens to everyone. The most effective way to succeed is to understand the power of failure. Success requires learning from your mistakes rather than falling into despair and giving up. One of my favourite quotes is from the great Michael Jordan who I think sums up success beautifully, he said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over, and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”.
There is so much chatter around at the moment about learning from your failures, but it’s not enough to just fail in order to get useful feedback and then to ultimately end up a success. If it were enough, there would be plenty more successful people out there. I do believe failure can be very useful, but only if you learn from it. And unfortunately, many people do not. Experience tells me, you also need to actually study failure, understand it and learn from it. Only then will it constitute valuable feedback and pave the way for us to success.
So my tip/challenge to you this week is to think about three of your failures over the last three years and write them down. Under each mistake/failure/situation, identify the following things.
1. The lesson you got.
2.What planning/preparation you could have done better.
3. Was there a way things could have been executed better.
4. A way you could have prevented the failure/situation/mistake.
5.What things were in your control and what things weren’t.
6.What measure you will use moving forward to ensure you won’t make the same mistake again.
As long as you know where and how to look, failure can absolutely be one of our greatest teachers. However, a common problem when we analyse our own failures and mistakes to learn from them is that, since we are emotionally invested in the situation, we are not able to look at it objectively. So, we tend to make false interpretations of the situation and consequently, learn very little. (Guilty!)
Generally, when we fail at something we instantly try to forget about it and we distract ourselves, often with distractions such as food, alcohol, going out and sometimes even, (dare I say it…. Yep, I do) sometimes even with focusing our attention on others and criticising their shortfalls. The problem with avoiding looking at your failures is that our lessons then become a bit superficial. Failure can also make us feel passive and helpless and can lead us to believe we’ll never succeed no matter what we do or try. However compelling these feelings are, they are nothing more than just feelings, perceptual distortions, tricks our minds play on us after we experience failure. The truth is, we always have more control over things that we acknowledge, and if we want to find our lessons from our mistakes and our failures, we need to analyse the situation properly.
A very powerful tool I use for dealing with this problem is trying to look at the issue as if you were someone else. Imagine you’re tall, (ok, maybe it’s just me who imagines I’m tall in this situation) straightforward, tell it like it is, calculated, an external consultant who comes to take a look at your issue and learn from the mistakes. Look at the situation through the eyes of this external person, who sees the failure that took place as someone else’s and not their own. You’ll find that you’ll be a lot more objective and you’ll be able to realise things that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
If we take the time to learn from our mistakes and failures and bring them to the forefront then our growth will come and ultimately so will our success.
I’ll finish with something I once read in one of Seth Godin’s blogs, he said – A failure is a project that doesn’t work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn’t move you directly closer to your goal. A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding. We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don’t kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won’t work, while opening the door to things that might. School confuses us, so do bosses and families. Go ahead, fail. Try to avoid mistakes, though.