I was just reading an article that spoke about failure. Because it is autumn, instead of their advice of “fail forward fast”, I shifted it to fall (which for some people feels similar). I remember another article from Donald Trump (love him or hate him, he is financially a success) who said that if you haven’t filed for bankruptcy at least once, you’re not trying hard enough – so it seems that he’s also a promoter of failure (and moving on to success…).
In this recent article on failing forward fast it spoke about not delaying failure, but doing it as quickly as possible. An odd notion to many people, but it got me to thinking about how the mind works in terms of risk taking, failure tolerance and how we may not be living in the moment when we take a chance…
Risk-Averse or Risk-Taking
Selective or global? Extreme or conservative? Consistent or inconsistent? All of these questions are gradings related to risk. And many of these scales overlap. A person may be fiscally conservative while still doing extreme sports in his spare time. The thought of getting back into the dating scene may be paralyzingly terrifying, but she can speculate on real estate without breaking a sweat.
When we deal with the concept of risk – as a personality trait, a way of doing or being – the major term is ‘relative’. And I don’t just mean that you might be more risk-averse than one friend and more risk-taking than another in various ways, shapes and forms, but it also may be related to our relatives (and others from our past).
Whether it is cultural, taught in school or at home, we often get messages early on about what making a mistake means. For some, a small error is met with great disappointment or reprimands (directly at the individuals or within their sphere of awareness), which teaches a little one not to take risks when a more cautious approach may incur fewer bloopers. Others may be praised for trying, even if the result is unexpected or falls short of the mark, which may later encourage attempts with more uncertain outcomes. Even the stories we hear, from family heritage to fairy tales can give young minds a mental structure of the role that failure tolerance plays, and will probably play, in their lives.
Ever made a mistake first thing in the morning (spilled coffee on your shirt, missed the bus you always catch etc.) and it seems to taint the way everything goes throughout the day? A small thing can, at times, expand…
In psychology there’s a concept of ‘halo’ – for example, when someone is introduced as intelligent at the beginning of a meeting, often others give greater credence to the things that person says, or later indicates that actions, words and general being were associated with intelligence of some sort. It’s often when we are predisposed to something, that we notice associated traits. Or in normal language, “what we focus on tends to expand.”
Humans, in an effort to limit the almost limitless number of inputs coming at us from our assorted senses, tend to limit perceptions based on expectations, historical trends and personal labels. So when we focus on the gaffs we make, the errors we compose, the messes we construct, we tend to notice ourselves more in this ‘failing’ light than in the many and varied successes we achieve. Over time, our self-labeling system gives us the identity and the self-fulfilling prophesy of “Failure”. This, in turn, limits our ability to view any accomplishments we may make, and triumphs or victories in our day to day life – which can shift our self concept negatively and constrain our optimism about the future.
The only critical piece of information that we seem to be missing is that we have MADE mistakes, not ARE mistakes. Failing is a ‘doing’ rather than a ‘being’. Who we are is different from what we do (or don’t do). That is of grave importance to remember.
What Does Failure Mean
The official definition of failure is ‘a condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends.’ As we see from the meaning, there is no reference to the individual who is “failing at…”
Failing may be as clear cut as an F on a test, rather than a C+ or A- (understanding that in many cultures anything less than an A may be considered a failing mark). It may also have to do with expectations or, as mentioned in the description, ‘desired ends’.
When it comes to falling short of the mark, there are a number of paths to consider. Reflect on our behaviours, habits, and patterns that may be supporting our success or hindering it. For example, not studying may not promote better marks. Shifting patterns can be supported by the subconscious mind. Sometimes there are other players acting on our relationship with failure and success. Even when we “know” what we need to do, have had past confirmation of our ability to succeed, there may be old tapes running that challenge us or warn us (imagine getting the message ‘you’ll never do anything right’ and confronting that foundational thought at every turn). Under our conscious reasoning for succeeding, there may be underlying and conflicting thoughts or feelings (if I make a go of this, then I’ll be proving someone’s lifelong beliefs as wrong (and I respect them too much to do so)). Extended periods of not achieving the desired end or ends, may fray our positive self concept or resilience. The layers of the onions may be many. However, understanding that there may be additional contributors running under the radar, is a first step in differentiating ‘you’ from ‘failure’.
Learning from Flubs
Is there an advantage to failing? Napoleon Hill is quoted as saying, “failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for greater responsibility.”
Failure can give us an idea of where we are right now. It can highlight what we need to work on. It can inspire us to do something differently so that we aren’t faced with the same results. It may be a red flag to stop doing something, cut losses and redirect completely. It can challenge us to look at our disadvantaged or injured parts that we would rather ignore or hide, take them into the light to reflect on, get help if we need it, and support.
Failure can be the feedback we need to shift directions in the way we think, feel and act. It can strengthen our ‘ability muscles’ and prepare us for greater responsibility or experience for the future. Going back to the origin of this thought, the article I read suggested that getting feedback sooner, rather than later, can help us to move past ways that aren’t working rather than lingering in them. That ‘failing forward fast’ is a bold way to take control of your learning curve, training you to do, reflect and change with greater frequency and assurance.
A few steps that may help in ‘failing forward faster’:
Boundaries: resist the ‘halo’ urge and make specific the failure. Rather than “I’m a failure”, target the issue at hand, “my inbox is out of hand so I’m not communicating effectively with people I need to.”
Reality check: sometimes we need an outside or second point of view – maybe our concept of failing to keep a clean house is relative to someone with a full staff rather than a working couple. If you don’t have someone else to bounce concepts with, imagine your most down-to-earth friend/TV character etc. and what he or she might advise.
Work through old patterns: if you have a tendency in dealing with failure/success that isn’t working for you, and has been with you for a while, it might be time to look at influencers of the past, repeated and reinforced ways of thinking or feeling, and shift them into a different light – through self hypnosis, EFT seeing a (hypno)therapist, or by another means that works for you.
Let go: Take the lessons or feedback and leave the ‘failure’ in the past. Carrying the weight of failure through the present into the future not only burdens us in dealing with the day to day, but skews our outlook for the future.
See you on the other side of ‘failing’,