Most people don’t want to fail. That’s because society conditions us to see failure as bad and something to avoid. This is not the case. Failure is not bad. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good either.
I’m certainly not urging you to go fail. But what I am urging you to do is be realistic. You can’t avoid failure.
Failure is inevitable. You can’t escape it. Think of it more as a law you can’t dispute, like gravity. Or like the wind or rain. Failure happens even if you try and avoid it there are so many variables in life you can’t control.
When you think of failure as good or bad this is the subjective filter you your circumstances through. So you decide what you want failure to mean and how you want to relate to it.
How to fail at almost everything and still win big
You can’t avoid failure, and you shouldn’t try. This doesn’t mean you should take giant risks. You still want to try and mitigate major failures, because anytime you fail in a massive way, your brain captures the moment, stores it and will do everything in its power to have you not suffer the experience again.
So, here are my five rules for how to fail at almost everything and still win big…
Rule #1: Fail small
You want to fail small. Focus on incremental progress. The actions you take in pursuit of the major goals you’re out to achieve in life should be at the edge of what’s comfortable for you. Think: Expansion. Think: Growth.
Small failures won’t stop you. In many cases they will propel you forward into the next action. This is because if you’re willing to assess and learn from your failures, and the insights you gain from them, you will get closer to success. You start to see what to do from learning what not to do.
Which, brings me to my next rule for failing like a master…
Rule #2: Use every failure as a learning opportunity
Reshape your entire context of failure so you view it as a feedback mechanism to your progress. When you fail, all there is to do is look at what led to the failure. Then estimate what you need to succeed, and put that in for next time.
When you fail, you want to stop and ask yourself the following questions:
- What outcome did I not achieve that I wanted to?
- Why? What action or structure was I missing? Speculate.
- What am I putting in place to improve the outcome next time.
- What valuable learning can I celebrate from this failure?
Sometimes a failure means you’re going the wrong way and you need to change your entire strategy. Sometimes a failure means you need to learn something new.
A failure can mean you’re very close and now you know the last thing you need to do to win.
When you look at failure as a way to assess your progress, you can look at what action led to the failure, and what you can do to improve as you continue to pursue your goal.
Rule #3: Depersonalize your failure
When you fail, step back and evaluate the circumstances. Take yourself out of the equation for a moment and look at the actions that led to the failure.
One of the biggest errors most people make when they fail at something is they personalize their failure with thoughts and language such as: “I failed”. Instead, focus on the failure as being a breakdown around the actions you took. You didn’t fail, an action you took failed. Sometimes it can be that you failed to insert a specific action.
For instance, let’s say you were in a long term relationship with someone you invested years with and considered marrying. One day the other person ends the relationship. You start to lament and think about all the things you did wrong and how you are a failure in relationships. You start to personalize the situation.
Instead of making the failure about you, depersonalize it. Look at the facts. What failed was the relationship, not you. And maybe you encouraged the relationship to fail, but it’s only because there were actions you took (or failed to take) that led to the breakdown. Your actions caused the failure, not you.
If you are having trouble wrapping your head around this, it helps to think of a baby learning to walk. If that baby stumbles and falls, is that baby a failure? No. The baby failed to walk. The baby isn’t an entire failure. It’s learning to achieve a complex task that it has never done before. You’re no different.
Rule#4: Bring empathy to the situation
Most people are really hard on themselves. I’ve learned this from coaching hundreds of people, and from listening to my own mental chatter. And this usually gets worse when we fail.
If you get mad at yourself when you fail it helps to remember to bring empathy to the situation. I learned this from the Dalai Lama.
When you start blaming and getting angry at yourself, step back and take a moment to relate to your situations with love, with kindness with self-compassion. Looking at yourself as a baby. A baby can do no wrong. Self kindness gives you energy strength and the will to keep going.
Healing comes through forgiving yourself, and being kind to yourself. Seeing what you did as something not to repeat. Or something to learn and grow from.
Negative self talk and blaming yourself is a choice. It’s something you need to train out of yourself. When you fail, go be by yourself, get quiet, love yourself.
Rule #5: Write a failure story
For cataclysmic failures you have trouble overcoming, use this trick I learned from Robert Steven Kaplan. He’s the former Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, and currently the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
When you have trouble getting over a failure write a failure story. Here is how: Write a short story about your failure that gets all your thoughts out on paper. Write about why you suck, why you’re a failure, and use intense emotions when you write it. Then, read the story to someone out loud. Eventually, as you read it, it becomes silly to you. It loses the emotional weight. (This might take a couple of repeated readings out loud.)
You will start to pull your emotions out of the failure, and see it as just a silly thing you can overcome.
I recommend doing this only when you have a lot of trouble overcoming a failure. You know, one that gnaws at you, and that you can’t let go.
Remember: A failure is only a failure if you see it as one. Let me repeat that: A failure is only a failure if you see it as one.
Your life is just a series of events. You’re born you take actions. The actions you take produce certain results and then get you closer or farther from where you want to go.
This thing called “failure” is a concept you were conditioned to believe in. In the world we live in, there’s an agreement of what success looks like. What’s not that is failure. So failure is really a belief you have about something that’s happened. And beliefs can be changed.