Every self-help expert or motivational speaker espouses the virtue of failure. There are countless quotes, like how failure is a stepping stone to success or one of Winston Churchill’s more famous lines, courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. Disappointments matter, but they are necessary to achieve your goals finally. But is failure always inevitable?
If, for example, your goal is to become fitter and finish a marathon, being unable to accomplish that by the time you’d hoped to feels like failure. It feels even greater disappointment when the failure is caused by a lack of adherence to a strict schedule, a lack of motivation, or not being fully disciplined. This can make you feel discouraged to try again. If you no longer place value on the task you failed, you’re unlikely to keep going at it. This is called the sour-grape effect. A fatal mistake can be to continue without noting what caused the failure. Say you decided to become a plant parent and did something wrong to impede the plant’s survival. Getting a new plant where you repeat the same mistakes is the wrong way forward.
Humans are inclined to fail and fail the same. But there are ways to ensure you use any failure you encounter to enrich your life further and ensure you meet your targets.
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How to learn from failure
1. Don’t take negative feedback poorly
Negative feedback can impact how much you are likely to succeed. The sour grape effect makes people less inclined to do better and achieve their goals. You’re more naturally inclined to remain consistent if you receive positive feedback. But if you let negativity weigh you down, this can cost you. If your goal is weight loss, but the readings on your scale aren’t decreasing, it can feel discouraging. But you can’t let yourself succumb to despair or give up.
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Relying on self-image to determine your motivation can harm achieving your goals. Ultimately, the best way to improve would be to monitor your habits and see where you are going wrong. If your goal is weight loss, record your calorie intake and how much you’re exercising to see if you’re doing enough to make any dents. If you’re trying to improve in school, do more practice tests to see where you’re struggling. Negative feedback helps you pinpoint where you’re error-prone. Instead of getting bogged down with the idea you could have done better, use it to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to improve.
2. Don’t distract yourself
A common reaction to failure is hiding your head in the sand. Acting like it didn’t happen, and distracting yourself with short-term joy can waste your time and resources. If you’re memorising lines for performance but keep messing up, refusing to acknowledge your shortcomings and instead opting to scroll through social media won’t help you.
Studies show that people are more likely to avoid negative feedback by avoiding the task once they receive it. Taking a short break is encouraged, but hiding from your problems won’t eliminate them.
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3. Advice someone going through the same thing
Odds are, you are armed with the knowledge to succeed at a certain task. If you’re in a group where you all want to achieve the same, such as a study group, helping someone else with the same problem can unlock the answers you need to succeed in your tests. Collaborative brainstorming can help you avoid further instances of failure.
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Self-distance is a way to face your failures and avoid getting overwhelmed by the emotions brought by negative feedback. You can do this by addressing your failures in the third person. You can also write down a survey questionnaire in the third person to interrogate where your failure stems from. This can also help you avoid spiralling and look at your routine in a rounded way. This makes the failure seem less daunting and a normal part of your journey.
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5. Ask for help
If you’re struggling because you need assistance, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Finding the humility to tell someone you need help can be challenging. But most of your loved ones, experts, or even strangers on social media would be willing to help if you ask. They can become your new trainers, accountability partners, or someone to listen to when you feel overwhelmed.
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6. Keep track of your progress
This helps you visualise what you have been working towards. If you are writing a book, you can create a graph to track the number of words you write each day. It’s encouraging to have a physical manifestation of the changes you are aiming for. You can also use this to aim for progress rather than success, which becomes incidental to your efforts rather than the main target. It also reduces the pressure.
Failure is inevitable, but it’s not the end of the journey. It can be a meaningful step in achieving your goals or an excuse to give up. The difference between those who remain stagnant and those who go on to triumph through perseverance is that they never let failure get the better of them. It can also guide you to unexpected places where your life is much richer.
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