How to overcome failure and use it to prosper

For a while, a few years ago, a cult of failure grew up in business circles. The founders bragged about their past failures and talked about them like badges of honor.

But remembering failures is easy. In the moment, failure doesn’t feel that way. In fact, it’s terrible.

But the reality is that failure is an inevitable stepping stone on the road to success. If your goal is to be successful, you will have to accept it. The best way to do this is to reframe failure as a tool for learning. That will help you come to terms with – and even see the gift, in failure.

Here are three tools to look at your own failings and let them propel you to even greater heights.

Forgive yourself. It may sound trite, but mishaps are much smarter when you punish yourself for them. It’s bad enough that you had a bad result in something that was important to you. It’s even worse when your critical inner voice goes on and on about what a mess it was and therefore who you are.

It’s natural to feel this way, especially for high achievers. The trick is that you have a set of phrases on hand to use when the negative committee in your head starts cawing. Prepare in advance for negative voices when you are in a positive state. So allow yourself to think of the phrases you would say to a dear friend who was being self-critical. Some examples might be “this is a temporary hiccup and you’ll do it right next time” or “you don’t have to be perfect”.

If you’re not sure what to say, you can think about what you said to a friend in the past when they were beating themselves up. Or you may remember what a friend told you in the past and found it comforting.

Write those phrases down so you have them ready for when you need them.

Focus on learning. Now that you have quieted your mind a bit, you can look at the situation more analytically. What went right and what went wrong? What would you have done differently? How can you use this situation to build your repertoire of skills to make sure it becomes a net win, rather than a net loss?

A first-time businesswoman was trying to develop her public speaking skills. She agreed to speak at a big conference, and unfortunately, it went horribly wrong. She was nervous when she couldn’t get her slides to work, and she was so nervous that her voice shook.

After calming down and discussing the painful experience with a supportive mentor, she saw what she could get out of it. She used to be someone she could quickly improvise at company meetings, so she didn’t prepare very thoroughly. However, her talent for thinking on her feet in a small meeting didn’t seem to translate to a big stage. For future presentations, she realized that she would have to prepare a lot more, including having rehearsals with a live audience in order to test her slides as well. An added benefit of this experience was that she began to prepare more for her all-worker meetings, which also began to go much better.

Either you are winning or learning. If you’re not winning, then focus on learning. So you can win next time.

Please try again. The worst result of failure is that it makes you stop trying. When you find yourself holding back from doing another run at something difficult, train yourself to try again. You can take a smaller step, or you can discuss your approach further and share it with a few people to get their ideas. One of the benefits of failure is that it makes you more thoughtful, but don’t let that turn into overthinking. Or risk aversion.

One leader made a rule for himself: Whenever he had a significant setback, he made sure to try a new approach or something just as risky within 30 days. That ensured that he would always be moving forward and not stuck in the swamp of feeling bad about things that didn’t work out.

When you accept that failure is inevitable and use it to help you learn and move forward, you will inevitably achieve more success on the winding road of your personal and professional life.

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