December Reflection (Part Three – all about Failure)

As stated in the heading, part 3 of this reflection is mainly about the idea of failure. When we reflect and when we create a list of goals, failure is always part of the mix. You may not think about it in that way, but of course with success in anything there is always failure. If you have ever succeeded in something straight away you have actually skipped over the failure part, however, the possibility of it was always there.

When I first began studying I was getting low marks even though I was reading everything, doing all the activities, going to all the workshops, I still couldn’t get the mark I wanted. But of course, I was starting from a place of absolutely no knowledge on the topic, so realistically it would be pretty incredible to get a high mark, actually the mark I did receive revealed the amount of knowledge I had learnt, which was huge. So I began to see marks as steps. These steps in the process allowed me, early on, to see what we call failure as part of the journey.

Unfortunately most of us have been taught that failure is negative, so we should avoid it at all costs. This mindset can hinder our progress. If we are nervous of failure, or think it is wrong, we may not extend or challenge ourselves enough. Of course we can’t seek goals that are absolutely unachievable, but we also need to extend, progress, challenge ourselves, or else our potential successes won’t become a reality.

To become comfortable with failure takes acceptance, and a lot of reflection to evaluate how to overcome the obstacles you are facing. This is pretty much what I have been doing in my December reflection blogs. Thinking about the success and failures I’ve had over 2019 gives me the indicators I need to set up the next goals in 2020.

Failure is really interesting, and I think it reveals ourselves even more than success does. Most of the reasons I fail is to do with my thoughts and not so much about outside influences. So we need to dig deep into why we are thinking a certain way. Is it to do with insecurities, is it communication, is it over-confidence?? Once you work out the thinking behind the failure you can start to plot steps in place to overcome this.

A few years ago I was present at a speech made by a successful New Zealand business man. The interesting aspect I came away with was his mention of goals, he said “whatever you do, it will take 3x as long, cost 3x as much and you will fail more than you win.” What I loved about this was his total acceptance of the challenges along the way and the willingness to give it a try anyway.

For 2020, I want to actually give failure more time, book it in, so to speak, make sure I’m trying new things out, knowing that I will mess it up, BIG TIME, but carry on anyway. I often measure myself on what I can do, based on what I have done before, so I set goals knowing that I will succeed, but I also need to set goals around what I have never done before. This is challenging! Especially if you fail in public, in front of your peers, your colleagues, your family… but thinking about it in another way, showing the people around you that failure is OK, (actually more than OK), is what we need to do more of. We need to persist with failure.

I recommend listening to Brooke Castillo discuss failure tolerance, and your ability to build up failure as part of a pathway to your goals. It’s a very ‘tough love’ kind of podcast, but if you need to change your mind about what failure is and how important it is, then I think this is well worth a listen. If you are wanting something more scientific then this article, The Importance of Failure: Feedback – Related Negativity Predicts Motor Learning Efficiency, by Jurjen van der Helden, Maarten A. S. Boksem and Jorian H. G. Bolm is probably for you. The article focuses on motor skills learning, however, there are some very interesting facets to how the brain is learning, and how it uses negative stimuli. I also think Tim Harford, an economics writer’s Ted Talk: Trial, error and the God complex is absolutely worth a listen, but you need to watch the whole thing to get the full picture, so grab a cuppa and settle in –

So, how do I fail more, how do I establish a ‘trial and error’ mentality when I’m faced with issues? First, I think the word can’t has to go. Sometimes things feel so difficult the idea that I can’t do it, I can’t get through it, I can’t… just takes over my mentality. So how do I change this thinking. I’m not going to jump to I CAN, rather start from smaller shift in thinking; to: maybe it’s possible, how can I do this, what will it take to overcome this?? It’s so easy to quit part way through when things get difficult. I can think of a particular goal for 2019, that I never even tried. I was too nervous to fail publicly. It is something I have never done, it is something people will see, there is a lot of room for failure, but it is also something I really want to try, it is something I feel passionate about, it is something I want to have in my future.  

The Positivity Blog: How to Overcome Failure: 9 Powerful Habits, takes you through a step by step approach. I think it is very important to take small steps, especially if you have never really conceived failure in this way. If society, education, and governments teach us that failure is negative, or something to be avoided, how can we switch it around and normalise the process of it. However, if you are further down this path, you can set goals with failure in mind. Set times to trial what you are doing, knowing that you will not succeed, that there will be multiple iterations within the process. I’m working through NoeticJournaling: How to Overcome a Fear of Failure: Start a Journal, it is a very robust post, and takes you through several questions and exercises to get you on your way. I’m finding it challenging, and rewarding.

I don’t think this journey, for me, is ever going to end. I will constantly be challenged by failure, but I will also continue to find solutions, and reflect on what is happening in my life.

The first thing is to be aware of your life, aware of how you make decisions, and aware of your own agency. Then you can really start pushing into what and why you succeed, and what and why you fail, and then you can make the changes you need to progress towards your goals, whatever they may be.

The Phoenix must burn to emerge.

Janet Fitch

PS: For those that were following my December reflections, I have decided to carry on commuting for another year. I’ve worked through a number of reflections, lists, questions and decided that if I break it up and use the time more wisely, commuting is the way to go. I will not return to this decision until the year is over. This will give me more energy to think about other decisions in my life.

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