Failing Forward

5 Amazing benefits of Failure.

Failure can seem so final. It can mark the end. The end of an endeavour, the end of a relationship or the end of a dream. It has the power to knock us out cold. It may even feel like we may never recover. 

Take a moment to reflect on one such failure. What was it about? How did you feel while it happened? More importantly, how did you recover from it?

This last question is a vital technique to employ if you want to build toughness within yourself. Looking to past failures, not to dwell on how awful it made you feel, but to remind yourself of how well you recovered from it. Thus, failure can teach us a number of valuable lessons...

1. It teaches us how to not do things

Amazingly this is one of the most valuable lessons a person can learn. Did you know that human beings have wanted to fly since the beginning of time? The first experiments with flying were based on the assumption that, you only need a pair of wings. After all, there were plenty of birds in the air to show that the concept does work! With a lot of hindsight, we  now know this not to be true! What they learnt was that the anatomy of the average bird supported lift and provided the perfect conditions for motion through flapping. Humans were, sadly, not blessed with a bird-like anatomy. Essentially the first attempts at flying were disastrous failures! 

The key benefit of knowing how not to do something is the ellimination of the wrong idea. That allows for fresh thinking and improved design, which is exactly why we have the aircraft we have today. Innovation works like this. Long before a prototype is created many ideas are tested and probed until a viable product, idea or process emerges from the experimentation. Therefore, the amazing thing about finding out how not to do things is that it frees up your thinking to find better ways of doing things!

Wouldn't it be great if you could think of your life as an experiment, instead of this thing where you must be perfect at all times? What mistakes would you deliberately allow? Which rabbit holes would your curiosity make you plunge into? What innovative ideas would you come up with if you were not afraid to fail? 

2. It teaches you ways to correct for future success

If you are prepared to learn from failure, you will automatically ask the question: "How do I make this work better next time?" Failure can turn you into an options thinker. The most successful people in the world are Option Thinkers. Richard Branson [who's life is a great example of continuous experimentation] is awesome at this. His fundamental principle is: "if this doesn't work, we'll try that, if that doesn't work, we'll try something else". Sir Branson has had some spectacular failures, including going bankrupt and having to sell his company to recover from the failure. Today the Virgin Group is made up of 200 diverse companies - including Virgin Galactic space travel. 

The most successful basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan once said: "I have failed over and over and over in my life, and that is why I succeed."

3. It modifies thoughts and actions

High performance people allow the lessons they learn from failure to modify their way of thinking. They are not afraid to ask why something didn't work out. They analyse and unpack the detail, so that they can make it work better next time. Low performance people do the same thing. They simply employ negative thought techniques such as : "I'll tell you why it didn't work; because you're no good at this!" or  "I should never have tried that in the first place and I'll never do it again".  One must be careful to say things like,  "what if I fail?", because it can cause your thoughts to unpack all the different ways in which failure can bring about humiliation or embarrassment. No-one I know, would deliberately do something where they are convinced that it would cause them embarrassment.  Because thoughts give rise to actions, one will then inevitably [and quite unconsciously] work towards a disastrous end. 

The best way to look forward to a goal is to ask yourself what the benefits of succeeding could be. This way, you brain starts to create positive scenarios of the future, which - in turn - causes positive behaviours to get you there.  Here's an amazing article by Steve Pavlina, a thought leader on successful thinking, which asks the pertinent question: "WHAT IF I SUCCEED?"

4. It teaches empathy

Not surprisingly, every time we have to face failure it does something to our sense of pride and how we judge ourselves and others. Once a person has walked a journey of failure, it  becomes very difficult to critisise those who may be suffering the same fate. Empathising makes them feel that we've walked in their shoes, that we understand how tough their situation could be and, therefore, allows us to have more grace for others. Empathy is a key emotional skill for effective leadership. It allows those around you to feel heard and understood. It fosters warm relationships and eventually helps you as a leader get the best out of people. Have you ever heard the saying; people forget what you know, but they remember how you made them feel?

You need to develop empathy. Yes, you do!! 

5. It makes you tough!

I started out this blog by asking you to reflect on things that knocked you down in a way that made you feel you couldn't recover from it. High performance people do this naturally. They have a mental list of the victories they've experienced out of tough times. They remind themselves of how resilient they are and they speak of those victories with a sense of pride. Then they do something quite remarkable; they tell themselves how they will do it again! High performers can come across as overconfident, because they 'laugh in the face of danger". They look into a storm and declare their intention to come out alive on the other side! However, they also have a strong understanding that, should they not make it, they will have what it takes to overcome the setback. The affirmation: "I have a high expectation of being successful and I take every setback as temporary"  is their mantra. 

Some final words from an inspirational life story to illustrate this.

Let me know about your story of failing forward



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Deshun Deysel - Global Speaker, Thought Leader, Moderator, Peak Performance Toolkit™