We tend to think of failure as something shameful, undesirable and sometimes irreversible. Yes, if you failed to achieve a goal you set for this year, it can cause negative feelings, no matter how big or small the goal was.
As 2018 winds to an end, you may be looking at what you wanted to accomplish this year and are not ecstatic with the results. Does this mean that 2019 will be more of the same?
It doesn’t have to. To overcome your negative feelings and approach 2019 with renewed motivation, you need to change how you understand failure. It is part of the process of success and leaves valuable lessons if we know how to learn from it.
Here are three ways to redefine failure and learn from it effectively:
1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
“If you want to grow, you need to get over any fear you have of making mistakes.”
~ John C. Maxwell
Learning from your mistakes is about more than just thinking about what went wrong. It is also thinking about ways that you can do better next time. A mistake is not just a natural part of embarking on a new project; it is also part of the human experience. As such, mistakes should be accepted as a necessary step toward achieving your goals.
If you want to use failures as tools to catapult you to success, you need to stop seeing mistakes as shameful or a sign that you aren’t good enough. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Think about what George Bernard Shaw said: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Don’t let mistakes stop you in your tracks, use them to propel you forward, one improvement at a time.
In her article “Strategies for Learning from Failure“, Amy C. Edmondson classifies mistakes in three categories:
These are the mistakes we often think of as bad. They result from a lack of focus or attention to the procedures needed to achieve the goal.
These mistakes happen when the goal is the product of many factors–your own motivation, previous skills, your environment, support network, and the resources you have to accomplish it. If any of these failed you, you might be unable to achieve the goal.
- Intelligent mistakes
According to Adam Mendler in his article “What Sales Executives Can Learn From Failure,” having the freedom to make mistakes increases creativity and work performance. Without unnecessary pressures to avoid mistakes and the shame that comes with it, employees contribute more frequently and are able to express more original ideas.
For example, many great inventions were discovered by accident–from Post-It notes to penicillin.
Whatever the source of the mistake, removing any negative feelings about it and re-framing it as a source of new knowledge is the first step towards learning from failure effectively.
2. Rethink your approach to your goal
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”
~ James Joyce
Now that you’re looking at the mistake without judgment, think of how you got into the situation.
In his article “The 4 Keys to Learning From Failure,” Guy Winch suggests you analyze your motivation levels, focus, and mindset. Did you feel less motivated to achieve your goal at some point? Did something else distract you from it?
If your dedication and focus decreased at any time, make note of it and try to find the cause. Identifying the internal and external causes that affected your resolve helps you prepare for them in the future.
In some cases, discussing the failure with someone you trust can help you see the issues from a different perspective. Rely on your support network to pinpoint what went wrong and how you could prevent it.
3. Plan ahead
“For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
~ African Proverb
Identifying what caused the mistake is not enough to prevent it in the future. You need to take steps to prevent that mistake from happening again.
If your goal was to write a book in six months, you’ve probably identified a few reasons why you couldn’t achieve it–lack of time, insufficient planning, or lack of motivation.
But what can you do to prevent those issues to get in the way of your goal in the future? In my example, you could scale down the scope of the book, spend more time planning the story, or set a specific time to write undisturbed.
In summary, failure is not permanent. By accepting failure, analyzing its causes and defining how you can eliminate those causes, you’re on your way to achieving your goals. Now get up from your less than successful goals for 2018, and use the ideas I discussed here to help you set new, more achievable ones for 2019.