How to redefine failure and learn from it
Nobody likes that feeling… you work your butt off for that product launch/client pitch/sales call and it doesn’t come off. It feels like all your hard work was for nothing, like you wasted your time. But there is a way to redefine that failure… and to learn from it too.

We tend to think of failure as something shameful or embarrassing. Search your favourite Facebook Group for entrepreneurs and you’re likely to find way more “yay for me” posts than “I failed” ones.

Of course, failing to achieve our goals is going to make us feel bad, no matter how big or small the goal was. But the way to overcome those feelings is by changing the way we understand failure, and to redefine it as a part of the process of success that can teach us valuable lessons if we know how to learn from it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Learning from your mistakes is about more than just thinking about what went wrong. The first step towards using failure as a tool for success is to challenge your mindset and stop seeing mistakes as shameful.

Mistakes are a natural part of embarking on a new project – from the moment we’re born every time we try something new we fail at it at least once. When a child learns to walk she falls down and gets back up multiple times before she learns to bring together her strength, coordination and balance. It’s the same with us – failure is a part of the human experience. As such, we can learn to accept it as a necessary step towards achieving our goals.

In her article Strategies for Learning from Failure, Amy C. Edmondson (Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School) classifies mistakes into three categories:

Preventable
These are the mistakes we often think of as bad. They happen when we lose focus or get distracted from the key tasks we need to complete to achieve our goal. (You did check the link to your sales page worked on a mobile before you launched, right?)

Complexity-related
These mistakes happen when achieving a goal isn’t just down to you – it’s the product of many factors – your motivation, your skills, your environment, your support network, and the resources you have. If anyone of these fails, your goal is at risk.

Intelligent mistakes
Having the freedom to actually make mistakes can increase your creativity and work performance. For example, many great inventions were discovered by accident – from Post-It notes to penicillin. So you could actually set out to fail in order to see what happens…

Whatever the cause of the mistake, removing any negative feelings about it and re-framing it as a source of knowledge is the first step towards getting back up on your feet and learning from failure effectively.

Failing is just knowledge-gathering

Our thoughts about failure are often ingrained in childhood and the culture of perfectionism (supported in part by social media and, in my opinion, the fashion and beauty industry) can make it difficult to challenge them.

But it’s important to remember that our thoughts are just that, thoughts, and with practice, we can choose to think something else instead. Re-writing our thought patterns takes time but it starts with deciding what that alternative thought is going to be.

So for failing, I suggest this “when I fail, I’m gathering knowledge about what doesn’t work.” See how that turns a perceived failure into a positive?

Each time we fail we’re one step closer to finding out what DOES work. And don’t forget, we’re also storing up all that valuable knowledge about what doesn’t work to use the next time we start a new project.

Rethink your approach to your goal when you begin again

Ok, now that you’re looking at the mistake without judgment, think about what led to you failing this time around. Was it a situation you could have prevented? Think about your motivation levels, your focus, your mindset. Did you feel less motivated to achieve your goal at some point? Did you get distracted by another issue in your business? (Or shiny object syndrome?)

If the answer to any of these is yes, make a note of it and prepare for that in the future. It might help to discuss what happened with someone you trust, like a coach, who can help you see the situation from different perspectives and pinpoint what went wrong.

Take mitigating action – plan ahead

Once you’ve figured out what caused the mistake you need to prevent it happening again by taking action.

If your goal was to write a book to promote your business in six months, you might have identified a few reasons why you didn’t achieve it – lack of time, insufficient planning, or lack of motivation for example.

To stop those issues getting in the way of your goal in the future you need to tackle each one with a specific action. If you can’t find any more time, you could scale down the scope of the novel. If planning was an issue, spend more time setting out each chapter before you get started. If you lost motivation check that the focus of the book is going appeal to your ideal customer and therefore be a good promotional tool for your business. If it’s likely to bring in sales you’re more likely to get it done!

Finally, remember – failure isn’t permanent. It’s just one step along your journey. Accept it, reframe it, analyze its causes and make a plan to overcome them next time.


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