Let’s start with a simple truth, everybody has failed. We have all aimed to achieve some sort of goal and simply not achieved it. But what often makes the difference between those who overcome failure and those who do not is their mindset. Some people can suffer the most minor setback and become despondent and give up and insist that something can never be achieved or that they do not have the ability to achieve it. Then there are other people who fail time and time again without it phasing them until they eventually overcome the odds and succeed. The key difference between the two is how they perceive failure. One group feels like failure means they are not able to achieve it, while the other understands that failure is simply part of the learning journey. This difference in mindset and outlook is the key to dealing with failure.

Understanding Failure

When it comes to understanding failure, a critical element of being able to deal with it, is to be able to put your efforts in to perspective. For example, it took all of us on average a whole year to learn to walk. We take this for granted as adults because for most of us, the ability to walk would not even be classed as a skill, its just part of being able bodied. At the same time, lets assume we are all healthy adults, does anyone actually pay attention if one of us learnt to walk at 6 months and another took 2 years to learn to walk? Of course not. People progress at different rates and have different learning curves. The same goes for learning to talk. It took Albert Einstein until 4 years of age to begin speaking. Do you think that made a difference when looking back on his life? Do we look back and think his achievements mean less because it took him significantly longer to learn to speak than others? Of course not.

Not a single one of us came out of our mother’s womb and started talking, walking, driving a car etc. Everything we are able to do is learned behaviour and we all failed multiple times, often for years before being able to perform even basic tasks like walking and talking. This same perspective is needed when we look at our goals as adults. Do you think you are going to be an expert on guitar if you started 4 weeks ago? Do you really think it is reasonable to expect to be fluent in another language in 3 months? Sure, some people will naturally pick these skills up quickly, but for most of us either of these things would take years to achieve. But we learn by trying, making mistakes, and then adjusting and trying again.

Dealing with failure

When it comes to dealing with failure, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. The first is that even if you have perspective and understand that in the grand scheme of things your failure is part of a bigger journey, it can still hurt. That is OK. It is fine to feel upset, annoyed, frustrated, or whatever other emotion you may feel. The important thing is not to dwell on those feelings for too long. This becomes counter productive and you will end up blaming yourself or feeling demotivated. You need to remember that failure is not personal. One of the reasons that people can feel so upset after failing is that they think because they have failed at something, they are also a failure. This is not true. Failure is not part of your identity; they are purely the only two outcomes of any objective. Setbacks happen, even Michael Jordan missed over 9000 shots and lost 300 games. Is he a failure because he failed so many times? Do you think he worried that people would think he was a failure after missing a shot that led to his team losing a game? No, he would get back out on the practice court and win the game next time. And if he lost next time, well then, he would go back and repeat and when it came time for the next game, step up again. Failure is never final it’s an opportunity to learn and do things better the next time.

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