Redefining Failure – How to Embrace Setbacks as Part of Your Journey
If you look up the meaning of failure the first definition that comes up is lack of success. No single human was perfect at everything they tried the first time yet still, society tells us that failure is a bad thing. So it’s easy to understand why many of us are afraid of failing. Why we are so hesitant to get out of our comfort zone or try something new. To truly succeed in your life, redefining failure is essential.
Let me be frank here: You will fail. More than once. Many times actually. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s nothing to fear or to be ashamed of. Failure is an integral part of learning. An integral part of life.
In this article, we’ll establish a more holistic definition of failure. Not only will you discover how to overcome your fear of failure but also how to fail in a way that ultimately allows you to succeed.
Fear of failure – The biggest thief of dreams
Whether it’s starting your own business, pursuing new relationships, or finding a new hobby, fear of failure is often the toughest hurdle to overcome. I will even go one step further and say that fear in general is the biggest thief of dreams. Fear can be paralyzing and more people lose their dreams over fear than anything else.
The reason why we fear failure so much is that to be “a failure” – rather than to have failed, a subtle but critical difference – is regarded as a permanent state. It’s like a stain for everyone to see that you can never remove.
The saddest part about this? The majority of your fears and worries are unfounded. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that 60% of your fears are totally unwarranted, 20% are based on the past, and 10% are so petty and minor that they wouldn’t really affect you anyway if they were to occur. Only 4-5% of your fears are actually real and justifiable. And of that, only half are within your control. To sum it up, about 98% of things you fear or worry about really are things that are totally irrelevant to whatever the issue is, and fretting over them is a complete waste of time and energy.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear,
it’s to feel the fear and do it anyway.
So while this knowledge may not be enough to get rid of fear entirely, it can help you to take whatever you’re scared of and let this fear push you from behind. Because the truth is, you won’t ever overcome fear by thinking about it. Waiting and overthinking actually only increases fear. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to eventually get started. To effectively reduce your fear, you need to take action.
And usually, the moment you jump, the fear disappears. I’m sure you can relate to this. We all have certain things we keep putting off forever only to wonder why we were so afraid in the first place when we finally get them over with. So next time, rather than allowing fear of failure to slow down your progress or even prevent you from starting in the first place, turn the concept on its head and use the power of failure to “fail forward.”
You can learn a lot from your failings
Failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. How about instead of viewing failure as something definite, you look at it simply as a step in the learning process and an opportunity for something even better? That’s what failing forward is all about.
Ever heard of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb? His success rate was less than 1%. Or in other words, more than 99% of his experiments and innovations turned out to be a fail. But still, after thousands of failed experiments, he would say, “I have not failed. I have simply found thousands of ways that won’t work.” And when he finally got it right, the result was positively life-changing and enough for him to go down in history as America’s greatest inventor.
As you can see it’s not so important if or how many times you fail, but that you learn from it. Many successful people have similar stories to share. And they all agree that failing over and over again isn’t the opposite of success but rather a crucial part of the journey.
So next time you’re tempted to say “I failed,” scratch that and instead try “I learned something new & now I can pivot.” Take the word “fail” and reframe it into “first attempt in learning.” Rather than giving up, use failure to make you better. It is up to you whether you want to try again or let failure define who you are.
Resilience and optimism are learned skills
We all fail, we all make bad decisions, we all face adversity. You can deny it, run from it, make excuses, or blame others. Or you can embrace failure as an important part of success. Failure is not definitive. It’s your response to and what you learn from it that matters. Your actions following any failure are creating your actual reality.
Dealing with failure in a constructive way requires two major skills: resilience and optimism. When facing adversity and hardship, how do you react? Do you develop resilience or do you check out and give up? Do you give in to the negative voice in your head or do you look for the positives?
Our greatest glory is not in never failing,
but in rising every time we fall.
Resilience describes how you respond to setbacks, hurdles, and failures. Resilience is all about the lived experience. It comes from the experience of failure, and, more importantly, how you learn from that situation as well as how you turn that learning into knowledge, and the flexibility of mindset to navigate future challenges. In terms of learning, there’s the obvious part: learning not to make the same mistake again. But there’s also critical psychological learning that comes from how you look at your failures and feel about the experience.
Finding a benefit in every bad experience – practicing optimism – is a choice and something you can learn, too. If you can recognize that through not achieving the desired outcome the first time you are allowed the opportunity to learn, grow and improve, you can save yourself a lot of sorrow. So every time you fail, challenge yourself to find the opportunities in it and use the lessons you’ve learned to take advantage of those opportunities. Once you focus on the lessons, success comes.
Do’s and don’ts when dealing with failure
To wrap up this article, here are some do’s and don’ts to overcome failure of any sort:
DON’T dwell on past mistakes
Research suggests that when we dwell on our perceived failures, it only makes us more depressed. No surprise there since energy flows where attention goes and what you focus on expands. And let’s be honest, who has time for that kind of negativity? So forgive yourself and move on before you fall into that deep pit of despair.
DO focus on future goals
You may not want to dwell on your failures, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. A minor setback can actually motivate you to double down and push harder when you’re aiming for a long-term achievement. If your goal was to climb a mountain but you didn’t reach the summit, you’ve still learned something from the journey and grown stronger for the next climb. Next time you’ll be more resolved and better prepared to reach the top.
DON’T be an avoider
The very word “failure” can put you in a detrimental mindset when facing challenges. Research shows that when we have a “Do anything but fail!” mentality, we’re afraid to admit small defeats, learn from them and move on to the next challenge. Instead, you may pretend to be successful when you’re not, get angry and anxious, and spend so much time avoiding failure that you can’t scrap a bad plan and change course. Instead of the word “failure”, try using terms like “minor setback” or “small roadblock”.
DO be a seeker
Again, this comes back to the power of your words. Instead of thinking “I’m trying not to fail,” make your mantra “I’m seeking success.” When you focus on possible achievements, you’re more willing to fail forward and experiment with new approaches, which is exactly what you need to succeed eventually. And as a bonus, research shows it tends to make you happier and less stressed, too.
DON’T stick with it stubbornly
Small setbacks are one thing, but there are times when you need to admit that your plan is just not working or you’re simply not sufficiently able and prepared, yet. It can be dangerous to press on just because you don’t want to feel like all your effort so far has been wasted. Sometimes it’s best to turn back before it’s too late. Even if it isn’t life or death, it could be time, money, and energy wasted.
DO adjust quickly
It feels bad to scrap a plan that isn’t working, but the faster you do, the less time you’ll lose. We’re programmed to resist admitting defeat, so try reframing your setbacks as nothing more than failed experiments. Just like Edison and his lightbulbs, in the end, the number of tries isn’t what’s important. You fail, you learn, you adjust course, you move on. The quicker you get past the failures, the more confident and resilient you will become.
How do you feel about this new definition of failure as an opportunity for learning and an invitation to move towards success in a different way? What would your life be like if you welcomed failure with curiosity and openness instead of pushing it away and if you held space for compassion and kindness towards yourself along the journey? What would you be doing differently or try for the first time if this became your new truth? Let me know in the comments below!
And always remember: You can never be a failure. An idea, a relationship, a product maybe, but you? You simply cannot be. So never let anyone tell you differently, not even your own inner critic.
Written by Julia
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