How to Make the Most Out of Failure
Propel yourself towards success
The internet and mainstream media have become cesspools of success porn that have brainwashed us into adopting a contorted and twisted image of “failure” — one where we treat it as the opposite of success.
Failure is an integral part of achieving success and behind every success, there are multiple failures. The greater the success, the greater the failures encountered. Former Australian senator Bob Brown has rightly said,
“Behind every successful man, there’s a lot of unsuccessful years”
Failure is unavoidable and inevitable in the pursuit of success. Your success is determined not by how less you fail but rather by how you react to and utilize failures.
You truly fail by letting failure hinder you from trying to succeed. Legendary figure and 16th president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln says,
“It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.”
I want to share my thoughts, experiences, and ideas on how to “milk” every failure dry to get not a step but many steps closer to success.
Don’t Let Failure or the Fear of It Discourage You
Since our birth, schools, society, media, etc. indoctrinate us to fear and despise failure but the man who never fails is the one who never attempts anything.
The more you attempt, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn and the more you put into practice what you learn, the more you succeed.
When failure is such an integral part of achieving success, what even is the fear of failure?
The fear of failure is the fear of success too
Most people don’t like trying and they don’t like others trying either so they sneer, mock, spout disheartening words, and try to dissuade you from trying.
When I was skinny and started going to the gym, I was mocked, jeered, and “advised” not to waste my time. The same people that mocked me then seek fitness-related advice from me now.
When I started writing on Medium, I wanted to get published in the Ascent and it took six rejections to achieve it.
Only by not heeding the mocking in the former and not letting the rejections discourage me in the latter was I able to achieve success.
“Failure is an opportunity to try again but more intelligently this time.”
— Henry Ford
Adopt a Growth Mindset
Renowned psychologist Carol Dweck introduced the concept of two different mindsets — a “fixed” mindset and a “growth” mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence and talent are fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success without effort. As a result, they don’t deal well with failures.
In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that their abilities and talents can be honed through dedication, hard work, and learning. They are keen to learn and respond positively to failure.
In a single sentence,
People with fixed mindsets say “I can’t do that.” while those with growth mindsets say “I can’t do that…yet”
Up until a couple of years ago, I was arrogant and of a fixed mindset thanks to being called “gifted” and topping exams throughout my school years.
In college, every time I tried something new and failed, I thought that I wasn’t good enough or “cut out” for it and would give up.
The next year marked a turning point in my life where I underwent a radical change. Now I seemed to achieve success in whatever I wanted to. I still failed but the way I perceived failures had changed.
Unbeknownst to me, I had adopted a growth mindset.
Dissect Your Failure
In an autopsy, a pathologist carefully dissects the dead body to determine the cause, time, and various other things.
Similarly, you need to “dissect” your failure carefully to determine the things that caused it. Here the key is to be as objective, unbiased, and critical as possible.
Be aware of the self-serving bias
In psychology, the self-serving bias is a cognitive bias where you tend to attribute positive events to your own merits while attributing negative events to external factors.
So when you experience a failure, you tend to attribute it to external factors much more than the actual role played by them and downplay your own part in it.
So be aware of the self-serving bias and instead of blaming external factors, try to see better the mistakes you made or the things that could have been done better.
Yes, you need to think, deeply in fact. Playback the events in your brain again and again. Put on your detective cap and critically examine the evidence.
You will start seeing the mistakes you made and the things that could have been done in a better manner.
Think this is futile?
If you think this is futile and a waste of time, think again — you might glean valuable information that could prevent another failure.
Most of my self-improvement can be attributed to deep thinking.
Thinking can reveal things that you didn’t even know that you knew, such is its power.
“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”
— Albert Einstein
Analyze the Feedback
You may not always receive feedback but in most cases such as getting a piece of writing rejected by a publication editor or not making it through an interview, you can always request feedback.
Be greedy for feedback. Just the act of requesting feedback shows a will to learn and improve.
You should in fact request feedback as a study published in Psychological Science found uncertainty to be much more stressful than clear negative feedback.
Don’t be butthurt or feel “inferior” when harsh negative feedback is given. Understand that feedback is nothing but a source of learning and try to glean as much as possible from it.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve”
— Bill Gates
Look for the Positives in Destructive Criticism
As I said earlier, people are quick to mock, criticize, and spout unsolicited advice. But even in such seas of negativity, you can sometimes find positive things.
When I started going to the gym as a skinny teenager, one of the regulars would mock me for not training hard and lifting “pussy” weights despite not lifting much himself.
Consumed by shame and rage, I tried lifting more and going harder. To my surprise, I found out that I could.
That’s when I realized that I actually wasn’t training hard enough. What he intended as mockery became an important realization for me.
Criticism, no matter how harsh or poisonous can be molded to your advantage by looking for the positives in it and using it to fuel your drive and motivation.
Put Your Learning to Practice
Everything you learn from your failure will amount to nothing if you don’t put it into practice.
Drill every single mistake you made into your memory and make sure that you don’t repeat any of them. As the age-old saying goes,
“It’s not a mistake to make a mistake but its a mistake to repeat a mistake”
Equipped with the arsenal of knowledge gleaned from your failure, when you try again — you will do things better, not make the same mistakes, and you might succeed or fail again.
But this failure will be less severe and closer to success than the last one and the next even closer, on and on until you eventually succeed.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.”
— Michael Jordan