Allowing yourself to fail

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

When I was a kid, I remembered not being afraid of many things as an adult (and yeah, probably few still there hehe…), things from the Bogeyman, darkness, sleeping alone, clowns (thanks Mr King!), Chupacabras, just for mentioning some. I guess back then, one simply was just more naive.

Years passed, I fought all kinds of monsters and imaginary creatures with supreme confidence until one day I remembered being asked by a friend, What is it that you are afraid of the most? The question made an echo inside of me; since this time was not about monsters, my answer was utterly different. I recalled saying: I am afraid to fail.

Everything starts with a belief, which then shifts our perception.

It is always interesting to dive into our past beliefs and contrast them with our current views. Thus, through my diving, I realised this belief was stacked with me, which I did not have when I was a kid; somehow, this idea I blindly learned from our society jeopardised my growth. A simple belief stopped me and slowed me down on many growing processes and opportunities, starting by stopping believing in myself.

Since then, I have been working on embracing failure (and by this, I mean, after still multiple ups and downs) by redefining its perceptions that I can proudly say that I have excelled in many aspects of my life. When I started to accept my mistakes and learn from them and others mistakes, when I took the time to reflect upon them, when I began to try out new ways of doing things, and ultimately when I started to be more forgiving with myself.

I personally find fascinating the belief we have upon failure and how each one of us deals with it. In essence, we could say that failing is so painful because the desired outcome was not fulfilled, leaving us with the ugly consequences of failing, right? So we could say, the more we bond to our expectations, the more emotional pain we will experience, based on the illusion that we have a lot to lose. The main issue when failing here is the attachment we set to our expectations; this false sense of control over things, over the future, something that Stoics would then say: we only have control over ourselves within a given situation; focusing on the rest is precisely losing focus.

Allowing oneself to fail makes us excel in any learning process and has a tremendous impact on leading or mentoring others. As a Parent, Teacher, Manager or any other leadership role, it becomes even more relevant to learn how to embrace failure. For instance, in top-down hierarchical communities where autocratic leadership is more common, mistakes are often punished and discouraged. Because you guessed it right, allowing yourself to fail is also allowing others to fail; nowadays, we see many successful organisations with a strong failure culture. Making this a decisive key to drive innovation, and ultimately the success of any business, no surprise why blaming culture is getting obsolete in many industries.

For example, in 1903, Henry Ford started with his Model A, he knew what he was pursuing, and of course, he had expectations that his Model A would work. However, it took him a collection of failures to nailed it with his famous Model T in 1927. He could have just stopped perusing his invention by having a lousy time for each loss and just quitting. Still, instead, he embraced failure by learning from each time he has to start again without losing focus, but each time a bit closer to his goal. In other words, each failure became a small victory that led to his primary success.

We tend to see success stories as an isolated event that just occurred out of nothing, ignoring that it was a succession of multiple events that lead to a successful story that now is known. And this is particularly interesting, because redefining the perception of failure towards a growth mindset shifts our attention to see mistakes as a part of a puzzle that drives to a continually growing process.

Ultimately, failure is just another way of learning.

Dr. Carol Dwek, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success explains how developing a growth mindset allows people to value what they are doing regardless of the outcome, to enjoy for the sake of enjoying it! In contrast to the fixed Mindset, where everything is about the outcome and if we fail or we are not the best, it is all been wasted, this certainty causes a lot of emotional friction when dealing with failure.

Allowing yourself to fail might feel like jumping for the first time from a plane at 200km/h free-fall speed (or well, sometimes more, but you get the point). So here some “parachutes” 🪂 that have helped me continue to embrace failure and not crash epically in vain 🤪.

Take time to think through 🤔

Wait, why did I fail?

So say you decided to start losing weight (quite common to gain on these pandemic times plus Netflix) super motivated and all ready to start: diets, weight, shake, routine and so on, then later after few months you do not see much results, and that relentless motivation starts slowly to sink, and as a consequence starts to break your early workout, keeping healthy food habits and so on. Without going into the details, if this has happened to you as well. It was probably because of false expectations, lack of training feedback, and of course, lack of tracking progress, so ultimately, the super motivation was not sustainable was based on finite willpower.

The act of self-reflection in the context of failure is to look backwards for insights and patterns, helping to track progress, evaluate different what-if scenarios, which ultimately enhance our decision-making process and be fair with ourselves, keeping us motivated with realistic goals.

Reflecting on our victories and defeats set us where we are now in contrast to where we are heading. And here is where most of us fail, without taking a moment to stop and think what when wrong or even accepting that something went wrong and being accountable, we are doom to commit the same mistakes. And if we do the same thing over again and over again, we can not expect different results; Mr Albert Einstein would call this insanity.

So it is not a secret that many successful people take time for self-reflection as a form of diary or tracking progress. For example, the legendary businessman Warren Buffet invests around 80% of his time reading and thinking. And sure, maybe not all us can have that luxury, but hey! thinking is for free.

Seek Feedback 💭

Blind to one’s mistakes.

Sometimes receiving feedback might be uncomfortable, and this is one of the hardest ones when embracing failure since it requires a certain level of openness and acceptance regarding our mistakes in order to take any piece of feedback.

Our cognitive bias plays an important role here, since we are often blind to our own mistakes in one way or another, affecting our decision-making process. That is the enormous relevance of seeking feedback. For example, when it comes to skills or abilities, psychological research suggests we tend to be remarkably inaccurate in how we rate ourselves; in fact, we sometimes tend to overstimate our own abilities. For example, in a study, 88% of American drivers rate themselves as having above-average driving skills😐. This is just one of many cases of how wrongly our own evaluation often is. Learning from criticism reduces self-bias and impulses growth. In the end, let’s not forget, we are all in a learning process, which path to take, is up to us.

Do not take it so seriously 😜

Is okay to make mistakes.

In his philosophical work Meditations, famous stoic Marcus Aurelius teaches us to live tranquilly and rationally, behaving virtuously regardless of what is happening around us or what is happening to us, without forgetting having enjoying the ride!

I genuinely believe that the more serious I take life, the more afraid I am to take risks. We must accept that there are things that are out of our control. Allow yourself to fail; fundamentally means to no be so harsh with oneself; we tend to be the most brutal judge, practicing forgiveness is something that has helped me to deal with failure.

Stay focus on the goal 💪🏼

You are losing a battle, not the war.

Sometimes we encounter situations where everything seems to be against us, as if Murphy’s law were following us; it is okay, learn to surf the emotional wave, focusing on the solutions to continue moving.

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

When embracing failure, persist despite obstacles by being resilient is what makes us stand up and try again after failing, is not losing focus while trying out a new strategy to build success; that ability to quickly recover from adversity is what drives success in the long run.

A great guidance for this by Bonnie St. John and Allen P. Haines is their book The Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy describing frameworks on how to stay resilient and focus based on psychology, physiology, and neuroscience.

Just try it out ⚡️

Do not overthink it!

Yes, I know it is easier to say it than doing it, but all comes down to allowing yourself to fail, and as Micheal Jordan once said:

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something, but I can’t accept not trying!

Making mistakes is just the footprint that you are trying, so well done, applause to yourself, bravo! When starting to learn a new skill or developing a new habit, one of the problems is to start with unrealistic expectations or perfectionism, which often undermine our attempts and discourage us from continuing. Start small; eventually, you will get momentum, become more confident, create a habit, and increase complexity. We often sabotaged our attempts by thinking it too much; just do, the first step is to start!

As James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, explains: success is the product of daily habits not-once in a lifetime transformation.

Last Words 🙌🏽

Changing the perception and beliefs we built about failure does not mean celebrating or aiming for it but instead learning from it, because failure always comes with a price, and not understanding its reasons makes it worse.

So there is no way we can escape failing at something, but yet, what we make out of it, is a choice all of us have; failure can become a possibility or a wound. Just think about yourself and all the successes and failures that have forged that wonderful person that you are today.

So, if you could achieve anything you want knowing you won’t fail, what would you start doing?

Thanks for reading!

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