Before we give you our tips on how to transform failure into success, let's talk about failure. In fact, let's talk about what it feels like to fail. Whether the failure is small (you didn’t set the alarm and missed an important meeting) or massive (you failed your classes and dropped out of school), the feeling in your gut is the same. Some describe it as their stomach dropping. Others describe it as a punch to the gut.
Picture a moment in your life when you’ve had that feeling. Get a good one in your mind’s eye. Remember the feeling you had in your body and, if you can, the thoughts that went along with the feeling. We’re going to come back to this.
Now relax and breathe, and let it go.
We are going to share a new way of experiencing failure that will help move you on a path toward transforming that gut-punch into fresh energy.
Black and White Thinking
We all want life to be easy, but obstacles inevitably come up. And our most dreaded obstacles result from our own mistake or failure. In the moment we realize we’ve screwed something up, we often jump to thinking about what we “should have done,” what we “must do” from this point forward, or – worse yet – what we “can’t” accomplish.
This kind of thinking creates intense emotional pressure – the pressure of absolutes. There is no room for growth, mistakes, or learning when we think in this way. The world is black and white, good and bad, people are successes or failures, and we have envisioned ourselves on the side of failure. Every time we think about our mistake with this mindset, we relive the gut-punch, and our anxiety spikes.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
When we are stuck in black and white thinking, we truly believe it. We believe that only by meeting the harsh requirements outlined in its terms (good vs. bad, success vs. failure) will we ever accomplish anything in our lives.
But if there is one characteristic of people who succeed in creating or building something epic, it is their ability to jump past this way of thinking. Successful people take their failures as learning experiences. They use them simply as information – with no emotional judgments attached. Armed with information, they continue down a path of growth and investigation. Their failures don’t stop them in their tracks.
Carol Dweck distinguishes between the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset.” This video illustrates why mindset is important to creativity and success. In a nutshell, the fixed mindset adopts black and white thinking (I can’t change, and this is just the way I am.) The growth mindset looks for opportunities to learn and believes in future success (I can learn how to do this over time.)
Let the Fool Lead the Way
We promised to help you transform the gut-punch of failure into a source of feel-good fresh energy. For this transformation, you need more than just a growth mindset. You need joy and passion. Your guide for this part of the journey is the Fool.
The Fool represents the positivity of new beginnings. The Fool takes chances in a carefree way, guided by the wisdom of intuition. The Fool doesn’t worry about what anybody thinks but takes confidence from the power of intuition and enjoys the journey.
When you screw something up, you need the wisdom of the Fool to maintain your perspective and get you back on your feet. The fool takes pleasure in thinking outside the box to imagine a daring, fresh approach to the problem. This is the antidote to black and white thinking.
By taking the path of intuition, you embrace your mistakes and failures. They become opportunities to transcend your past abilities.
Rethinking the Gut Punch
Now picture that moment when you experienced a failure and felt the gut-punch. Intellectually, we know that feeling is the spurt of adrenaline we get when our bodies are being powered for “fight or flight.” It’s the same feeling you experience in a traffic accident, a fight, or any alarming and potentially unsafe situation. In short, there is energy in that adrenaline spike.
Next time you feel that spurt of gut energy, see if you can use it constructively. Take the Fool as your guide and jump past judgmental thinking in order to see the value of your mistake. Then try these two steps:
1) Rename it: Rather than “failure,” call it “practice” and see how that feels. Does it help you see the value in the experience?
2) Reframe it: Was this experience a challenge or was it a threat? Often when we fail or make a mistake, the jolt of adrenaline convinces us we are in danger or threatened in some way. Most of the time, this is not true. It can be very helpful to face this question squarely head-on, and then frame our reaction accordingly.
Try these fresh approaches to the smaller "failures" in your life and see what happens. You may find yourself embracing wild new approaches to bigger challenges you had set aside as insurmountable!
REFLECT AND WRITE
- How can I re-frame a recent experience from a "failure" into an opportunity to grow?
- My next step, if any, is...