You know that horrible sinking feeling when you attempt something in life but fall short of the target? It could be anything from a sports performance, to an exam for a professional qualification, to trying to stick to the food and exercise plan that you have started. When we fail to achieve what we have attempted, we often get this feeling of annoyance or disgust that we haven’t been good enough. We might tell ourselves that we’re ‘an idiot’, or that we ‘knew it wouldn’t work’, or we may even say ‘here we go again’, as if there was an inevitability about mucking up. These thoughts are all normal and understandable; they reflect the disappointment that we feel when we don’t make the grade, but do they reflect the truth? Does that failure actually say anything about us as a person?
What we sometimes do is assume that failure is permanent, that we are just not good enough and we are never going to succeed in this task. Failure can reinforce that little voice in your head that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never manage something, or that you don’t deserve x, y or z. Say, you juggle your schedule to fit in going to classes to prepare for professional exams, and you study away feverishly, trying to encourage all the information to seep into your brain, all the while carrying on with your busy life; if you fail to pass the exams, are you therefore somehow ‘less than’? Does this make you a failure as a person? Does it mean that you are an idiot who will never succeed at this challenge?
NO! It simply means that on this attempt, at this particular time in life, your effort was not sufficient – but this can be a temporary thing. The trick is to do a de-brief and get some feedback about why that attempt was unsuccessful, about what needs to happen in order for you to succeed the next time, about how you can shape your preparation from here on in so as to give yourself an even better chance the next time. When you see failure as a moment in time when your efforts fell short because, in fact, you need more information or practice, then it becomes a temporary place on the way to success rather than a permanent stamp on you as a person.
Of course we cannot all be good at everything, and there will always be some things that we all attempt in life at which we will never succeed no matter how much information or practice we have; you only have to watch one episode of the auditions of a singing or talent contest to see that. But we are talking here about when we fail at something in which we do have an actual objective talent, but we just fall short when the question is asked of us.
So, next time you try something and fail, let the emotions settle and the disappointment fade a bit, and then do that de-brief and extract the valuable information within that attempt that will let you power on to your next (and hopefully successful) attempt. The following questions are very useful when de-briefing failure:
  • What did I learn in that attempt?
  • If I could re-wind, what would I do differently knowing what I know now?
  • How can I use this information to better shape my preparation for next time?
  • How much more prepared will all this make me next time?
When you take the time to consider these few short questions, you put your mind into the position of seeing failure as temporary, as being an attempt that may be one of many as opposed to being the end, as being filled with feedback if you dare to go look for it. This mental position is a healthy and balanced approach that opens the door to you towards success down the road. Give it a go and see what happens, you might be surprised!
Final Thought
“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo” (Jon Sinclair, from The Champion’s Comeback book by Jim Afremow). 
Performance and Life Coach