I’ve been thinking about the topic of failure. Fear of failure, for instance, can be a major root cause of procrastination. Fear of failure can keep us from trying new things, things that we might even excel at. But what if that lack of total success isn’t really failure?
One aspect of my thinking is that we often look at results as an all-or-nothing outcome. Either something is a complete success or a total failure. What if it’s a partial success? Yes, that means you could also argue it’s a partial failure, but then you’d also have to admit it’s less of a failure, right? Things could have been worse.
But what if we could look at disappointing results as something other than failure, partial or otherwise? Wouldn’t that free us from a lot of paralyzing anxiety? If we could look at the outcome as something other than failure, it would reduce what seems like extremely high stakes risks. We’d be more likely to feel like we can take a chance. And we might even surprise ourselves with how well an attempt goes. But even if it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t have to be a failure. Instead, it can be feedback.
What is feedback? It’s information. In itself, information is not inherently good or bad. We may judge it as good or bad, however. Take biofeedback as an example of this at work. If you suffer from headaches or any number of issues, you might be directed to see a therapist for biofeedback. In biofeedback, machines monitor certain physiological activities and let you know in real time how you are affecting them. In this way, you can learn that when you focus your attention in a particular way, you are slowing brain waves or lowering your blood pressure and relaxing. It takes repeated attempts to master this so you can do it without the machines. That feedback, that information, helps you improve and get better and better at changing a particular way your body is functioning. And that’s the case with activities in your daily life.
What you could judge as undesirable and call failure could be looked at as feedback, as information. What worked in the situation? What didn’t? What can you learn from this experience that will increase your chances of success in future attempts? I don’t know about you, but this sure seems a lot less scary and a lot more doable to me than facing something that I’m either going to completely crush or completely fail. It’s not only success or failure. It’s incremental success. Even when very little seems to have gone right, that’s still progress because you’ve learned what doesn’t work. You don’t have to waste time doing that again, right?
Thomas Edison’s efforts to develop the light bulb are a great example of this. As many would see it, he failed over and over again. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
He didn’t see his countless attempts as failures. Instead, he saw them as information that led him closer to success. Sometimes they offered clues as to what might work better and sometimes he determined clearly what was a dead end. Either way, with each attempt he got closer and closer to a light bulb that worked—and thank goodness he kept at it! Years after he developed the light bulb, he wrote, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Moving forward, consider that instead of failing, you are collecting information for future success.
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