Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Failure: flipping your perspective
Failure is one of those things that we receive many conflicting messages about. When we are very little, and everything is new to us, we fail a lot. And we are encouraged to get back up, to keep trying, and cheered on when we finally succeed. But the older we get, the less we are celebrated when we succeed and the more we are punished for failing.
What I find most distressing about this attitude that failure is inherently bad is that we equate failing at a thing with failing as a person. We tell people who have failed that they are flawed, and that making mistakes diminishes them.
There are tons of reasons why we might fail at something. We might have been overly ambitious, and bitten off more than we could chew. Life might have thrown a bunch of twists our way, and we just couldn't conquer them all. We may have been lazy or simply forgotten. Or, it might have been something that was extra hard for us, and while we tried our best, we just couldn't manage it.
Out of all of those reasons, only one is really a negative reflection on yourself (being lazy), and even then, that laziness might have other factors that led into it (life is complicated, rarely are things JUST caused by one thing).
Failure can lead us to so many new places though! Many people get into a particular routine, they form habits, and they stick to them because it is easier. It takes something really big, like a failure, to break them free from these patterns and let them pursue new directions. This is especially true if you have family pressure to live your life along a prescribed path. Sometimes, utterly failing at what is expected of us is needed to show everyone, yourself included, that this way is not the way for you.
Other times we have these huge, amazing dreams, that we are really excited about. We are so caught up in the fantasy of it all, we aren't grounded, and we aren't thinking practically. We fail, but that doesn't have to be the end of it. We can adjust, we can refine, and we can make our dream something that we can achieve. That initial failure becomes more determination to actually succeed, and drives us to think of ways to overcome our limitations, instead of being bound by them.
And sometimes failure just knocks us over and lets us see things in a completely different way. It exposes you to brand new ideas, things that weren't even in your realm of consciousness. It gives you whole new worlds to explore, that you would have never come across if you hadn't had that failure.
Above it all, failure isn't a definition of who you are! We need to bring ourselves back to that early childhood perspective. When the world is so huge and so new that we know we are going to fail at things, but we don't even think about the failures. When you watch a little kid trying to walk, because they see a toy on the other side of the room they want to play with, and they fall down, they don't even stop, they just keep looking at that toy, and they get back up and try again. They can fail a million times, and they will always get back up. And when they get to the toy, they don't give a moments thought to how long it took them to get there, they just are so delighted to have the toy (until the next thing draws their interest).
As adults, we can add even more to this, by looking back and seeing what our failures can teach us. We can look for the ways in which they caused us to grow, the ways in which they changed how we think and how we see the world. And we can use our failures as lessons for the future. They can be guideposts that help us avoid needless mistakes, or that help us mitigate the mistakes that we do make.
One thing I've seen, about swapping our perspective on small failures, has to do with our tendency to apologize for everything, even when it's not our fault. If there was traffic, and we were late meeting a friend, we say we are sorry for being late. If we get sick and can't make a party, we apologize for not attending. If we forget a promise we made, we apologize for forgetting and for not fulfilling our word!
All of those apologies reinforce the idea that we are at fault, that we have failed, and that we have let the other person down. But instead, what if we turned our words to words of gratitude? Instead of saying that we are sorry we are late, thank the person for waiting for us! When we are sick and can't make a party, we can thank the host for inviting us and for their understanding in our need for self-care (and for not spreading our sickness!) If we forget a promise, we might thank someone who took care of it for us, or simply thank them for reminding us about it.
It can be hard, sometimes, to flip things around and be thankful instead of apologetic. The need to apologize is ingrained in us. We say "I'm sorry," anytime anything happens, without thought. If we are standing still and someone else bumps into us, we say we're sorry, as if we shouldn't even be taking up that space!
We can start by practicing being loving and forgiving with ourselves, when we fail. What if you sent yourself messages of love and acceptance, every time things didn't turn out the way you wanted. What if you spent time looking for the rainbows instead of checking to see how much rain there was?
Self-talk is so pervasive, and so insidious because we often don't even notice how we talk to ourselves. But we are in our own heads, all day long, and we are constantly talking to ourselves, about every little thing we do. When you make a mistake, what is your self-talk like?
I can be very judgy, inside my own head. I have this idea of what I should be doing, and where I should be at, and when I don't make that, it is very tempting to yell at myself. But I practice finding the silver lining, and instead of berating myself for not sticking to my to-do list, I might remind myself that I needed extra down time that day, and so I chose to honor my need for self-care. I can remember that when I'm feeling worn down, and can't get everything done, I have wonderful people in my life, people who will help me out and will do things for me.
There is so much to be grateful for, and no reason to beat ourselves up for failing. Harmful self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more we tell ourselves we are no good and that we constantly fail, the more we find ways to fail, because that is what our identity of our Self is: a failure.
It doesn't matter how many times you have failed...this time could be different. It only takes one time, one try, to succeed. I love the quote by Edison, "I have not failed, I've just found 1000 ways that don't work." Failure isn't the end, it is the beginning! It is the start of our quest to succeed. It is the start of a new phase in our life. It is the start of a new outlook.
So, don't let failure get you down. Change how you talk to yourself. Build up your self-talk to support you in whatever you do. Change how you talk to other people. Let your words help them to encourage you along the way! Change your perspective, and don't see failure as a reflection of your Self, but simply as one more experience along the way, one more moment that you can use to do whatever you want to do in this life!