How to deal best with failure and making mistakes

Failure stings a bit. But it’s a normal and necessary part of life and learning.

Failure makes us wiser and smarter. How? Because it teaches us valuable lessons. These lessons allow us to recalibrate our lives.

After my biggest failures I’ve always thought, “I don’t want to experience that ever again!”, so I take a good hard look at my life. And I course correct.

Here’s what I’ve learnt over the years …

We learn the most from failure and errors, not big successes.

Below are two examples of two big life fails I’ve experienced:

Failure: I got 1 out of 20 on my first test at law school
Realisation: “I have no idea how to study effectively!”
Course correction: I learnt how to study effectively (I read books, did courses, etc.)
Lesson learnt: Once you learn how to learn, you can learn information quickly and efficiently.

Failure: When I was 8 years old, I kept failing multiplication tests
Realisation: “I don’t know my times tables. I need help!”
Course correction: I learnt my times tables with my dad’s help
Lesson learnt: Never ever give up. You can get better at anything if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

Failure doesn’t mean you’re dumb. Failure actually means you’re putting yourself out there and having a go. Without failure we have no mistakes. Without mistakes, how can you possibly learn anything new?

The only way to avoid failure is to never put yourself out there. Say nothing. Do nothing. Be nothing. How comfortable do you feel with that kind of existence?

So why are we so afraid of failure?

One word: perfectionism.

Our culture promotes perfectionism. Watch a selection of Walt Disney films and you’ll quickly see a pattern begin to emerge: perfect prince meets perfect princess and they end up living happily ever after.

Log onto social media and scroll through your feed. You’ll see a range of highly curated images of what looks like people living perfect lives.

Pick up any woman’s magazine. You’ll see page after page of perfect (photoshopped) women.

We begin to think that this is how life works: if I act perfect and look perfect, then life will be blissfully perfect. But it doesn’t work like this. Life is a lot messier than a Walt Disney film. Look behind the perfect selfie and I guarantee things aren’t as perfect as they seem.

Where do we go wrong with failure?

We think because we fail a test or an exam that it means we are failures. It actually just means you don’t know the information very well. Instead of beating yourself up, go do some extra study. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable. But this is the only way you’re going to get better.

Strategies for dealing with failure

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself when you experience failure or make a mistake, test out these strategies instead:

1. Cultivate a growth mindset with a Growth Mindset Journal

Think about what you can learn from this experience. Tell yourself, “I’m not there yet, but with practice I’ll get there”.

To support the development of your growth mindset it’s a good idea to start a Growth Mindset Journal.

Here’s how it works:

Every time you don’t achieve what you set out to do, write it down.
You want to jot down some thoughts on how you can view the ‘failure’ from the perspective of a growth mindset.

A Growth Mindset Journal can help to fast track the formation of your growth mindset. But not only that, it desensitises you to the sting and pain that failure can bring!

2. Be gentle on yourself

You wouldn’t yell at a baby who was learning to walk, “You’re useless! You keep falling over. What’s wrong with you?”.

So what makes it okay for you to torture yourself over making mistakes when you’re learning something new?

Remind yourself that you’re still learning. Look at yourself in the mirror and say out loud “Mistakes are a normal and necessary part of learning”. Do this everyday until this idea sinks deeply into your psyche.

3. The reality show technique

Take a step back from the situation and replay the events as if you were watching a scene from a reality TV show. With a bit of emotional distance and objectivity, what lessons can you learn from this? What would a home viewer make of what just happened?

To sum up

Remember, you’re a work in process. The reality is you’re going to make a lot of mistakes between now and the day you die. So you might as well get comfortable with this process. Don’t fight it. Welcome failure in for a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate. Get cosy with it. If you’re up for living large, failure is here to stay.