Kobe Bryant has missed 13,766 of the 25,087 shots he’s taken. Babe Ruth had 714 home runs but a whopping 1,330 strikeouts. These two sports giants are legends in their fields — and they demonstrate exactly what it means to fail forward.

Fail Forward: how to turn every failure into a success

Consider for a moment a place in your life where you’ve been successful — truly any area where you’ve had measurable success. Now consider how many failures were behind that success. Chances are that there are significantly more failures than successes.

For example, I have a hobby of cake decorating. I do it sporadically for parties and my kid’s birthdays. But in order to decorate a cake, you must first BAKE the cake. Baking was never my forte and I have a history of baking disasters.

I have tried to make a carrot cake with 3 carrots instead of the 3 cups of carrots. I tried to make a cake by mixing the ingredients in the bowl in the order they were presented on the ingredient list. I made a delicious vanilla cake once, but forgot to line the pan. It ended up as a pile of crumbs on the counter because I could not liberate it from the pan.

Seriously, the list goes on.

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I still flub a cake or two every now and again, but for the most part I can make one from scratch with few errors. And the reason that I can do this is because I learned to fail forward.

The concept of failing forward means that as long as you’re learning from your mistakes, it’s not really a failure.

Think about it like this. If you wanted to go somewhere and you took a step, fell forward, got back up again, figured out why that happened, took two steps this time and fell forward again, you would still be making progress towards your goal.

Yes that sounds painful, and I don’t really recommend it, but the idea is that you get up, you examine the experience where you failed, and you go at it again with this new found knowledge.

If you’re functioning from a limiting belief or a fixed mindset (which I will be discussing in a future post) you might take your failures personally. Fixed minds tend to internalize failure and assume that the reason they failed was due to something that was fundamentally wrong with themselves.

However, if you come at failure from a growth mindset, you’re more likely to be able to analyze what happened and see these errors as an opportunity to grow.

To help you take this less painful, more opportunistic view of failure, check out the 4 tips below.

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REDEFINE FAILURE

One of our brains favorite ways to simplify life is to downgrade thinking to black and white. While this can save us when we get caught up in overwhelm and we need to make a decision – it also tends to limit creativity and block opportunities for growth.

In this case if you approach every activity as a pass/fail situation, you will likely give up as soon as you fail, or never even try in the first place. Learning from those mistakes along the way  is how you get to success — it’s unlikely to happen the first time you try. The best way to avoid this trap is to redefine failure.

As hard as it is sometimes, I do everything I can to look at each situation as an opportunity for growth. One of my mantras (that my kids hear alllllll the time) is that you learn way more from your mistakes than you do from your successes.

So the next time you approach a project that you’re going to undertake consider what it will take for you to consider it a success. If your answer is “nothing but a complete success” it might be time to reframe that mindset. Try switching it into something more oriented toward how much you can learn about the situation or grow as an individual, regardless of the outcome.

I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can. –Babe Ruth Click To Tweet

CHANGE YOUR FOCUS

There can be an unbelievable amount of societal/familial/personal pressure on us to succeed at everything. While this is pretty much impossible, it doesn’t stop many of us from getting trapped by this perfectionist mindset.

However, much of the pressure that we think is focused on success is actually pressure to avoid failure. In fact, if you’re putting off something that you really want to succeed at, the reason might simply be that you’re afraid to fail.

One of the biggest problems (besides the soul crushing procrastination) is that it is mentally exhausting to focus on avoidance. Focusing on what we don’t want comes with a side of brain drain. Whereas focusing on what you do want skips that altogether.

Guiding your attention towards what you do want switches your mind into solution focused thinking. This is actually the methodology behind my coaching training and it leads you to positive thinking and creativity.

If you find yourself thinking, or taking action, either in an effort to avoid failure or because it needs to be “perfect”— try to switch the mental narrative from “what don’t I want” to “what DO I want”.

Fail Forward: how to turn every failure into a success

KEEP MOVING

What’s the easiest thing to do after you fail? Give up. This is what those with a fixed mindset do. They give up, try to bury the failure, and do everything they can to not have to face that particular challenge again. In this line of thinking you figure what’s the point? If I’ve failed once I’ll fail again.

But what is the cost of giving up? Or putting it in to the I’ll-get-back-to-that-later pile of infinite procrastination?

When you’re tempted to just throw in the towel because that’s the easiest solution, consider what is the cost of that decision? If you give up now will you ever reach your goal? And if you put it off, consider the loss of momentum that you’ll suffer.

While continuing to move toward your goals might be 2 steps forward and 1 step back, giving up and restarting later might equal 1 step forward and 1 (or more) steps back.

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PRACTICE SELF COMPASSION

Let’s face it, failing sucks. No one starts a project thinking “boy, oh boy, am I excited to fail!” At the same time, failure is unavoidable. And as I discussed above, it’s likely to be the prevailing situation.

But how you cope with the failure in the moment might define whether you’re able to brush it off and learn from it OR internalize it and give up.

Enter self compassion.

Here are a few ways that you can practice self compassion in the moments after a failure to help you be able to let go it and focus on learning from it instead.

Mindfulness – Become aware of your feelings. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and attempt to name those feelings — be it sadness, grief, anger, etc. This will help you mentally distance yourself from the swirl of emotions so that you can begin to think rationally about what happened.

Remember that you’re not alone – It can be easy to get caught up in thinking that you’re alone in failure or alone in being upset about failure. But it’s not true. Even the MOST successful people in your office/company/industry have failed more than they succeeded. Even if they don’t show it.

Also it is more than ok to have negative emotions around a failure. No one is expected to be excited about failing — it’s more about what you do after you’ve dealt with your feelings that matters.

Be kind to yourselfIf you were to trade places with your closest friends or family and you were witnessing them deal with a failure, how would you respond? What words of kindness and encouragement would offer to them? Apply that kindness to yourself instead of beating yourself up about what you could have done better.

Take ownership – When you are examining the failure, consider what part of the situation was actually your mistake. Some of us have a tendency to take full responsibility for a failure that we only had a part in causing and others try to pawn all the responsibility off on others. One makes you feel worse and the other prevents you from learning from the mistake. Try to take step back and rationally consider what part did you contribute and what can you learn from your actions.

TL;DR

None of us wants to fail, however we learn more from our mistakes that we do from our successes. By taking some of these steps you can learn how to fail forward to reach your goals.

If you’re struggling with moving forward towards your goals, please contact me. Coaching can help you learn how to handle your failures and move your life in the direction of success.

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