Failure – The Key to Success

I know. The title of this post is a bit outrageous. So I should clarify: It’s not really failure that’s the key to success. It’s trying. But what happens is that we are often so afraid to fail that we end up being afraid to try.

I believe that if we learn to shift our mindset to actually viewing failure as a positive thing, it would open up so much room for growth. So how can we do that?

  1. Realize that failure is simply a subset of learning.
  2. Aim to try – sometimes we need to change our aim from succeeding, to trying.
  3. Iterate – Try, fail, analyze and repeat.

Failure is Learning

Consider the following:

  • A baby first learning to walk – This process has to have one of the highest initial failure rates known to man. Yet it has one of the highest eventual success rates known to man. Each time babies fail to walk, they get better at it, and they keep trying until they finally walk. Food for thought: babies fail the most and yet they are the best learners.
  • Science – Science and technology have made gigantic leaps and one of the forces behind this is the practice of experimenting. The very basis of an “experiment” is trial and error (and retrial). Notice the “error” part? Failure is expected. The failure is analyzed. Then parameters and assumptions and conditions are adjusted and the experiment is re-tried.
  • Grit – It is often said that the number 1 factor of success is not intelligence or education or luck. It’s grit. Grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Wikipedia). In essence, it’s never giving up. The most successful people are the ones that use their failures to propel them to keep trying and trying and trying and trying. And that’s what leads to their success.

These points are serve as examples showing that failure doesn’t hinder success. But it is quitting that makes success impossible. One of the most important things to internalize is that each time we fail, we grow. Now, don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t aim to fail. But we should note that failure only inhibits growth if you quit. And it can accelerate that growth if we learn from it. Consider this quote:

The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.
-Stephen McCranie

The beginner hasn’t failed enough to know how to mitigate failure. Numerous times, the master has failed and then used his failures to improve his craft. Failure can actually bring us closer to our goals. Each time we fail, we grow – we gain information about what doesn’t work. That is experience. That is wisdom. It’s up to us to apply that newly achieved wisdom the next time we try.

Aim to Try

The goal is not to succeed; the goal is to try.

That may sound strange but a big reason that failure demotivates us is actually that we set the bar too high. One of the signs of wisdom is the ability of selective focus and knowing when to focus on the macro vs the micro. We definitely should set ambitious goals. But we need to know when to move our focus to trying the goal as opposed to achieving it.

We are often so focused on the large goal, we forget to celebrate a small, but crucial, milestone – trying. Trying is a huge step in the direction of success. Many people are afraid to try so if you made an attempt then you are already growing and that is to be celebrated. Also, if we focus too much on the result of success, then when we don’t see that result, or if we think that result is unlikely, we get demotivated. But if the goal is to try, then achievement is super easy! Anyone can try.

So focusing on trying instead of success makes us more likely to attempt the task and more likely to feel successful after the attempt, whether we succeed or not… because we achieved the goal of trying.

Iterate

In order to grow, we do need to sometimes change the focus back from trying to succeeding. We can do that when we analyze the trial/failure.

In order to continue on an upward trend, we should analyze the trial to determine what needs to be changed for us to perform better. Then apply that change to the next trial and keep iterating like that until we succeed. The more we try, the better we get.

So here’s the process:

  1. Aim to try – The goal is not to succeed. The goal is to try.
  2. Try
  3. If unsuccessful, remember that failure is learning. Then change the focus back to success. Determine what needs to be changed about the approach to increase the chances of success.
  4. Change the focus back to trying and repeat, applying the changes from the previous step.
    • Note: if we keep trying but we aren’t improving, it’s likely that we are missing something. So remember no woman is an island. Seek help. That is a part of analysis and growth.

I hope this helps us to form a new relationship with failure in our lives.
So next time you fail at something, be happy that you tried, use that failure to improve your next attempt, and say to yourself, “I grew today. That’s dope.”

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How to Overcome Fear

The Importance of Overcoming Fear

The best things in life are on the other side of fear.

-Will Smith

Fear can be a good thing. It is necessary for survival as it protects us against danger by allowing us to steer clear of potential danger. But in society we have begun to perceive embarrassment and failure as “dangerous”. And this makes sense. From an evolutionary perspective,  survival is much more likely if we form packs/herds/groups. So community is important to us. We are social creatures and do not want to be ridiculed and therefore exiled form our communities.

The problem is… Fear is also one of the most crippling emotions, especially when it comes to growth. Fear coerces us to err on the side that danger exists even when there is none. Many of us have become conditioned to believe that both failure and the negative opinions of others are to be avoided… even if the failure has little to no risk of harm or exile; and the opinions of others are fickle and affect nothing. And when we feel this, we amplify the danger in our minds. And this fear restricts us. It makes us unwilling to try to learn new things or keep trying at things we’ve failed at. It makes us avoid actions and situations that may lead to potential embarrassment. And if it is making us avoid learning, avoid trying and avoid action, then it’s making us avoid growth!

In order to learn, grow and become successful, we MUST learn to overcome fear.

The most successful people in the world believe this very thing. So there must be some truth to it. If we want to be successful. We must model success. So for an example of how important overcoming fear is to a very successful person, check out this clip from an interview with Will Smith:

 

 

 

How to Overcome Fear

  1. Practice Practice Practice!

    Well how does one get good at any skill? Practice. Overcoming fear is no different. If we want to be brave. We must practice bravery. This means doing things that you are scared to do simply in order to become good at doing things you are scared to do, even if that specific thing isn’t important. You can start with small things and build up to big things but practice is important.

  2. Assess the actual danger.

    Okay so you have an action that you want to do and are scared to do. The first thing to do is assess the outcome of the action. For this, you must remove all emotion from the assessment. Try treating it as a simple hypothetical or pretend that you are not gonna do it anyway to remove all pressure/nervousness about it. After that, determine the true danger of your action. Will this cause actual harm to you or anyone else? If it would cause actual harm, don’t do it. If not, proceed to the next step.

  3. Forget the outcome!

    This may seem strange given the previous step. But now that the outcome has no actual danger, it’s not important. We need to detach ourselves from the outcome – live in the moment, so to speak –  in order to not care if we fail or not and eliminate all pressure to perform well.  It’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is the action. There is no outcome. Period.

  4. Model success!

    You don’t need to figure everything out on your own. Whether you need to overcome fear in general or for something specific, chances are someone else has done it. So find them and see what they say. There are tonnes of resources out there – books, videos, blogs – in which the top 1% gives tips on how to overcome fear. So find virtual mentors and implement their tried and proven techniques. Model success.

  5. Remember that failure means progress!

    The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.
    -Stephen McCranie

 

These tips were inspired by Robin Sharma. He is a great mentor to me and has some inspiring content. Check it out:

 

 

Experiment Alert!

It’s easy to talk the talk. And it’s easy to read things online and say “hashtag truth”. But we gotta put things into action.

So I have a challenge for you! You get to choose:

  • Every day, for the next week, do one small thing you are scared to do.
  • Or every week, for the next month, do one big thing you are scared to do.

Let me know how it goes in the comments below!

And don’t worry. I’m doing it too! For a month, starting January 1, 2018, I will do one thing that scares me each week. And I will document this in the Experiments section of the blog in the Fear Series category. You ready? Let’s go!