Show me the person who has never failed and you’ll be showing me a person who has never accomplished anything.
Failure is a natural part of life. We all have to go through it at one point or another. It can’t be helped.
You may not be able to change the fact that failures and setbacks will happen once in a while, but you can determine how you react to them. And it turns out that how you react to failure matters a lot.
The Typical Reaction to Failure
When I was growing up, I played little league baseball. I was an average player and was reliable enough to get a hit or two most games.
That is, until one day.
In one game I made several errors and failed to get a base hit. I played terribly; nothing was going my way.
I took it hard and questioned my abilities as a baseball player.
Every game after that was just as hard. In most games I was happy to not mess up.
I had gone from an average player to a terrible player in an extremely short time and I didn’t know why.
Several games later, a friend of mine also had a terrible game. He didn’t get any base hits and made an error on the field that cost us the game.
When I asked him about it, he shrugged it off. He said that the day was just a blip for him and that one bad day doesn’t say anything about his overall skills. In short, he thought of himself as a great player who simply had a bad day.
The next game, my friend had recovered from his setback and was batting like normal.
This story highlights the two ways to react to failure.
I reacted to my bad day by questioning my overall skills and abilities. My friend reacted to his bad day as a specific instance that didn’t say anything at all about his skills.
That difference in how you react to failure makes all the difference in reaching success. Here’s why the two differences matter:
1. Seeing failure as a reflection of yourself and your abilities
It’s natural to become a little demotivated when you experience failure. But when you see it as a reflection of your overall skills, you put that demotivation into your self-image.
Think about a beginner writer who gets a rejection letter. One way to react is to take it personally. You can doubt your abilities and see yourself simply as a bad writer.
Instead of telling yourself that the article might have been bad, you tell yourself that you are bad.
When you think you’re not good, you doubt yourself and lose self-confidence. That’s destructive thinking. That means the next time you make an attempt to succeed, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
2. Seeing failure as a specific instance
This approach means you doubt how good the particular action is – not yourself. That’s a lot less destructive.
The failure will still be a little demotivating, but seeing it as a comment on a specific instance means you can bounce back quicker.
Now imagine a different writer who gets a rejection letter in the mail. He figures the topic might not have been interesting enough or he needs to put more work into it next time.
In this instance, he puts the failure on the article, not on who he is. It’s easier for him to move past the failure and put it into the past.
Bouncing Back From Failure
These different approaches to failure were the reason I had such a hard time bouncing back from my bad day at the ballpark and my friend didn’t.
I took the bad day personally which meant I had a hard time shaking off self-doubt and the loss of confidence.
Bringing those negative thoughts with me impaired my performance.
My friend could see the failure as a specific instance and could brush it off. He left those demotivating thoughts in the past with that day instead of bringing it with him to the next game. So they were gone the next time he got back up to bat.
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, there will always be setbacks and failures. This is not something you can control. What you can control is your reaction. If you don’t take it personally and consider it a blip on your way to success, you’ll find success comes to you a lot faster.
photo credit: Gustty