I talked with my friend earlier this week about resolutions. She’s a talented writer who works for national news corporations and colleges, but she’s decided not to focus on her diet in the year because she’s failed so many times before.
Not even the most brilliant businesswoman or talented athlete gets everything right. So what makes you think you should? The key is knowing how to turn today’s flop into tomorrow’s triumph. It’s easier than you might think, and here are six tips to help you fail with grace — and bounce back.
1. Spend some time assessing the failure.
Women are often marvelous networkers, building a large crowd of friends and acquaintances through work, community, their children’s school and home. This networking group you’ve developed can help prevent you from falling totally into a hole. You probably have people around you who are invested in your success and are willing to help you. These people know you well enough to analyze the situation and figure out what part, if any, could have been avoided.
2. Don't attach too much importance to failure.
Most of us feel like failures far too often. But hey — failure happens to the very best of us, and certainly to anyone who's attempting positive change!
3. Skip the shame.
Shame and embarrassment block innovation. Have you gained five pounds, blown a presentation, or tried a new healthy recipe that turned out gross? That’s embarrassing, but that’s also part of trying. It's so important to see failure as a sign of creative and courageous effort. You can develop resilience by welcoming criticism (It was awful, wasn’t it?), admitting vulnerability (I wish it had turned out differently!), fighting perfectionism (Better luck next time!) and discounting what others think (I’d like to see you take a shot at it, too.)
4. Don't judge yourself.
Avoid the negative self-talk that stops you from completing that project. As weird as it sounds, accepting yourself and loving yourself where you are now, despite your existing flaws, quiets the self-critiquing until you’ve finished. Don’t work on a project and criticize your work at the same time. Savor the imperfections of a work in progress and have more fun along the path.
5. Remember that everything valuable takes time.
The benefits of failure may take time to flower. I remember sitting in a therapist’s office every week for a year, unraveling my failed marriage, and trying to figure out what was leading to my deep sense of unhappiness. My kids weren’t doing well. My work was successful but unsatisfying. I’d like to say I solved all my problems in that year, but I think I merely laid the groundwork. Even though I worked out action plans to help focus my efforts on solutions, those results were still years in development.
6. Let yourself feel devastated.
Although wallowing in past failures is a recipe for dysfunction, let yourself feel anger or disappointment, so that you can prevent prolonged regret. If you catch yourself ruminating, take your mind in a different direction. Establish a mental "board of directors" whose advice will help change your internal narrative. Include great leaders who focus on love, like Wayne Dyer, Oprah Winfrey, and the Dalai Lama.
7. Don’t let your failure be the final word on your worth or ability.
Failure can be a one-time event. Failure isn't the beginning of a trend. Not getting along with your boss doesn’t make you a bad spouse or a lousy parent. To grow from failure, you have to figure out what you did wrong so you don’t do it again. Consider creating a pie chart (using a paper plate). Start to think about all the different factors that contributed to the failure. How much did each factor contribute? Some of the slices may be factors you can’t regulate, but many factors may be under your control: I can choose healthier foods; I can focus on health and freshness instead of taste and creaminess; I can stop eating as soon as I feel full; I can exercise before work. The pie chart provides an objective way of looking at a situation, offering visible proof that your individual actions are just part a larger whole plan that also involves the difficulty of the task and the contributions of others. As you plan further goals, you can proactively identify and work harder on the parts that lie within your control.