We have all heard the sensible idea that we can learn from our failures. Yet the frustration and embarrassment that we often feel after a screw up can prevent this education or at least put it on hold. Get rid of self-judgment’s harshness and clear the way for transformation instead. Here’s how:
1. Rather than waging war on your mind, think about what you did right.
Nothing is perfect, and this time things may not have worked out, but it always could have been worse. Accept imperfection. You can actually comfort yourself by realizing that others in the same situation might have performed (or did perform) far worse then you did.
2. Observe and don’t dwell.
Notice when negative thoughts creep into your head – pay attention when familiar tapes start to play with repetitive messages that are likely not true. Acknowledge them and let them go. Start building on what you could have done differently so the mistake doesn’t happen again. Focus your actions in the present moment, so you can move ahead with your most important goals without getting all fouled up by ruminating about the past.
3. Realize your thoughts are simply yes opinions.
Opinions are not facts or actual states of being. Feelings are real of course, but you can just as easily shift your feelings if you realize that “no” is just a point of view, as is “yes.” Which one is more useful to meeting your goals? A positive attitude will go a long way to hitting your mark the next time.
4. Take note of what you discovered that could be useful in your next attempt.
Yes, learn from your failures – but by making a point of doing so, the lessons become tangible. The American playwright Edward Albee said, “The act of writing is an act of optimism. You would not take the trouble to do it if you felt it didn't matter.” You can replace the word “writing” with “inventing” or “troubleshooting” or any other verb because no one creates anything unless they have a positive view of the future – otherwise why bother with coming up with anything new?
5. Practice self-love.
Dr. Kristin Neff, the pioneer of something called Self-Compassion, described it as, “a healthier way of relating to yourself.” It’s so true. So while it may be more challenging to change gut reactions, including physical feelings, to failure, we can more immediately learn how to respond more positively to these feelings. First of all, acknowledge that it’s okay to feel and think whatever you’re thinking. Once you accept yourself you can more easily move on. Instead of judging feelings, which adds insult to injury, understand that your thoughts are completely normal. But they do not have to prevent you from moving forward and starting over.
Don’t forget to deliberately seek out experience that bring you joy or pleasure – that take you away from the negative feelings and into the present moment. Connecting with loved ones, creative or physical pursuits that engage us and make us happy, are tremendous resources, and tend to multiply when used.