7 Steps For Moving Through Failure (Even If It's Messy)

Written by Bill Wooditch

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We all experience failure from time to time; it's a natural part of life. It can be easy to forget this and feel alone as this topic is not talked about enough. Bill Wooditch, the author of the new book Fail More: Embrace, Learn, and Adapt to Failure as a Way to Success, is working to reverse the common narrative that failure is this shameful life-altering thing and instead show people that failure is actually a stepping-stone to success and may, in fact, be a critical part of it. In this excerpt from his new book, he shares the first steps to take when you've experienced failure and feel like nothing is going right. These seven actionable steps will help you move away from the past and closer to success.

Dwelling on the negative can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of despair and defeat. You're already beaten before you start if all you can think about is a negative outcome. While it's important to think about as many things as you can that could go wrong, the reason for thinking about them in the first place is to find creative ways to prevent them.

When you focus on the negatives, your thinking renounces the possibility of a positive outcome. You lose the power of positivity. Positivity isn't ignoring or failing to consider the negative. Rather, it's a mindset that is oriented toward making things happen for you, not to you.

Often we look in the past and think about those failures that we've already endured. We've endured them, but we haven't learned from them. And we're condemned to repeat them if we don't extract and apply the lessons from the experience. How many people have failed to try because they're stuck in a "failure loop," replaying past events that now appear to be real? If you don't dispatch the past for what it is, a place to learn and grow from, you're going to be stuck in the memories that keep you confined in its prison of self-constructed misery.

Getting out of a failure loop is emotional. When you're upset, you're at the very bottom of your brain. Emotion is clouding your ability to think rationally. Time to hit the reset button.

1. Take a deep breath.

I know this may sound simple, but before you do anything else, take a step back and breathe deeply. Only when you start to slow down will your emotions start to quiet. Focusing on your breathing will help you to get out of the instinct part of your brain (the bottom) and into the rational part of your brain (the top).

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2. Feel your emotions, then check them.

After giving your feelings a little space for acknowledgment, it's time to let them go, to make the switch to strategic thinking. In order to do that, you need to be in the rational part of your brain, not stuck at the lower end with emotions. Start to take yourself away from feeling and toward thinking. Break the emotional ties of feeling like a failure. Get out of this pattern of thinking. Ask yourself, "What is really happening here? How would I rather feel?" These cues will aid you in making the transition. Forgive yourself and forgive everyone involved.

3. Create an objective framework.

It's important to evaluate the failure dispassionately. Take a step back and look at all parts of the equation. Look and see: What kept you from your goal? What steps can you take to avoid the pattern of failure? From there, each specific failure will provide you with an opportunity to improve by giving you clues on how not to fail. Start to read those clues and spot patterns. This will get easier over time.

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4. Test-drive your new direction.

Once the clouds are cleared, you can start to see the answers. How can you move forward? What new steps do you need to take? What old ones do you need to abandon? Be specific and intentional about your goals, and visualize yourself making them a reality. Picture yourself step-by-step. Then make a promise to yourself to not revert to old ways just because they are familiar.

5. Assign a value to failure.

Now that you see the results evolving, you will start to value failure as the tool it can be. Continue to be vigilant for signs of failure, and start tweaking your direction along the way. Try not to pause, as this can cause you to fret and return you to an emotional response. If you focus on your new steps, you'll begin to see new results. They in themselves will be encouraging. If some are not yielding the anticipated success at the rate you anticipated, revise them.

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6. Create your success profile.

This may sound basic, but once you've figured out what works, get out your journal and make detailed notes. Write down everything that brought you closer to a successful outcome. You can refer to this "success profile" to avoid slipping back to the old ways and the ineffective methods that failed to produce a successful result. As you build your profile, you will find an armory of successful strategies and tactics to draw from as you surge toward your next victory.

7. Be grateful.

Make it a point to practice gratitude for opportunities that come your way. Even in failure you can find an opportunity to give thanks. Sure, failure is a powerful punch in the gut, but it is not as painful as the sting of regret. Having the opportunity to change and move forward is something to be thankful for.

Based on excerpts from Fail More: Embrace, Learn, and Adapt to Failure as a Way to Success by Bill Wooditch with the permission of McGraw-Hill Education. Copyright © 2019.

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