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Published: 19 Nov 2021

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Diamonds did not always look like the stunning crystals we see online or at the jewellers. But we don’t call the earlier stage of their development a failure. So why on earth do we assume some activities we do for our development are failures?

Diamonds did not always look like the stunning crystals we see online or at the jewellers. But we don’t call the earlier stage of their development a failure. So why on earth do we assume some activities we do for our development are failures?

Unfortunately, social norms teach us that getting something ‘wrong’ is failure. They don’t teach us that each time we get it wrong, we are one step closer to getting it right. Each step of the diamond’s way, it had to deal with intense heat, intense cooling and lots of pressure. Sound familiar? Isn’t this our life every day?

So perhaps it’s time for us to see ourselves not as failures, but as valuable works in progress. A diamond in the rough, if you like. In order to do that, we need to change our relationship with the word ‘failure,’ and start seeing those events as stepping stones to reaching a goal.

For example, you may have got rejections from job applications. Did you learn how to change your application for the next time? Did you get feedback on what was not right? Or did you just assume you could not get feedback? Have you asked other people for advice on what makes a good application?

Remember - your aim in the above example is to get a job. Thinking you are a failure is NOT going to help that! It just reduces your mental bandwidth and you have less space to think about new ideas.

It’s time to be honest with yourself and move yourself to work-in-progress. Here are some tips on how to go about doing this.

1. Accept that YOU are not a failure – your actions just did not work that time

We are so quick to judge ourselves and put a label on our ‘WHOLE’ self. But actually it is only an action that has failed, not you as a person. So quit giving yourself such a hard time, and realise there are many activities that we do really well every day. Take your hand and pat your back for those actions.

Also remember, your action may not have worked THAT time, but in different circumstances, it may work. For example, you may have answered a question in an interview that your greatest weakness is you have an avid attention to detail and therefore spend a lot of time getting something perfect. That might not work in a fast-moving company, but it is invaluable in a compliance role. If you don’t reflect on what you said, you will never find the nuggets of wisdom inside yourself which can help you next time!

2. Write down a list of areas that you would have said you have ‘failed’ at

Whilst some might say that this will make you sad, neuroscience tells us that the CONTEXT is valuable. You now know that failure is not bad. It is a stepping stone. For each ‘failure’, think about what you learnt from it, how it has since helped you, or how it can take you closer to your goal next time.

In the above example, if you have great attention to detail, you might now think about applying to companies that have strong compliance functions, so banks, financial services and law firms. Your skill would be valuable there.

In this way, you can change your relationship with failure and how you think about yourself.

3. For your top ‘failures’, think of what the next step is

Often we are so content on beating ourselves up about our failures, that we spend most of our time doing that instead of learning from the ‘failure’. For each item on your list, think pro-actively on what you can do about your ‘failure.’ Think about what went ‘wrong’ and what you could do differently next time.

Many people complain about not being fit enough, or needing to lose weight. Often, they are doing these activities solo and so interest and dedication fizzles out after a short while. What about getting a strong buddy to work out with? Do online exercise classes with? Combine it with learning a new dance style to release the tension? Make it a fun activity instead of a chore? How can you change your thinking about that activity and make it work?

4. Action it!

It is not enough to think of ideas, you have to action them as well. So, instead of being a couch potato watching Netflix, how about you commit to spending 30 minutes on working on your stepping stones (not failures) three times a week? And your reward is you can be a couch potato for the rest of the evening!

As you start to change your relationship with the word ‘failure’, watch how life changes. Things will always go wrong. But learning from what happens is the secret to a more balanced life. Try it!