If you want to succeed, learn to fail well…

Aug 25, 2021Coaching

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”
Thomas Edison

Over the years working as an executive coach, I have coached many clients who come to me for help because they are ambitious to succeed. Sometimes, they want it so desperately that they consistently sabotage themselves, creating performance anxiety which has the exactly the opposite effect of what they want leading to what they see as “failure” or just not getting what they want.

You know the kind of thing. You are doing a presentation to the Board. You really want to really want to impress but feel so nervous that you can’t breathe or think straight. You stand up to speak only to find your mouth dry and the words wrapped in a knot around your tongue until they all suddenly spill out uncontrollably.

Neuroscience teaches us much about this fear. It comes from the reptilian brain that we developed as cave men to ensure we could get away from woolly mammoths, it’s related to our strongest emotions and needs. Our brain reacts in the same way to real or imagined threats, blood drains away from the pre-frontal cortex preparing the limbs for fight, freeze or flight. The net result is that we can’t think straight, we panic, freeze up and make a hash of it.

Top Tips – if this resonates for you, here are some tips which my clients have found useful:

  1. Imagine and visualise success – and ask yourself the question “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Changing your thinking to what you are aiming for rather than what you want to avoid can be very powerful.
  2. Face the worst case scenario – Susan Jeffers in her book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” states that what we really fear is how we will handle what happens, not the event itself. Imagining how we could cope if things went wrong often makes us realise it wouldn’t be that bad.
  3. Have a plan B – know what you will do if things don’t go to plan. For many clients this has been a new and defining way of thinking.
  4. Take action. JDI – dive in and do the very things that you are afraid to do! The best way to reduce fear is to take action. As soon as you do, you will start to build positive experiences and confidence.
  5. Don’t take it personally – Roger Allen said “Failure is an event, not a person”– instead of thinking about failure as a reflection of you as person, recognise it as an outcome.
  6. Learn from your experience. “there is no such thing as failure only feedback” – when things don’t go to plan, ask yourself:
    What actually happened?
    What were the circumstances?
    What could I have done differently?
    What can I do better next time?
  7. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different. Einstein defined madness as trying to do the same thing repeatedly without succeeding. Keep yourself sane, try different approaches and different ways to achieve your outcome. Think of it as experimenting.
  8. Consider the opportunities that come from the experience – Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich says “every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”
  9. Understand the benefits of failure – really successful people understand that failing is an integral part of succeeding. Failures are not end points but stepping stones, history is littered with people who have succeeded only after repeated failures.
  10. Don’t give up. People who succeed keep on trying even in the face of failure. Not trying means you will never know if you could have succeeded. Your full potential may never be realised.

Remember, you can only really know that you have gone too far when you get there. And if you don’t try, won’t you always be aiming for less than you can actually achieve?

The best way to succeed is to “fail well” by using strategies that help you not to take it personally, to think of it things not going to plan and something you can continually learn and grow from and a necessary part of achieving success.