How To Pick Yourself Up After Failure

In any avenue of effort, things are not always going to go according to plan-- this is a given. When evaluating a lapse in the plan, then, you need to decide whether what happened was a setback or a failure.

A setback means that while you’ll need to rethink your strategy, the goal itself is still within reach if you continue using more or less your original approach. A failure means that either the goal is not worth the effort required, or that that goal will have to be reached by abandoning the original plan and coming up with an entirely new one.  The solution is never to stay static.

Here’s how to keep moving forward despite a setback.

Decide if it was a setback or a failure.

This can be done in one easy step. Ask yourself the following two questions: Do I know what went wrong? Am I willing to change what would need to be changed in order to prevent this mistake in the future? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” you have experienced a setback. If you’ve answered “yes” to the first question but “no” to the second, what you’ve experienced is a failure.

“Failure” is another word for “change.”

So you’ve evaluated your effort, you’ve seen what you were doing wrong, and you have decided that it isn’t worth the effort it would require for you to fix whatever was wrong with your effort. Congratulations! Sure, you may have failed at whatever your initial goal was, but accepting failure and moving on is a key part of your larger, overarching project: becoming the most dynamic and effective person you can be.

Let’s take the example of someone who wants to lose 10 pounds. He gets a personal trainer, or he joins a gym. He spends 2 months working out, but cheats here and there—a lot. At the end of 2 months, he has only lost 4 pounds. Let’s go through the process with him:

“I wanted to lose 10 pounds in 2 months. In order to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, I would have to start spending at least an hour at the gym every day, which would mean at least 1.5 hours out of my day. I’d also have to stop going to Nacho Tuesday with my work friends, and I’d have to eat like a fitness blogger—gross. I don’t have that kind of time since I’m gunning for that promotion right now, and honestly I hate low-fat cottage cheese.”

He accepts that he only lost 4 pounds, and moves on...

What has happened here—a failure? Sure, in a way. But in a more important sense, our nacho-fond friend has learned something important about himself. Most people get stuck wanting a goal but being unwilling to put in the effort required, dooming them to dissatisfaction. After honestly evaluating his priorities and making a decision to stop pouring half-hearted effort into something, he will have more time to focus on new goals and will not suffer from dissatisfaction. After all, his failure on this specific project was really just an opportunity for him to experiment with something new, and to abandon it when it didn’t fit into his larger goals.

1 comment
  • Anne O'Donovan liked this
  • Anne O\'Donovan
    Anne O'Donovan
    your brevity, clarity and succinctness are a delight. useful tips too. thank you
    August 25, 2015