Seven Learning Lessons from Failures

"Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." ~Winston S. Churchill.

The evolution of psychology tells us a lot about what needs to be studied. The first theories in psychology focused on understanding the body and brain processes that resulted in human behavior. Then came the emphasis on studying pathology, or the failures of living and how to survive better. And now we are heading towards the other side of thriving with positive psychology, where emphasis on improving success is waning and moving back more towards balance between the extremes.

The same is true about one of our main viewpoints in life with the individual’s embedded competitive drive that results in winning or losing vs. one of inherent cooperation and collaboration within the team for win-win outcomes. A compromise seems to be on the horizon where we compete against ourselves and cooperate with others for winning trifecta outcomes. In the interest in keeping up with this trend, here are seven lessons we can learn from our failures, to decrease these failures and increase our successes.

1. Embrace failures rather than trying to avoid them.

We are born into a world of competition to achieve success and avoid failure, sometimes at a high cost that is over-valued. And the opportunities for failure seem to keep repeating themselves out of desperation to teach us a lesson. When you stop running away from failures and start running towards them, you often see success clues to help you avoid failing next time and avoiding worse outcomes than before.

2. Be honest in owning your part of the failure.

Same as above. When you avoid owning any part of contributing to the failure and blame it on others, the circumstances or bad luck, it will likely come back to bite you somewhere that hurts worse. Even when these things do make up most of the reasons for the failure, there will always be a small part you need to own, before it doesn’t happen again. Even when others push you into a whole, you won’t get above ground until you see what you did to get pushed in the hole in the first place.

3. Notice the link between your expectations and outcomes.

Today it is more of a cliché to say, “what you expect is what you get,” but the value of this truth is that you often aren’t always completely aware of or honest with yourself about the doubts in your mind that diminish the power of positive thoughts. To attract something positive, you first have to figure out how you are pushing it away with your sublet and sometimes unconscious negativity. Only frank introspection can get you there.

4. Continuously strive to improve your communication.

Most failures today involve failed personal interactions with others and most of those failures are really failures in communication. When you begin to fathom how poor communication has become, especially virtual communication, you have uncovered the biggest cause of failure and the best solution for success. If your preferred problem-solving solution is to go for the jugular, here it is, now in plain sight.

5. Learn to anticipate likely failures. With a closer look, some failures can’t be missed. After all, the obscure takes a while to see, while the obvious even longer. Before you commit to acting or reacting to a situation, it might be worth your effort to slow down and look at what results you or others got in a similar situation. With such anticipation, you are in a better position to avoid getting stuck in mud, sinking in a swamp, or going on a wild goose chase.

6. Change Problem-solving approaches. In my training as a sport psychologist in Victoria, Australia, I came across a very novel approach, used by Robert Nideffer, to teach divers how to avoid mistakes in the middle of the dive routine. Rather than working straight through the dive from beginning to end and risking wrong outcomes, the training twist started at the end, with a perfect entrance into the water and then worked backwards to illuminate potential mistakes. The same can be applied with a golf swing, starting backwards from a perfect follow-thru to the stance. In school we all learn how to make word problems in math easier to solve, by changing the words to numbers. As Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem by using the same type of language that created it.”

7. Seek help when you are in over your head.

Sometimes you just can’t outrun your Karma or avoid plain old bad luck. When you find yourself sinking in quicksand, it is no shame to ask for help. There is always someone around to offer a helping hand or long branch from a tree. But when you get help when you need it most, it is nice to pay it forward. If you use prayer for help, forget about asking for relief or for the problem to magically go away. Instead ask for the smarts to figure out a viable solution and the courage and tenacity to follow-through until daylight appears.

Try any one of these seven failure lessons and see how the one easily leads to uncovering another, in expanding your toolbox of success solutions, as they are interactive and have a compounding effect, just like auto and home interest rates.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." ~Truman Capote.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is retired Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, but still teaches criminal justice classes and practices business success coaching and sport psychology. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Because Organization, an intervention program in human trafficking and involved with volunteer work in the veteran’s and horse therapy program at NWNHC Family Fund. Bill is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (PublishAmerica); Critical Thinking (Authorsden); Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale, Christian Psychology (Covenant Books, Inc.). Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away and Christian Psychology for Everyday Use (Covenant Books, Inc.). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206)-914-1863 or