When you are afraid of learning from your failure and mistakes, you stay within your comfort zone — where you already know what you need to know to survive. What you want — and don’t have — is not within your comfort zone.
How do I know?
Because you don’t already have it!
If you knew everything you needed to know already to get it — you would have achieved it.
What is currently holding you back is that what you want lies beyond your comfort zone — and perhaps because you are afraid of failing or making a mistake, you have not dared to step into the possibilities.
What do you need to learn to get there?
- more self-confidence,
- better networking and communication skills, or perhaps
- new knowledge and abilities.
Until you step out of your comfort zone, you are not learning. But that place of learning is uncomfortable — there is uncertainty, both in yourself and the situation. Your brain needs some challenge and a little stress to learn. Of course, if you’re not learning, it shuts down and starts running on auto-pilot (saves energy). So, that familiarity of rolling in easy routines, plans and priorities, where you are simply relying on your habits, that allows your brain to switch off and go onto “energy saver” mode.
Unfortunately, it also limits your potential. Do you know what you are truly capable of when you try?
To reach new levels of success, you will have to venture into something new
Of course, venturing into something new means learning from failure and mistakes, because you risk failing and making mistakes.
If you want to get from point A to point B, the most logical choice is to take Action A. Does Action A take you to point B? If not, are you prepared to try other actions to find out which one gets you to point B? Or will you simply give up, saying you tried?
Remember a baby learning to walk — and falling over. It seems they spend more time falling and getting back up again than they spend walking. Do you notice how many times they tell themselves off and how badly they beat themselves up for their failure and mistakes? They don’t! And neither should you.
Failure is not personal, it’s not a description of who you are. Failure is simply the realisation and recognition that Action A does not get me to Destination B. This choice did not get me the results that I had expected.
Failure is never final, it’s not personal and it’s not permanent. (Margie Warrell)
When you permit yourself to make mistakes, you open the opportunity to learn and grow. Stop having such unrealistic and high expectations of yourself that you set yourself up to become a prisoner of your comfort zone.
Could you learn to embrace trial and error for a moment? How quickly do you notice that something isn’t working, so that you can make small changes and tweaks to your efforts? Without giving up.
Learning from your failure — lessons from a failed marriage
I failed in marriage — to a guy that I loved. In 2016, I ended our marriage crying; I still loved him but was not willing to spend one more day of my life with him.
In 2010 I ended our relationship, only to marry him six months later. My gut-wrenching reaction, when he asked me to marry him in October 2010 was NO, why would you do this to me now? Unfortunately, I lacked the guts to follow through with that, capitulated and married him.
I convinced myself that it would work out, that marriage would somehow repair what was missing. You know how that story ends…
To get what you want, you have to be willing to give up what you have
Loving each other is not enough to make a marriage work. It’s a great start — but it takes more than just love. In 2016, after we separated, I stumbled across my 2010 diary and found the page with the reasons for breaking up with him. The same list of reasons that I finally decided to call it quits. Nothing had changed. I failed to learn the lessons and destined myself to repeat them.
But I discovered in 2015 if I wanted a better relationship, I could lose the relationship we had. And the relationship we had was making me miserable. I tried to envision the relationship staying the same for the next 20 years, and the idea was horrific. At that moment, I realised I was willing to lose that marriage to have a great relationship.
Trying a different way
So, we tried therapy and for four months I listened. I listened to what I had been refusing to hear. And I finally heard enough — he was happy in the relationship exactly as it was. The relationship was perfect. I just wanted too much. And I finally realised that our relationship was never going to get better. I had two simple choices:
- this is your relationship, as it is today — accept it and stop expecting it to be different; or
- leave this relationship.
Could I stop expecting my marriage to be different and simply accept it for what it was? Was I willing to lower my expectations and live with the marriage that I had?
Those decisions were the hardest and most heart-wrenching decisions of my life. To play the game of life — ALL IN — win or lose. Unfortunately, in 2010 I failed to accept the lessons and learn. And I was destined to repeat the life lesson. In the end, I lost my unhappy relationship and found myself.
Awareness and Acceptance when learning from failure:
When you are recovering from a fall, it’s easy to get bogged down in the mire of failure or your mistakes. But the reality is that failure is a part of life and an elemental part of success. Making a mistake doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with shame and humiliation.
Especially when you are coming out from a broken relationship, it’s easy to identify with your failure. “I am a failure”, instead of recognising “I failed to make a good choice”. As you get up, recognise where you are focusing your attention. If you are dwelling on the failure, self-doubt and stress will increase. You become more reactive.
The secret to learning from failure is looking to solve the problem. What is my next right step forward?
This requires a deep awareness and self-knowledge. What am I doing, how do I feel, and what am I thinking about? If I fear failure, am I reluctant to take another step forward? Have I begun to self-sabotage, in order to stay within my comfort zone? Or perhaps I am procrastinating, hoping that the situation will change so that I don’t have to learn and grow. Fear of failure can take us to a place of paralysis and inaction.
But failing is about failing forward — learning, doing better, and then growing into success. If I fail to learn, shame on me!
Internalise the lessons from your mistakes
One of the responses to failure and mistakes is to start winging it. Been there. Done that. Not a good idea! That is not learning from failure.
Be willing to go back to your drawing board and your plans. Analyse the internal and external forces that came into play on the situation — looking back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Have a good look at what you missed, and especially at the small signs and signals that could lead you to a different decision. How would you respond to these next time? More importantly, perhaps, how can you apply this lesson to other areas of your life? Start to plan for the future and a do-over.
Ask yourself these questions
The following questions are great at helping to internalise the lessons so that you can move into making this a stepping stone to your success.
What would I do if I could solve the “how”?
One thing is decision-making.
Problem-solving is something entirely different.
Problem-solving allows us to focus on “how” can I do this. Decision-making, on the other hand, is “what would I like to do?”.
One of the biggest mistakes I have made (and repeated) throughout my life is trying to answer the “what” question AFTER I have answered the “how”. Unfortunately, you aren’t a decision-maker if you get stuck in problem-solving. What I need to do is not the same question as “ how can I do this.?” And so many times, I have gotten paralysed by the “I don’t know how to do this” that I have failed to make the choice of “what do I want to do?”.
So, I invite you to dig into your mistake and failure — was there any moment when you mixed up these two questions? When you tried to answer “what should I do?” with “how do I do this?”.
How well did I do at planning and preparation?
There are a myriad of questions you can use in learning from your failure -
- Did I set realistic expectations and goals for myself — or did I let myself get overwhelmed by the enormity of the end goal, without having milestones along the way?
- Is there a chance that I set myself up for failure by simply setting an impossible goal? Yes. Sometimes we do that to ourselves. Call it self-sabotage! It makes sure that you never move out of your comfort zone!
- Do I have the whole picture?
When you look at your planning and preparation, look at the skills you have and the skills you needed to be successful. Are there skills that you failed to develop that resulted in mistakes and failure? Where can you obtain those skills or who can you hire that has these skills and knowledge — so that they take care of this part for you?
Be willing to revisit and tweak your plan with the information that you gleaned from your 20/20 hindsight. How would you plan it differently now?
How will I do this differently now?
Knowing what you now know, take a look at what you would do differently. This involves getting honest with yourself about your consistency. Did you actually stick to the plan? Were you half-hearted and haphazard in execution?
When you hit an obstacle, or someone told you “no” — how did you respond? How did you show up in the face of adversity? One of the hardest realisations is when you recognise that you didn’t do your best. There are all kinds of excuses that you can give. But sometimes the best thing you can give yourself is a short kick — you know where — so that you remember the lesson and learning from this mistake. In what part of the execution of your plans could you have done differently?
Your tribe and support network
Did you make the effort to surround yourself with the people that will help you build your future, or merely hold you in your past? Another way of looking at this: is this group of people, the ones that I am spending my time and energy on, the people that will help this take off?
For me, as an introvert, I’m not big on networking. But it is an essential business skill that I had to learn. Do you need to be more intentional about building your relationships? Who do you know that can help? And if you are at a loss to answer this question, where might you find the right person or people?
This question is as important as your plan and your execution. No man is an island. It’s impossible to go far all by yourself.
If this didn’t happen “to me” but “for me” — what would I learn from it?
I don’t know about you, but often after a mistake or failure — I’m busy feeling sorry for myself. Why did this happen to me? One of the most helpful questions I have found in learning lessons from failure is to turn the question upside down. If I stop thinking that this happened to me and instead look at it as an opportunity that perhaps this happened for me, what do I see?
Consider the possibility that perhaps it’s not all late and behind schedule — if this timing is perfect, what is it perfect for? What are you meant to be doing at this time you are waiting? Consider all the benefits of having this time you feel you are in limbo.
Think about the character lessons that you are learning or have learned — what lies deep within this? Make sure that you dig up all the treasures of the lessons that this has for you.
After learning from failure — release it and let it go
In the end, you have to move on from the failure and mistakes, taking with you only the lessons learned (and perhaps a battle scar or two). But allow yourself only to focus on the aspects that are within your control, relinquishing that desire to control everything.
You will, no doubt, fall again on this life journey. You can either fall staying in exactly the same place or you can fall moving forward into the unknown. No matter how comfortable your comfort zone might be right now — if you stay there, it will grow uncomfortable. You will have outgrown it, and hopefully, you won’t have regrets about not having tried sooner.
It’s easy, especially after failing, to want to stay in the familiar. But don’t undervalue your dreams or overvalue the safety of staying where you are. Stagnant water grows stagnant because it stays in one place. Eventually, it becomes toxic.
If you are struggling with getting over failure — dwelling on the failure, rather than on the lessons you’ve learned from it — consider that one of the resources you have available to you is coaching. Allowing someone else to ask the questions that take you through the process of reaching the treasures in the lessons and then moving on into new opportunities. You don’t have to stay stuck.
Be brave enough to dare to learn once more.
Originally published at https://bethgray.coach on December 4, 2019.