The Squeaky Wheel

How to protect your psychological health, improve your relationships, and enhance your self-esteem.

How to Become Failure Proof

How to learn from failure to achieve future success

From which do you learn more your failures or your successes? Most of us spend more time brooding over our failures than we do replaying our successes. Unfortunately, brooding is not a very productive activity and we rarely take the time to analyze which ingredients in our planning, preparation, and effort needed improvement. Yet, failures are very much worth analysis because hidden within them is a veritable road map to future success.

Our Mistakes are often Systematic

We each have our own way of approaching tasks and goals that is unique to us. For example when it comes to how we prepare, we might tend to invest a lot of time and effort in planning, we might tend to rush through the planning stages, or we might tend to neglect the planning stage entirely. Whatever our proclivities, we are likely to enact the same tendencies each time we approach a task and consequently, to make the same mistakes. Indeed, most people make only few errors but find endless ways to repeat them. Analyzing our failures can help us expose our blind spots so we can then minimize them and by doing so, radically increase our likelihood of future success.

Become a Failure Detective

In order to identify our weaknesses and blind spots we have to think like a detective analyzing a failure 'crime scene’. To find clues to how the failure occurred, investigate the following suspects:

1. Poor Planning. How much time did you invest in planning how to achieve the goal or task? Was it suficient? If you believed planning was not necessary, ask yourself how a more methodical person would have approached the planning phase.

2. Inadequate Preparation. Putting aside whether your planning was adequate, how well prepared were you? In what ways could you have improved your preparation? What steps did you skip over? How did you justify skipping over them? Even if you believe certain aspects of preparation were not necessary, would you have lost anything by performing them and if not, was there any chance at all they could have added value by increasing your confidence or reducing your anxiety?

3. Weak Execution. How well thought out was your approach? How consistent was your effort? Were you monitoring your progress, motivation, and mindset? Go back and track those three variables over the course of the task and identify where they lagged and what made them do so. What can you do in the future if your progress stalls, your motivation lags, or your mindset becomes negative? Where did the first sign of a problem appear? Did you make any adjustments once you spotted a problem and if not, why not? What can you do to make sure you don’t miss or ignore such signs in the future?

4. Once you’ve answered all these questions very carefully, make a list of items and issues you need to pay careful attention to in the future. Don’t assume you’ll remember them and don’t assume you’ll catch them just because you see them now—blind spots are just that—blind spots. Use your list whenever you pursue goals/tasks so you can compensate for your 'usual suspects', catch mistakes as soon as they appear, and correct them immediately.

Creating an accurate and honest list of your most common errors and figuring out how to prevent them will make you close to failure proof.

For more practical strategies for dealing with failure, check out my new book, Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013).

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Check out my talk @Google NYC: Emotional First Aid

Copyright 2013 Guy Winch

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Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. more...

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