Failing Forward -- How to Make Failure a Positive Opportunity

Remember when children are learning to walk, they fall down numerous times, laugh and pick themselves up to try again and again, until one day they are running and winning marathons.
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success or failure traffic sign ...
success or failure traffic sign ...

"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure." - Paulo Coelho

You're right. You get an A. Sweet words. We are trained from a young age to seek the approval and positive rewards of being right. The result of this conditioning is that most of us consciously and subconsciously avoid failure more than seek success. Yet what may be perceived as mistakes often lead us to greater success from the lessons we've learned. How do we break that failure avoidance programming so that we can achieve our greatest potential?

Look at failure as a stepping-stone to success. Achieving this new mindset takes effort because we have been conditioned all our lives that success, or actually the absence of apparent mistakes, is what we should strive for. If humankind had maintained only that kind of thinking we would still be living in caves. Trial and error and then more trials and more errors are how we as a species have discovered new and better ways to live and yes, to think.

Here are five ways of assisting your transition from a fear of failure mindset to a quest for success consciousness.

  1. Regard a mistake/failure as a chance to improve instead of being wrong. Reprogram your mind to think of "NO" as New Opportunities. Remember Edison's perspective in his long search for a suitable element for the light bulb. His attitude after 10,000 failures was that he has significantly increased his chances for finding the proper material. And Dyson's 5,126 attempts before he developed the bagless vacuum cleaner. What if they felt discouraged and quit before they discovered what really worked?

  • Examine your habitual way of thinking. Are you highly risk avoidance? Do you think, "if it isn't broken don't fix it"? Increasingly, developments in life sciences, medicine and technology are changing every aspect of life. What used to work may soon be obsolete. Whether it is a communication mode - remember Fax machines? Or a way of thinking, we have to be open to fresh approaches to what we thought were absolutes. In fact thinking up innovative solutions will usher us ahead of the crowd to greater opportunities. Having a mindset of living in fear of being wrong is hampering you from crucial innovations in your everyday life and career to propel you forward. Take calculated risks.
  • Change a small routine. We have certain habits that lock our minds into set patterns. By changing a routine, say brushing your teeth first from the right side instead of the left, forces your mind to adjust. It makes you more conscious of habitual thinking and prompts you to observe other areas in which you may have accepted the current status as rock solid. Encouraging more flexibility in our cognitive processes opens us to trying new things instead of staying safe with the status quo because we fear failure. Enhanced brain plasticity means that we can think faster, listen better, respond to situations faster and concentrate with greater focus. Creativity is enhanced as well.
  • Associate with positive people. Our attitudes and comfort zones are heavily influenced by the mindsets of people we spend time with. Choose optimistic and creative friends and associates to be around as much as possible; their innovative thinking and positive outlook will boost yours. You will see and experience more of the advantages of exploring new ideas instead of being afraid of failure.
  • Learn something new. Try something you haven't done before. Something small that has no direct bearing on your work. One friend with no musical background bought an inexpensive ukulele. With low expectations of success and a lack of negative consequences in not being good at it, he's found joy in strumming along to a variety of music. More importantly it has made him more comfortable with attempting new skills and options without being as afraid that he may fail. The positive result encouraged him to venture into different approaches in his career.
  • Be gentle on yourself. It would be counterproductive and sad if you inflicted harsh judgment on yourself as you take steps to adopt an attitude of "New Opportunities". Laugh and pick yourself up when you forget and lapse into negative thinking and fear. Or when you miss the mark. Instead assess what went awry, see how you can improve next time, and look for openings in the situation to move forward gracefully and wisely. Remember when children are learning to walk, they fall down numerous times, laugh and pick themselves up to try again and again, until one day they are running and winning marathons.

    Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success." - Robert T. Kiyosaki

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