“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
One of the most common phrases that I hear from clients is “I am a failure.” These words are usually followed by a heavy sigh before slouching into their chair. The word “failure” is like a leech, robbing them of their sense of worth and dignity. Often, this phrase follows some (comparatively) minor event such as sleeping in too late, forgetting a session, or letting down a loved one. These experiences carry such a heavy weight because many of us feel as if we should be perfect or that the world expects us to be flawless.
No Peaks Without Valleys
There is a lot of emphasis on achievement in our society. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Accomplishment feels good, it keeps the world moving and provides us with a sense of self worth. However, the story of accomplishment is often half told. We hear about the ascent to the mountain top, while the previous failed attempts and setbacks become footnotes sprinkled in to make the accomplishment seem that much bigger. Failure is taboo.
In my experience, there can be no learning, no accomplishment and no goal without failure. If we succeed all the time, there is no need for setting goals. Just as there is no up without down, no inside without outside, there can be no success without failure. This is hardly a novel idea. However, as we strive towards a goal (losing weight, learning a new language, meeting new people, etc.) each stumble feels like a failure rather than a necessary part of the process.
Here are 5 Ways To Overcome Failure:
1.Create a routine and track it. One of the best ways to stay on track after faltering on a goal is to literally track it. Keeping a daily log of what has been accomplished is a tangible reminder of your progress. This softens the blow of failure by providing a reference to look back on as well.
Within this log you can track moods, activities and thoughts that help or hinder your cause. These play an important role in how we behave.
- Identify the triggers. Usually, when we deviate from our goal, there is some situation, thought, or condition that deters us. Likewise, there are situations, thoughts and conditions that keep us on track and lead to rewards. These are called triggers or activating events and influence our behavior even when we are unaware of them.
For example, if you are trying to lose weight or save money, watching a cooking show on great local restaurants could possibly trigger the desire to eat. On the other hand, keeping a stocked fridge of fresh food and watching shows on weight loss can promote healthy eating. Triggers are specific to each person and situation. Monitoring this can help us avoid slip ups.
- Identify your motivation. Along with triggers, motivators play a key role in how we behave. Hunger, for example, motivates us to eat. There are motivators that can keep us working towards our goal and those that deter us. An invite out with friends can be a motivator, but can also keep us from saving money or eating healthy.
Identify what motivators are relevant to your goal as well as those competing with it. If your desire to lose weight is competing with hunger, it may be difficult to win the battle. However, being mindful of the specific reasons you’re working towards a goal (as well as a small snack) can help keep you on track.
4.Forgive yourself and start again. Of course, we can do an excellent job sticking to our routine, remaining mindful of our triggers and motivators and still fall short of our expectations. Sometimes, we cannot resist that chocolate cake/night out with our friends/fancy new restaurant and this is perfectly acceptable. We are human and humans make mistakes.
If we beat ourselves up every time we fail, we are losing out on an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Look over what triggers contributed to the slip, identify the motivators at work and jump back on track. You have only gained a greater awareness of what causes the behaviors you are trying to change!
- Break it down and reward yourself. Forgiving our mistakes can be difficult, while rewarding our success is much easier. If a goal appears to be too much to handle, break it down into smaller steps. If you want to lose weight, start by buying healthier food, or eating a healthy meal once a week. After accomplishing each step, reward yourself with something you enjoy.
These rewards work as motivators to reinforce the behaviors we’re working to adopt. After a while, the behavior will become rewarding in itself and won’t require an artificial reward.
Failure Is Not A Trait
Failing is part of life, and an important one at that. Keep in mind that a failure is an act, not an atribute. Everyone fails at some point in their life, but that does not make them failures. When we label ourselves as a failure, we negate the progress we have made. It is impossible to fail all the time, and as the old saying goes, “a fool who persists in his own folly will become wise.” Be mindful of how you label a failure; make it a verb not a noun.