A child can stand up for the first time, take a step forward, and then tumble onto their tummy, to the raucous applause and overwhelming approval of every observer. In other words, attempts that end in failure are both common and lauded in children.
Adults, however, find themselves faced with the conscious awareness of the cost of failure. It’s more difficult to embrace failure when you’re aware — either internally or externally — of the pain, suffering, and even lost resources that an incomplete attempt can incur. However, avoiding failure can often lead to missed potential success.
Fortunately, embracing the freedom to fail as an adult is completely attainable, if you’re willing to work for it.
The Cost of Failure
If you want to learn to be comfortable with failure, one of the first things you must accept is the fact that failing always comes with a cost. In other words, the goal isn’t to become so comfortable with failure that you’re totally oblivious to the consequences of your own actions. When that’s the case, an individual can cause a lot of harm — often in irreparable ways that aren’t worth the final outcome.
For instance, if you’re late for work you might decide to race out to the car and leave without considering if you have everything you need. If you forgot your lunch, the failure means you’ll go without food for a meal — a completely acceptable result of the risk taken.
However, if you’re late and you decide to risk driving at 100 miles per hour down the freeway, you’re risking both your lives and the lives of others around you in the name of getting to work on time.
Failure always comes at a cost, and that cost must always be carefully weighed before a risk is taken. If you’re asking for permission to innovate with a project or process at work, remember that you’re asking your manager to take on the responsibility alongside you. That doesn’t mean you should avoid the question, but rather that you should consider the costs and benefits of your request beforehand.
The Benefits of Failure
While the cost should always be a factor, the benefits of failure should also be considered. For instance, many leaders are fearless when it comes to failure because they realize that it:
- Makes you more resilient and resourceful.
- Provides a learning experience.
- Becomes less shameful and embarrassing over time.
- Is a completely normal result that takes place throughout life.
In addition, a reasonable comfort with failure can enable you to tap into:
All of which are key ingredients to both short- and long-term success.
Changing Your Perception of Failure
Failure is often seen as an end result. However, seeing it in a more scientific-like light can be helpful. Science typically views failure as little more than a point on the way towards a larger goal. It proves that something wasn’t the answer and frees you up to look for alternative options.
If you struggle with failure on a regular basis, here are a few ways that you can begin to cultivate a positive, healthy perspective towards failure in your own life:
Learn to Categorize Failure
Failure comes in all shapes and sizes. As already mentioned, dying in a fiery car wreck is an unacceptable form of failure. However, simply being uncomfortable or bored is a much easier price to pay.
If you can learn to categorize potential failure, it can help you face acceptable failure in a more innovative and positive manner. For instance, if you find that failing to solve a problem will merely create discomfort and uncertainty, you can view the potential ambiguity as an opportunity to move forward anyway, building velocity toward an eventual solution in the process.
Or what about boredom? Boredom as a point of failure is actually a great place to be. A restless mind craves stimulation. In the same way that a parent might have a bored child do an art project or make a fort, boredom merely provides a chance to spark your creativity.
Defeat Cognitive Distortions
Often habitual patterns of thought can cloud your judgment and turn something like failure into a much bigger deal than it actually is. Cognitive distortions like catastrophizing and all-or-nothing thinking can make it difficult to face the potential consequences of failure.
Identifying and removing cognitive distortions is an excellent way to free you up to fail in a positive manner.
Let Your Mind Run Free
Finally, when you’re trying to be innovative or creative, embrace divergent thinking, in which you freely imagine new, original ideas regardless of practicability.
Avoid convergent thinking during these times, as it can create unnecessary restrictions through judgment and criticism, often in the name of preventing potential failure.
Finding the Freedom to Fail
Failure is a reality of life. However, the way that we approach and handle failure can have a dramatic effect on how we create, innovate, and problem-solve.
So size up your current perspective toward a lack of success and consider if you’re allowing yourself to fail at times. Are you willing to count the costs and, when appropriate, take the risks? If not, refer to the above suggestions and begin cultivating a mindset that permits you to fail in the name of innovation, creativity, and ultimately a brighter future.
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