Why Failure is Your Teacher

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Mistakes are the portals of discovery. -James Joyce

The most successful people in history often have controversial backgrounds laden with grevous mistakesfrom Abe Lincoln and his early-career fiery temperament that landed him in what could’ve been a life-ending duel to , who was fired as a TV anchor for subjective storytelling in her reporting. Everyone, at some point in their lives, can look back on failure as a measurement of their current level of . The degree to which you move the needle depends on your willingness to understand why you failed, what you did differently in areas of achieving success and how you will commit to growth.

Change is a tricky thing. We often express the desire for change but settle for comfort in the status quo. Why? Enacting change is exceedingly complex, and it’s something you can’t go halfway in.

You must be honest with yourself to create meaningful change in your life. Ask yourself: what have I done that I am not proud of? Why did I fail where others saw success?

This lesson in humility is not one many people handle well. And the people who resist change end up lamenting the dreams they never attained. You do not want to get stuck like that. If you are, now you can do something about it.

I’ve failed in a lot of ways. I’ve been pushed out of a company. I’ve severed longstanding relationships over banal arguments. I’ve failed as a friend, a lover, a boss and a model citizen. But, the goal is to learn from each failure and not make the same mistake.

Failure is our greatest teacher. It gives us a very concrete place from where we can begin to examine our past. It’ll provide you with insight into your habits. The experiences that make us are all transformative. That doesn’t mean we necessarily understand those experiences.

Related: 10 Lessons About Failure That Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Make change possible

To process change, you must first know where to start. Identify the exact moment that led to your failure. You will realize the loss was not the result of an immediate action that failed but rather a chain of events set into motion by choice to build a specific .

Breaking habits is a long and trying journey. Since we’ve already built a habit, it’s not something we usually think about. We continue to propagate the habit, and the habit presents a window of perception for others to fill. Their habits influence that perception itself. But, it’s not them who are going to change.

Related: Failure Is the Seed of Growth and Success

Get acquainted with your mind

You must train your brain to be aware of your programming. This means keeping track of your actions so you can identify patterns. Keep a daily journal. I find it easiest to reflect before bed when I have a chance to give my undivided focus. I write down choices made throughout my day that directly influence the perception of others, and then I write down the choices that may indirectly affect the perception of others. These passive choices do not seek action for a direct response from others, such as what you pack for lunch.

Mark whether the choice is actionable or passive. Now, note any apparent noted wins or losses for the day, and make sure you classify them with the green pen for successes and the red pen for failures.

At the end of each week, I set aside an hour to review my notes in chronological order. Each choice is assigned one of two categories: positive or negative. To do this effectively, you must establish general expectations outlined in your life: is there a dress code at work, and do you comply with it; are there Holidays your family expects you to visit, etc.? Knowing the givens is essential because they represent social norms that influence people’s habits, including yours.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits to Maximize Your Mental Health and Get You Through Your Worst Days

Identify themes

Next, start to look for common themes in both categories. Examples of negative themes include overpromising and underdelivering, procrastination and avoidance, the blame game and backtracking. Examples of themes that may be found in the positive category include being present and easy, compromise, collaboration and generosity. Note them under their respective categories. Themes are broad and many, and what you’re going to find are just a handful of them occupying most of your notes.

Define where choices are occurring and with whom

Now that you’ve identified the common themes in your successes and failures, it’s time to peg where those choices are happening and with what relationships exist. Are specific themes connected to work, home and social settings? Label those locations for each theme you’ve revealed.

You also may learn that certain people in the locations may influence your choices, either actively or merely by being present. Catalog these groupings because identifying people and their relationships with us can better help us understand why they influence us.

Derive success and failure

On the last Sunday of each month, I set aside three hours: the first hour to complete the “to do’s” of the procedures above, and the last two hours to trace the derivation of the month’s successes and failures. I go back to my first success or failure of the month and look at the common themes, locations and people associated with choice. If any of them exist in the context of success or failure, I write it down under that success or failure. Then, I circle each success and failure in order of occurrence, including its common factors, with the no-bleed black marker.

Look at the choices that share commonalities with successes and failures, and determine whether there is a direct connection between the options made that month to each success or failure. Highlight the choices that link to a correlating success or failure with the success or failure itself: choices that share either a positive or negative categorization and involve two out of three determining factors of theme, location, and people. Use that same color for all choices and outcomes that reflect the same through lines. Likewise, use a different color to signify each choice and outcome with a separate line. Each month you’ll use the same highlighter color to reflect these groupings of choices and their corresponding success or failure.

Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Business Successes (and Failures) of Artists

Isolate your behavior

It’s time to discern what behavior persona is behind our successes and failures. Modern research has proposed that there are four behavior personality types from which our successes and failures stem. Those personas are optimism, pessimistic, trusting and envious. Your behavior persona drives your choices that have led to success or failure.

Of course, nobody is entirely regimented to their persona type. But, there are behaviors within each of those categories that are dominant for their personality. For example, an optimism person may be resilient to power through great distress, while a pessimistic person may not. Conversely, an optimist may overshoot with while a pessimist’s skepticism may allow for better planning.

Related: 10 Behaviors of Unstoppable Entrepreneurs

Understand the underlying emotion

Getting a solid sense of why you have your persona will help you better control it and allow you to make more positive choices. There are four primary emotions: happiness, sadness, fear and anger. The you are feeling have different interactions with each person. Keep track of those emotions.

You should now see how choices, emotions and persona types interact. Since you are keeping a comprehensive record of your studies, you’ll start to grasp how to create the change management necessary to live a life with the desired outcomes. Of course, there are complications outside of our control that may make detours along the way.

Making change takes work every single day. And living your best life is even more challenging. Use these tools to help you understand why you succeed and why you fail. Use failure as your teacher to succeed.

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