Are you so afraid of failing that you’re willing to avoid any possibility of defeat? If so, you have already failed. Failure and success are flipsides of the same coin—twins, not enemies. You can’t have a right without a left, a back without a front, or a top without a bottom. Studies show that people recover quicker from automobile wrecks than psychological defeats. Smack down moments are unavoidable, and success is built on them. Avoidance of failure turns into avoidance of success. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but to attain what you want you must be willing to accept what you don’t want.
Bummer, right? Not really. This frees you to get up and dust yourself off one more time than you fall and keep on going. Once you start to accept failure as an essential steppingstone to success, you can give yourself permission to stick your neck out and make the mistakes necessary to get where you want to go.
Bounce Back Higher Than You Fall
After a letdown, the key is to harness the strength in the places where you feel broken and bounce back higher than you fall. You build a backbone of steel by making sure after each failure that you try again, and if you fail again, make sure you fail better than the time before. Failure offers you an opportunity to grow and learn from your shortcomings. Failure is a frame of mind. You don’t actually fail until you choose to put that label on yourself. When you call yourself a failure, you start to feel, think, and behave like one. If you’re like most people, you won’t succeed at everything the first time, and every unsuccessful attempt isn’t a failure as long as you continue to try. If you want to succeed, think of failure as your teacher—your personal trainer—constantly raising the exercise bar so you can learn from your mistakes.
You want to change in order to succeed, right? But if you’re like many people, you set out in the wrong direction, unwittingly returning to your crappy old habits and behave in ways that take you down the opposite path of defeat. If you want to get closer to success, avoid the following 10 habits, so even if you do fail, you can fail better on each attempt, bounce higher, and stay on track:
You can fail if you don’t know what you want. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you never get there.
Develop a game plan so you know where you’re going and when you get there. If you have a definite goal that you’re setting out to achieve, a purpose that you’re trying to fill, you’re more likely to succeed.
You can sabotage your success by setting unreachable deadlines that are humanly impossible to achieve. They’re called deadlines for a reason. You can kill yourself trying to make them, and if you’re dead you can’t succeed.
Set realistic lifelines that can give you more time, slow you down, and make you more productive and effective. When you set lifelines instead of deadlines, you’re less likely to hear that whooshing sound as deadlines go by or feel that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach for falling short. Work smarter and less. You’ll get more done, have fewer health problems, and live longer.
People-pleasing and procrastination are two ways to play it safe and avoid taking risks. If you don’t try, you can’t fail. If you’re a people-pleaser, you avoid being judged and whittle yourself down to a stub. Procrastination provides you freedom from failure, too, in the short term, even though it derails your success in the long run.
Success happens outside of your comfort zone. Studies show that you have a greater chance of success if you stick your neck out. Be a creative risk taker, step into the unfamiliar and unpredictable, and stretch beyond customary bounds. Accept failure with open arms, learn from it, and take the perspective that failure happens for you, not to you.
Step back from challenges and stack your positivity deck. Focus on solutions instead of problems, look at the upside of a downside situation, and pinpoint an opportunity in every difficulty. Remember the personal resources you have at your disposal to overcome roadblocks. Look for gains in your loses and beginnings in your endings. Optimism rubs off, so hang out with positive people who lift you up. Studies show that optimists scale the success ladder faster and higher than pessimists.
Coming down hard on yourself when you forget or make a mistake reduces your chances of rebounding. Extinguish your blame thrower, put down your gavel, and chill your faultfinder. Studies show that you’re more likely to achieve success through a healthy dose of self-compassion. After a setback, be kind to yourself. Talk yourself off the ledge, and give yourself pep talks, atta-girls or atta-boys, and positive affirmations. Give yourself a thumbs-up every time you reach a milestone or important accomplishment.
When things don’t work out to suit you, do you say you’re jinxed, or blame it on Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong, it certainly will)? When you personalize everyday random events into a negative life pattern, you lose your power and make yourself a victim of defeat.
If you want to empower yourself, make a U-turn when things are headed in a negative direction. Shift your perspective to see that life doesn’t have a personal vendetta against you. Focus on what you can do: “How can I make this situation work to my advantage?” or “Can I find something positive in this negative situation?” or “What can I manage or overcome in this instance?” Progression (success) and regression (failure) go together like a hand and glove. Falling back is part of moving forward. Success isn’t an upward straight line; it’s a zigzag back and forward until you reach your goals.
Many ambitious people consider stress and burnout as the price to pay for success and a badge of honor for the sacrifice. But studies show the opposite to be true.
Amped-up self-care is the cornerstone for success: ample sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise. Take time out of the daily grind to quiet your mind, meditate, take a power nap, or spend time in nature. Idle moments of mindfulness without imperatives—nothing to rush to, fix, or accomplish—actually contribute to your mental and physical health: greater productivity, better memory, stronger immune system, fewer health problems, greater happiness, and longer life. Doing nothing provides a period for important decisions to incubate and cultivates clarity and creativity to make your goals a reality.
Collaboration with others and learning from them is essential for success. It’s important to have a mind of your own and march to your own drum, but don’t be a know-it-all. Listen to those with tried and true experience who have gone before you. Reach out to others who have already accomplished what you’re working toward and understand what you’re going through. They might give you wise advice that will change your perspective and fuel your efforts to your goals.
In its clutches, perfectionism tightens you in a stranglehold, injects its rigidity into your bloodstream, and chokes the flow of spontaneous and flexible ideas. Perfection’s iron-fisted grip can cause you to set unrealistic goals, try too hard, and then avoid the impossible target you set for yourself. When you tell yourself nothing you do is good enough and shackle yourself to accept nothing short of perfect, you increase your chances of defeat. There’s no such thing as perfection. Your human condition is characterized by imperfection, so give yourself permission to be an imperfect human, to make mistakes, or to forget. Learn from your mistakes and be a master of self-correction. The paradox is that letting go of perfectionism, instead of slowing you down, propels you along the path to success.
Your biggest obstacle to success lies between your own two eyes. When you call yourself a failure, you identify with the very habit that limits you. You give tacit approval to fail and accept the label as you. This gives you unspoken permission to act as a person worthy of the label “loser,” and you repeat the habit of falling short in most things you do.
Labels are for jars and cans, not for you. Think of failure as a part of you, not as you. Stepping back and observing this part with an impartial eye lessens the self-judgment and keeps you from clobbering yourself. Refer to your failure in the third person and befriend it by talking to it so it doesn’t dominate your decision-making. Studies show that this strategy helps you to separate from the failure, for it to relax, and for the ambitious you to take charge of the task. When you practice this approach, you notice a heightened ability to scale the obstacles to success that the label throws in your way.
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