The Power of Failure- And The Top 7 Strategies to Push Through
I see it often, especially in teenagers. Teenagers have a major problem failing. They avoid it like the plague. There just seems to be too much risk involved. Getting up in front of the class, doing anything bold, talking in person to anyone they don’t know; and of course, being the best they can be in sports, whether it’s stepping up in a pressure situation or putting extra work into their training outside of practice and game/race day.
For many reasons, teenagers today struggle to put themselves out there. Here are a few common reasons why:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Fixed Mindset
- Judgment and harsh criticism from others
- Disappointing friends, teammates, coaches, family
- Low belief in self
My wish to all performers is that they understand how important failure is to success. We literally need it for growth.
Research in neuroscience, psychology, and in optimal performance have proven just that. To grow in any skill, we need hours and hours of repetition, and much of those earlier stages are filled with failure. Every time we perform a skill, specific neuron pathways associated with that skill fire in the brain. The more they fire, the more that pathway is strengthened with a substance called Myelin. The more myelin we have, the quicker and more automatic that skill is performed. This highlights the importance of hard work and struggle. It is necessary for growth and the ability to perform our talents consistently and in pressure environments.
So How Do We Open Ourselves Up To Failure?
This blog is packed with ideas! Take a look through and see what is fitting for you.
This is perhaps a non-negotiable idea. We must be able to reframe (or think differently) about the failure we experience. We don’t always have the ability to control our automatic thought towards something, but we can surely choose a different response once we notice we are caught in a negative spiral of thinking or emotion. Remember, our thoughts and emotions dictate our action, so if we can create a positive mindset towards something, positive action follows. In reframing failure, there is no one response that is perfect for everyone but try thinking:
“This failure is strengthening me”
“This mistake is helping me to be better”
“It’s ok to fail sometimes, keep moving”
“Failure happens, what can I do differently next time”
“It is just temporary”
“Let’s go! Let’s get back to work”
The difficulty with failure is that it brings up some of our most difficult emotions to manage: anger, frustration, shame, guilt, embarrassment. A lot of times there is a social component to failure that steps up the perceived consequences as well. There is a type of “thinking trap” called emotional reasoning. It suggests that we think the way we do sometimes due to the emotions we are experiencing. We could see how our view of the world is painted a bit different when viewed through the lens of shame or embarrassment. It is important to be able to manage those strong emotions! Try talking to a good friend, or journaling, or meditation, or doing your favorite exercise, or being in nature. Anything that allows you to step back from that initial emotion and get control of your rational thinking would be ideal!
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
This is a pretty popular cliche, for good reason. I often give my students and clients a comfort zone challenge where they have to do something in public that makes them feel uncomfortable. They usually realize that the concerns they had never came to be. The fears we have about social consequences are typically far worse in our mind than actuality. We need to lean into discomfort. If you notice something is making you a little bit uncomfortable (and it is relatively safe and respectful of others), move towards it instead of away. This little nugget of wisdom can change everything!
Train your optimism- The 3 P’s
Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, has studied the science of well-being, happiness, optimism, and resilience for the last 25 years. His team created a great way to reflect on setbacks using the 3 P’s:
Personalizing: Not everything that happens to us, happens because of us. We shouldn’t personalize our setbacks.
Pervasiveness: Just because one setback happens, doesnt mean that we are a total failure. The thought, “I Failed today” is very different then “I am a failure.” You are not a failure, you are human and make mistakes. Keep learning from them.
Permanence: This is the sense that the setback is permanent, or it will never get better. Remember that all things change with time. One bad day means one bad day. Keep moving forward
Look out for thinking traps
Thinking traps are patterns of thoughts, usually negative, that prevent us from seeing situations as they truly are. The trick is to know your traps, becomes aware that you are in one, and find a way to get out quick. Here are some common thinking traps in the performance world:
Catastrophizing- Envisioning a future catastrophe from a setback
Filtering- Ignoring the many positives to only focus on the 1 negative
Overgeneralizing- Assuming one mistake will cause a chain reaction of many
Fortune Telling- predicting bad things will happen in the future
Personalizing- Seeing your skills or character as the cause of a failure
Emotional Reasoning- Thinking a certain way due to the present (and temporary) emotion we are feeling at the time
Focus on the process, not the outcome
This is huge! We often get overwhelmed by long term goals or outcomes that seem difficult, far reaching, and sometimes uncontrollable. We should bring ourselves back to the things we are in control of, the process. The process is our daily behaviors that when done consistently, put us in a better spot to perform at our best when it is needed. Set process goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound). Control the controllables!
Meet with a sport psychologist or mental performance coach : )
I must say, I wish I had access to one when I was playing college soccer. This was a time in my life where I did not have any control of my confidence. I did not realize that my mindset could be changed or that there were tools to manage and train it all. Meeting with a professional allows you to work through your personal roadblocks to success while giving you the tools to be consistent at your peak potential. There are many great sport psychologists and mental performance coaches of course, but if you would like to schedule a free consultation with me, email at [email protected] or call/text 410 627 4253.
Powell Cucchiella, LMHC
Cover image credit: Kyle Bean