I fail daily. If you want to be successful, you must not only be willing to fail, you must be intentional about how to learn from your failures. Sociologist Alvin Toffle said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

How to Learn From Your Failures

For over a decade I was deep into a gambling addiction and lost well over $100,000 on a teacher salary. I spent every opportunity I could thinking about gambling, scheming my way to feeding my addiction. I went bankrupt at 24 and lost trust and credibility with those I loved most. Over 99.9% of the world’s population would have quit after bankruptcy, but I pushed on for five more years! So what was truly impeding my progress? The answer seems simple now. I certainly had character and accountability problems, but really it came down to my inability to learn from my failures.

Refocusing Your Habits

The choices we make, make us and shape us. I do believe I am right where I am supposed to be based on the choices I have made so far. As someone once said, where your focus goes, your energy flows. Over the past 12 years, I have focused diligently on myself, my character and my self-accountability. I have replaced things and rebuilt relations. I know I am still always one step away from making life-changing mistakes, and I thankful for each opportunity and day overcoming them.

Leadership expert and my mentor, John Maxwell, has taught me that experiences are not what grows the mind; but rather, evaluative experiences compounded over time. Napoleon Hill said, “Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.” People who take risks and function on a mindset of failing forward have a leg up on their competition.

Common Beliefs about Failure

As a coach and mentor to principals and business leaders, I have found that there are some common characteristics with those who are afraid to fail:

  • Fear of looking bad or incompetent
  • Paralyzed by their inner dialogue
  • Blame others or things for their failure
  • Immature
  • Lack of creativity
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Timing was not right
  • Too expensive
  • Too busy

The Failing Forward Model

One thing I know for sure is that it is hard to create a new you if you are hanging around with the same people, having the same thoughts and embracing the same habits. After you get over the feelings of stupidity, anxiety, frustration and despair, it’s time to move from awareness into action. Here are four (4) action steps for you and your team to embrace a failing forward model:

  1. Change your environment. Surround yourself with more successful people and ask them questions about how they handle failure.
  2. Embrace (hustle) mistakes. Set aside time each week (personal and team) to share what you failed at. Everyone must come to the table with at least one failed attempt at improving a system or situation.
  3. Write down 10 ten ideas every day. The more ideas you write down, the more likely one of those ideas will be the initiative that takes you to the next level.
  4. Keep a journal. Answer these questions:
    • What went wrong?
    • When did it go wrong?
    • Why did it go wrong?
    • How did I contribute to the failure?
    • Where could I have made different choices?
    • What can I learn from this failure?
    • How will I apply it to future decisions?
    • What do I need to learn?
    • What will I teach others?
    • What needs to be true tomorrow that is not true today for me to reach my goal?
  5. Practice observational thinking. Visualize yourself executing through the challenges and obstacles.

Build Your Failure Muscles, Not Excuses

Don’t argue for your limitations – success doesn’t respond to wishes. To achieve what you really want, identify a definite purpose and back it with a burning desire to succeed. Create a continuous plan that is expressed by continuous action. Finally, keep your mind close tightly against all negative forces (Napoleon Hill).  

Leadership is a choice. You choose your actions. My experience tells me that I have learned much more from my failures than I have my successes. I embrace my past and hopefully I am continuing to live out the promises to those I made amends to. I know my decades of failure have shaped who I am and will continue to shape the man, father, spouse and business owner I aim to be.

Never let a good crisis go to waste! I challenge you to build your failure muscles, not excuses. After all, excuses are the quicksand of the living.

This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller, transformational coach and strategic thinking partner for Leaders Building Leaders. To schedule a complimentary discovery call with Tom, click THIS link. Your discovery call will consist of questions like:

  • What challenges are you or the organization currently facing?
  • What keeps you up at night worrying?
  • What challenges and obstacles do they foresee over the next 6-12 months that may test the team’s weak points? What is it that they personal struggle at in meeting this challenge?
  • What would their organization look/feel like operating at its optimum level?
  • What does personal success look like to you?
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