How to Fail Well
No one likes to fail. No one enjoys losing. Yet, there is not a person out there who hasn't experienced the emotions that come with discovering our imperfections. Children seem to take failure especially hard and not being able to reach a goal often leads to tears and meltdowns.
Failure is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be cyclical. So as children (and adults) grow up and encounter failure, they must learn how to fail "well", that is, how to take failure and change it from a death sentence into a breath of new life. Whether you are struggling with failure yourself, or are looking to teach your child how to handle the difficulties of life, here are some tips for how you can deal with the obstacle of failure.
Here are 3 Tips for How to Fail Well:
There are a lot of emotions that come rushing over a person when they fail. There is a sense of disappointment, a feeling of dismay, and a lot of questions about what you could have done differently. And don't get me wrong, I am not telling you that you (or your child) shouldn't be feeling these emotions. In fact, those are healthy emotions to feel...as long as they don't control you. Once you have gotten over the initial disappointment of your failure, take that emotional energy and invest it into something else.
The biggest thing you will have to avoid is letting your failure define you. Failing does not mean you are a failure. This is a lesson many children AND adults have to learn. So when you fail, redirect your negative thoughts into positive ones. Take statements like "I messed up" and change them into "How can I do better in the future?" Shift the mindset of, "Man, I really stink at this" and instead say, "I can't wait to get better!" It will be hard at first to do this, especially for children, but by staying vigilant and practicing redirecting our thoughts, it can turn a failure into an opportunity.
A lot of times your thoughts will manifest into reality. This isn't magic. You won't say, "I'm good at this" and then miraculously become amazing. What I mean is that when you direct your energy into positive thinking, it mitigates the negativity that comes with messing up. A negative thought will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but a positive outlook gives new life to your ambitions and pushes you forward, making it more likely that you'll avoid failure in the future. This is why we need to watch how we speak to ourself--and our children--and make sure that we redirect our language towards positive motivation rather than negative deprecation.
When we fail, it means that we couldn't reach a goal. Whether it be winning a game, passing a test, or achieving a promotion, failure means that we couldn't measure up to the level at which the bar was set. A lot of times when this happens to people, they spend their time staring up at their unobtainable goal, dreaming about how nice it would be if things worked out. Instead, when we fail to reach a goal, we have to renew our ambitions. There are a couple ways to do this.
First, we may have to reevaluate our goal and set it at a more reasonable level. For example, if I can't do 100 push ups, maybe it would be more reasonable to set a goal of doing 10 push ups. There is no shame in lowering the bar to a realistic level, as long as you are willing to raise it up again as you continue to grow. In fact, by setting more reasonable goals for yourself, it will help you take more notice of the progress you are making, thus motivating you to keep going, one step at a time. Renewing your goal may just mean breaking it down into more manageable pieces.
Another way to breath new life into your failure is to use it as an opportunity to come up with a plan. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then when we fail, it would be insane to just keep doing the same old thing. Pull out your thinking cap and come up with some ideas. If you failed a test in school, there are solutions to keep it from happening again! Ask yourself, could you study more? Maybe get a tutor? Ask the teacher for extra help? Don't get discouraged when you fail. Instead, take it as a reminder of the things you need to work on, and then come up with a plan to help you do just that. There is no shame in asking for help, so we should normalize this for our children, as well as ourselves.
By continuously reevaluating our goals and then figuring out a strategy to meet those goals, it will make us overly prepared. Does this mean you will never fail again? Absolutely not! But when you do, you will have the tools to keep pushing forward.
One of the big problems people have in today's day and age is the idea that you cannot be happy unless you win. Let me tell you that this is a ridiculous thought that we need to actively work against. When you fail, there are opportunities for rejoicing!
First, a lot of our failures mean success for someone else. If you got the silver medal, then be happy and cheer on the person who got the gold. Additionally, you can learn something from that person. You should rejoice in the fact that someone else succeeded and be happy you got to witness it. Glean what you can from that other person and be positive about your ability to grow from your loss.
Now, this is not going to be applicable to every situation. If you scored a 50% on your final exam, I am not going to tell you that you should be super happy about it. But at the same time, you have to remember that failure is NOT the end of the world. In the example of the final exam, there will always be more tests to take, more classes to pass, and more things to learn. Instead of drowning in your sorrows, rejoice that you have an opportunity to continue to learn and grow. The only way that opportunity could ever be taken away from you is if you choose to wallow in misery.
Putting It Into Practice:
These three actions of redirecting our thoughts, reevaluating our goals, and rejoicing about future opportunities help us to not only deal with the sadness of failing, but give us a plan for how to move forward. To put these ideas into practice, it is going to take active effort and even after doing this for decades, failure may still sting. What's important is that we remember that the fruit of our efforts does not define us. What defines us is the effort we put into producing that fruit and the constant desire to better the process along the way.
Do you or your child want to develop the life skills necessary for dealing with failure? Contact Trinity Martial Arts to find out more about our martial arts program, focusing on traditional martial arts, self-defense, and positive character traits needed to succeed in life!
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About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 5th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.