Young woman thinking

Can failure ever be good for you?


After the excesses of the festive season, many of us enter the new year determined to shake off bad habits, lose weight and achieve educational or career success. If you’re already struggling with keeping those resolutions, however, it can be tempting to think it’s impossible. But, far from being a damning indictment on your willpower, failure can be the most formidable tool for success. Instead of perpetuating negative self talk, you can use such a setback as a stepping stone to achievement. Here’s how:

1. Consider the conditions in which you did your work

What was your mindset like before you started? Did you believe that you were making a positive choice for your well-being; or did you start off with an insurmountable feeling of doom and gloom? If you’ve identified that you began with negative feelings towards yourself and your goal, you can choose to change this on your next attempt. Use affirmations to rewire your brain for success. For example, you might find yourself thinking, ‘I’m going to fail this course. It’s too hard, and no matter what I do, it won’t make any difference.’ By recognising that this mentality contributed to your failure, you can opt to change it. Choose a sentence that reflects a positive attitude to your goal, such as ‘I am going to succeed: using my talents, hard work and determination’. Repeat this to yourself a few times. It may not sound like much, but even if you don’t believe it at first, your brain will eventually get the message and you’ll feel much more capable of overcoming any obstacles that come your way.

2. Identify the factors that contributed to your failure

To use an example, if you’re trying to stop smoking, perhaps your tipping point was feeling upset and being unable to manage your emotions. If you’ve failed at a coursework task or exam, perhaps you allowed yourself to be distracted by friends or family when you were supposed to be studying. Write down as many factors as possible – these will help you plan for success. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, ask people you’re close to for their take on what went wrong. Remember not to get offended or upset – look at every piece of information as part of your armour.

3. Use your ‘failure factors’ to create a plan for success

Look at each mistake you made, and write down how you are going to prevent this from occurring again. For example, if you failed an exam because your revision time was frequently interrupted, you may need to change where and when you study. Do you need to study at night when everyone else is asleep, or should you go to your local library and turn off that phone? You should also use your ‘failure factors’ to develop new coping mechanisms.

Remember, many of the most successful people in the world have had umpteen failures before achieving their goals. If you don’t do well or pass at first, you can choose to give up; or you can use your setbacks as instruments of success. What will you choose? I suggest the latter.

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I'm a former English teacher and private tutor who is passionate about education. I've been writing professionally for the past three years and have written educational worksheets for use in schools as well as contributing to an educational journal. I've also written on every other topic under the sun!

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