Have you ever received a participation ribbon for coming last in a race?
It might seem harmless to band-aid the feelings of failure with a ribbon or medal, but it’s teaching today’s young people that failure is something to be avoided, or even feared… and that’s doing us way more harm than good.
In reality, embracing failure can deliver some pretty powerful results. Read on to find out how to harness failure as a tool for success, and why it’s A-OK to fail!
What happens when we fail?
Failure can produce neurological changes beyond just negative emotions. One study discovered that failure can drastically alter our perceptions of the difficulty of our goals!
A psychology researcher in the US conducted a study of non-athletes using a football to measure perceptions of failure and success. Each participant tried to kick the ball through the goalposts, and was then asked to approximate the size of the goalposts in question.
Participants that failed to score a goal estimated that the goalposts were much smaller than they were in reality.
Interestingly, participants that succeeded perceived the goals to be bigger than they were.
The study is an interesting look at the way we perceive our own success; it suggests that we reduce the significance of our successes and distance ourselves from our failures.
What happens when I avoid failure?
A study from 2013 concluded that children who are protected from failure or avoid properly coping with failure in childhood are more likely to be depressed, anxious and less satisfied with life in adulthood.
A lot of those negative effects come from the way we deal (or avoid dealing) with failure.
Avoidance-focused coping is avoiding situations where you might fail. Think quitting basketball after losing a game, just so you can avoid the possibility of losing again in future. This is one of the least helpful ways of coping with failure, as you’re not dealing with the underlying issue.
Emotion-focused coping can be a useful way of dealing with failure if the problem is outside of your control. Better emotion-focused coping mechanisms include writing down your thoughts and feelings, or practising mindfulness and meditation. Suppressing your emotions, or comforting yourself with food or other crutches are less healthy forms of emotion-focused coping.
Discover how Olympic athletes become resilient in the face of failure.
Exercising problem-focused coping is the most helpful method for dealing with failure – and turning it into a learning experience. Take an objective look at the ‘F’ you got on your exam, for example, and try to find the root cause.
Did I study enough? Are my revision methods working for me? Do I need to get help from my teacher or parents?
Problem-focused coping means understanding that your behaviours, habits and outside influences can be changed to deliver a better outcome next time.
What are your best tips for learning from failure? Let us know in the comments!
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.