I worded the title of this blog to capture the attention of people who do believe their mistakes are failures, but in all honesty, I don’t believe mistakes are failures. And I’d like to explain to you my reasoning for that plus in a future blog give you some tips on coping with perceptions of failure. For now I just want to convince you that using the word failure, for any reason, is a mistake.
I think the key to changing ones perception of how to think about failure is to first look at the literal description:
Failure: The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends.
Okay, well I can’t argue with that definition. If you set out to be a multi-millionaire and fall short of that, then by the literal definition, you have failed. But wait, doesn’t that just mean that failure is not achieving a goal? Well, wouldn’t the answer then be to set your expectations lower? By that tactic, you would never fail. If your idea of success is to wake up every morning and be alive, then everyday is a success. It means that success is technically in your control as you define the parameters of that success. It would be nice if it worked like that wouldn’t it? But certainly, lowering our expectations can be difficult when we are so convinced they should be of a certain standard.
When thinking about failure I don’t think human beings are literal about the definition of the word. I actually think failure has an extremely heavy emotional weighting. So like a good scientist I double checked my gut feeling on this by looking up a study of the affective value of certain words. I found that the valence, or ‘mood’ of the word failure trended towards the negative. To put it simply, it just means that we interpret the word ‘failure’ as ‘bad’. As for the arousal value of the word (or way it affects peoples sympathetic nervous system — the system involved with panic and anxiety), it was 2.81 standard deviations across a normal sample mean. For those non-statistic geeks. It just means in a large sample of words, the word ‘failure’ tends to affect us more than the other 99% of words. Amazing, huh?
So while it may be correct to call a mistake a failure, it certainly is not helpful to call a mistake a failure. Why?
I’m not talking about a lust for life. And by lust I mean getting caught up in short bursts of excitement and adrenaline. I’m not talking about the feeling of love that ebbs and flows (although, the feeling of love for your life will come as a result of what I’m about to say). I’m talking about the act of love (no, not lovemaking either, that would be a little odd). By the act of love I mean practical love. Practical love is the best way to approach your life. When you love your life, by love I mean demonstrate the behaviors of acting in love, your life will reward you. I promise.
You might ask, ‘well, what do you mean by practical love, how do I practically love my life?’ Simple. There are two parts, the first is the most important:
You take care of the source of your life.
I don’t know about you but I’m an over-thinker. I like to think. I like to ponder. I’m an intellectual, and intellectuals think the answer to every problem lies in how they think about that problem. As I’ve grown older, a double-edged sword, I’ve realized this is not true. But even so, old habits are hard to break and when there’s a problem in my life sometimes I can’t stop my brain ruminating.This is usually because:
A) There is no immediate solution,
B) For some reason I’m too ‘close’ (feeling too strongly, can’t think outside the box) and thus can’t get the perspective I need.
Mostly, I can learn to let go of the things I don’t have any immediate control over, but boy when I need to figure something out and I can’t, I turn into a frazzled mess. The problem is that overthinkers like me, or maybe you, keep using the same technique over and over until the technique no longer works. There’s a saying that repeating a behavior expecting different results is a sign of stupidity. Well, perhaps not stupidity, but I do think it is an indication you need to step back from the problem.
But what if you’re so upset, so emotional, you simply can’t step back. You need an answer right now. You sit there thinking and thinking, certain that if you only thought about it in the right way everything would fall into place. What do you do then?
It’s very simple, and I think you’ll find it enjoyable.