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Research Identifies the Three Best Ways to Cope With Failure

Failure is one of those topics that seems to have taken on something of a transition in recent years. Whereas previously failure was seen as something that was overwhelmingly bad, and usually something to be avoided at all costs, nowadays, failure is much more acceptable. It’s seen as a fundamental part of the learning process. Indeed, it’s increasingly believed that if you’re not failing very often then you’re probably not trying things that are sufficiently challenging for you.

Of course, this whole shift is dependent upon failing in the right way.  The whole premise is on learning from each mistake and improving as a person/team/organisation.  If you continue to fail, in the same way, over and over again then you’re not really going about things the right way.

Suffice to say failing remains something that’s difficult for most of us.  After all, no one really likes to get things wrong, do they? Thankfully, research has some clues on how we can cope better with it.

Three ways to get better at failing

The study looked at how people can better cope with failure, and identified three strategies that were especially effective, with each of the three making the participants feel the happiest and most satisfied when asked at the end of each day.  So what were they?

  1. Acceptance: this is commonly used today, with employees encouraged to think that mistakes are inevitable if you’re trying new things.
  2. Positive reframing: participants were instructed to embrace any positives they can take from the event, whether that’s embracing what has been achieved or the potential learning opportunities provided.
  3. Humour: this of course required the participants to not be too serious about things.

The strategies emerged after participants each had to report the worst failure they’d experienced each day, and how they managed to cope with those failures.

How not to cope with failure

Suffice to say, the study also managed to uncover some strategies that were especially awful.  These included:

  • Blaming ourselves: as failure nearly always has a complex mixture of causes.
  • Denial: to accept and grow from failure, we first have to accept that it has occured.
  • A lack of social support: growing from each event will usually require our peers, so support is crucial.
  • Displaying anger at the situation: anger usually goes along with denial, which is actually counter productive.
  • Moping about the situation: getting depressed about the failure is also counter productive.

The study provides a number of useful insights that we can all use in taking failure as a useful part of our working life.

“It’s no use ruminating about small failures and setbacks and drag yourself further down.  Instead it is more helpful to try to accept what happened, look for positive aspects and — if it is a small thing — have a laugh about it,” the researchers say.

How do you personally cope with the failures that occur in your own work life?  Will you be able to take some of the strategies highlighted above and implement them into your own coping mechanisms? Your thoughts and comments below please...


Image: iStock

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