Yesterday I didn’t post directly about failure, rather I focused on the tools (ie: books) that would help others learn to deal with failure better.
Today I am going to post directly about failure because I remembered something very interesting from the very good book Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed that I wish to share with you.
Overcoming Failure Often Involves Reframing It
Most of modern society views failure as something shameful that we should always try to avoid. We don’t want to fail or be perceived as a failure ourselves. It has such a stigma attached to it that people can get incredibly angry if there is the merest whisper of the possibility of failure.
To overcome this, it helps if we can reframe failure from something negative into a learning experience, looking at what didn’t work and finding ways around that for next time. The best example of this is the book’s namesake, the black box in modern aeroplanes. Each black box is actually two boxes, one recording everything to do with the plane and its systems, the other recording the actual conversations happening in the cockpit. Some people feel threatened by everything they say being recorded, but bear in mind that these boxes are only used in extreme circumstances when things have gone incredibly wrong with the plane and forced some kind of emergency action.
With everything recorded on those black boxes, it is possible to narrow down to a great degree of detail all of the things that led to the emergency situation and take action to prevent those things happening again as much as possible.
So you see here how reframing failure from something to avoid to actually something to embrace as an opportunity to make everything better for everyone.
But reframing isn’t always helpful, as shown by another example given in the book, doomsday prophecies. When they specify a date and that date comes to pass, you would imagine that the followers would see through their beliefs and give in, but in reality they take the failure of the prophecy to come true as a sign that they have passed some test and saved mankind, making their beliefs even stronger.
By reframing the event, they quickly overcome the failure and avoid the opportunity to learn something.
In these extreme examples, it’s easy to see what is right and wrong with them, but when you start looking for it, you notice reframing happening a lot in every day life as well, in both positive and negative ways.
Like when a particularly difficult person considers that everyone else is difficult, or when someone is consistently late because of traffic, or an emergency, or someone misled them somehow. These people are reframing their mistakes and failures to get out of taking responsibility, and in many cases it isn’t even concious, it’s a coping mechanism.
They Are Missing Out
I was afraid of failure for a lot of my life and it didn’t really get me very far. There are still some parts of my life where my emotions are affected so strongly that I find it hard to confront them, usually areas in which I feel like I’ve made a big mistake and need to put in a good deal of effort, or a consistent effort, to overcome them.
The reason I still work on those things as much as I can bear, and the reason everyone should try to do the same, is because when you start taking responsibility for the failures in your life and accept the learning opportunities they present, life gets REALLY interesting.
My life up to my mid-twenties was pretty sad, and I was sure it was the fault of almost everyone else but myself. Some things were my fault, but I rationalised that I was driven to those things by the actions and behaviour of others. I could never catch a break.
I had very few romantic relationships, but that turned out to be my way out of fearing failure. As I didn’t really have an idea of how relationships should be, I was more open to keep learning about them and how to make them work.
In my mid-twenties, I had just finished a long-distance relationship in which we had even got engaged. The break up was really hard on me, but once I’d recovered, I suddenly found myself with a lot more time on my hands and a stronger belief that I could be loved if I found the right relationship.
Full disclosure; I kept making relationship mistakes for YEARS after that one, but that isn’t the point I’m trying to make here.
What happened next was that I started trying to build up my confidence in myself, self-affirmations, going outside of my comfort zone by hanging out with work colleagues outside of work, travelling more around London on my own, and I found that my mind was changing.
This is the power of reframing, learning from mistakes and taking responsibility for your actions. Once I’d started harnessing it, I found my life improved substantially, I started developing a career that I never imagined I could have and now, at the age of 32, I am happily married, working with people I like and doing work I like as well.
All I needed was some black box thinking, and I’m glad I know the words now!
Books mentioned in this post:
P.S. visitors to my actual WordPress site may have noticed the new theme. I’m taking a break from including images in my posts as I’ve switched laptops and don’t have a great drawing tool to hand, plus I found that trying to add an image to every post was slowing me down and making it harder to write, so I decided to move to a less image-focused layout. Hope you like the redesign, let me know in the comments if not and I can tell you to suck it!
P.P.S. jk, I’ll be nice 🙂