I fail at things and projects much more than you might imagine. The most important thing for me is that I don’t allow my failed projects to get the better of me. And it feels just as horrible for me as it does for anyone else. I get down on myself, feel guilty, try to avoid thinking about it, would rather hide it from everyone else. Failing at things can really suck. And yet, I get back up and try again. When I try over and over again, once in awhile I succeed.
Don’t let your failed projects and work consume you. Get back up and try again. Your mistakes should be your motivation, not your excuses. And no matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.
“The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.” —Seth Godin
So what’s the secret? Well, there isn’t any. You just have to keep trying.
Here’s what I’ve found to work:
1. I learned a more flexible mindset. When you are rigidly trying to stick to a plan or achieve a goal, and things don’t go according to plan, then you feel like crap and things can get derailed. But if you have a more flexible mindset, and think, “I might not be able to go according to plan but that’s OK because things change,” then it’s not a disaster when you get off track. There’s no single track that you have to stay on.
2. I came to realize that every attempt is about learning. When you fail, that’s actually really good information. Before you failed, you thought that something would work (a prediction), but then real-world information came in that told you it didn’t work. That means you now know something you didn’t know before. That’s excellent. Now you can adjust your plan, figure something new out, try a new method. Keep learning.
“If you don’t have room to fail, you don’t have room to grow. – Jonathan Mildenhall
3. I ask for help. When I’m struggling with something, I know that I can either give up, or I can figure out a better way. But it’s not always easier to figure out a better way, so I reach out to my network of trusted friends, and I ask them for help. They might give me simple, obvious, why-didn’t-I-see-that advice that I need, or brilliant tips, or accountability. Whatever happens, my friends and family never seem to fail me.
4. I give myself a break. If I’m struggling, sometimes my mind or body just needs a break from the discipline. So I’ll take a day or two off, or a week, or even more. There’s no set time that’s right for every situation, so I’ve been learning to go by feel. For some things, I’ve taken a month or two off from trying to learn something. If you are consistently failing at getting stuff done, find a new way to get it done. Change the process, routine or the approach. There is always a better way to get something done. You may not be able to take a long break from work, but the point is, give yourself a break and get back to it with a new mindset.
5. I remind myself why it’s important. It’s easy to give up on something, because not doing it is always easier. But giving up means you’re losing something important, like helping someone, and so if my reasons for doing something aren’t just selfish (pleasure, vanity), then I will renew my vigor for the struggle. This alone is often enough to get me going again, especially if I’m doing it to help someone important.
I realize that I’m far from perfect, and that the guilty secrets I hide inside myself are no different than anyone else’s. You guys are just like me, in the inside, and while we all share the commonality of failing to live up to our better nature, we also share the bond of being able to start again. Your goal should be progress, not perfection.
So start again. Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.
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