“You’re a failure.”
“You should have known better.”
Our brains have many iterations of this theme: failure is bad. The words “failure” and “bad” in the same sentence feel so heavy, chaotic, and defining. When you dig down into every one of those thoughts, the core is “you’re not good enough”. That’s painful stuff, and just not true.
As a recovering perfectionist, I have spent most of my life afraid to fail. I’ve avoided change because it might prove that I make “bad” decisions and I might fail at the unknown.
When life happened in a way I wasn’t expecting, because that’s what life does, it was the “proof” in my mind that I am not smart enough, not good enough and it forced my mask of perfection to come off and show the world my flaws.
Then I read this acronym:
I love the growth mindset movement. I adore reframing negative thoughts into positive action. But the idea that failure is an attempt to learn had never crossed my mind. And it changed everything I thought about failure.
Failure is one of the best ways to learn. The consequences can be hugely uncomfortable and painful, but those failures connect neurons in our brains that empower us to do things differently the next time. Our culture tells us that failure is a bad thing. Not true. Failure is the best way to learn and grow. If we keep moving, which is often the hard part, we will succeed. Maybe that success is that we just kept going, and that’s the cool thing about redefining failure. We get to decide how the failures change us, not other people.
Failure breeds resilience. As we fail and keep moving forward, even through the pain, our brains start connecting those resilience neurons to remind us that we can do hard things.
Failure breeds creativity. When we fail and see it as a part of the process and not the end, failure gives us permission to change the action, decide what to do differently, and create something even more beautiful.
So, what gets in the way? Our own hurts and shame. Our brain learns over time that failure is bad. This thought is ingrained in us through participating in sports, “failing” grades, failed relationships, and failed businesses. All of these things can shape our emotions to equate failing with “I’m a bad person”.
Failure is a critical part of our emotional and resilient learning process. We get to choose if we tap into the grit it takes to keep moving or see it as something that defines us. What choice will you make in the face of failure that will shape your neurons for the next time that you fail?
Mattie is a counselor, coach, and CEO of Cerebrations, LLC. With over 25 years of experience in understanding how the brain affects our emotions, reactions, and our experiences, she is passionate about empowering women to harness the power of their brain and body connection to create intentional action and deeper connections with their families. You can reach her at email@example.com or by scheduling a free consult chat.