“Suck it up.”
“Brush it off.”
“Get over it.”
These are phrases that we’re told all too often and quickly when we undergo a failure, big or small. It’s partly because we’re uncomfortable with discomfort, so we want to get back to that “happy” place as soon as possible.
You see this a lot with parents, especially, and I can foresee myself being guilty of it in the future. We so desire to protect our kids from pain that we try and distract, to have them move on to the next thing, to not feel bad.
But, is feeling bad about our failures actually a bad thing?
Turns out… it’s not! Scientifically!
A study published in 2017 was conducted to see which response to failure led to better outcomes (in terms of trying to improve on the challenge at hand), those who responded emotionally vs. cognitively.
Participants were given a challenge to search for a blender with specific characteristics that was also at the best price. Those who found the best price would win a cash prize. Seems completely within your control and as though a correct answer exists, right?
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Wrong. It was rigged so that regardless of the answer students found, the computer informed them that there was a deal $3.27 cheaper than what they’d found. So, they learned that they’d failed, they recorded their emotions and did some other light testing, then were asked to search online for a gift of specific characteristics for a person.
The results? When someone showed an emotional response after failing, they exerted more time and effort in searching for the gift in the second challenge than those who had responded cognitively. Those who responded cognitively claimed not to care about the outcome, were more likely to display skepticism about the task, or portrayed self-protective behaviours.
The study took two other groups through two different tasks, both aimed at seeing the difference between emotional vs. cognitive results. While I won’t go into full detail on both of those (if you want to geek out you can read the research paper here), what the results show is that people who respond emotionally, who feel badly when they ‘fail’, are more likely to work harder to improve the next time, to show increased signs of motivation, and to actually feel more fulfilled when they do succeed.
We also chatted a while ago about the book that I read called The Upside of Your Dark Side, and it speaks to the same thing. Feeling our failures is NOT a bad thing. It actually leads to better outcomes.
Feeling your failures builds resilience, fuels motivation and makes you more tenacious, provided you care about the outcome.
Think about a failure you’ve had in your life. In my case, I remember vividly failing my driving test. It was awful and embarrassing and I cried. And then… I made SURE that I passed my test the next time. I committed to more practice time, to extra brush up lessons, and so on. Now, I did only pass by the skin of my teeth (I maintain I’m a good driver, it was a bad day!), but I passed. And for all my hard work? I was so proud of the achievement.
If you don’t care about the outcome, are you going to try as hard? Are you going to feel fulfilled when you do achieve your goal? Probably not.
In an upcoming podcast episode with entrepreneur, Hannah Cree, we talk about the importance of feeling the failure of her first business. A lot of entrepreneurs will say brush it off, learn from your mistakes and move on to the next thing, but if the project/business/relationship that has failed truly meant something to you, the grieving process is important.
Now, you might say, but what about the books out there like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***? While I haven’t yet read it (I’m on hold at the library!), the original blog post written by its author specifically talks about how there are only so many things that we can pour our energy and emotions into, so it is important to figure out what things matter.
To repeat, I’m not suggesting that you break down crying and feeling the ‘failure’ over everything big or small. When I find out I could have gotten a better deal on a product, or that my Kijiji sale is NOT going to sell, I’m not having a severely emotional reaction. It’s not important enough for me to invest my energy in.
But… things that I care about, goals that I’m working towards, if I have failures en route, I feel them.
Another upcoming podcast episode is with author Jane Porter. She spoke to me about how she had fourteen books rejected. FOURTEEN! I said to her, but how did you keep going? This was back when traditional publishing had specific cycles, so we’re talking fourteen books and fourteen years of continued commitment.
I cared too much about this. I wanted it.
Now, do you think she just brushed each one of those experiences off and thought, “ah well, there’s always next year!” Nope. She worked hard to hone her craft, to learn from rejection letters, and to put together a better submission each and every time.
And now? She’s a bestselling author working on her 59th book at the time of this post being published. She owns her own digital publishing company and supports over 90 authors in their careers.
So, figure out what it is that you really care about. And not IF, but rather WHEN you have failures and bumps in the road, feel them. Learn from them. Take your time to grieve, and once you’ve done that then you can get up, brush yourself off, and put those lessons to good use. One foot in front of the other.
You’ve got this.