Only if you stop diving!
Tom Daley is out to show how to turn failure into the springboard for success. At the 2016 Olympics’ 10 metre diving championship, Daley started out as the clear leader with some exceptional dives. In the next round, after a series of poor dives, he was down and out, and did not even make the final round – let alone the medals. Here is what he said in the press interviews afterwards:
“I want to be an Olympic champion. That’s been my dream since I was a kid and this is just heart-breaking. In the Olympics you can get your dreams crushed in an instant. This is my lowest moment in diving.”
Failure is only when you stop diving!
Was Daley about to give up, to quit the sport? An understandable reaction after such a crushing and unexpected disappointment. Here is what he went on to say:
“It (defeat, not making the medal round) definitely gives you a massive kick of motivation to want to be standing on top of the podium in 2020.”
For Daley, disappointment, failure and defeat are a springboard for future effort. This mindset is the secret of the ultimately successful.
Road Block or Spring Board?
However, successful people – whether in business, sport or personal life – are exactly that because to them failure is not the end. Instead it is a learning experience and step on the way to final achievement. Daley’s statement indicates that in even in his sadness and disappointment he is already envisioning victory in Tokyo. It is this vision that will take him through the hours of hard training and the many competitions through to Tokyo in 2020.
How to Turn Failure into a Spring Board
So how do we go about using failure as a spring board rather than treating it as a ball and chain? There are two key steps:
• First, we need to properly understand failure.
•Secondly, we need to set proper measurable goals and follow these with passion.
In this blog I want to take a closer look at failure. Why do we mis-understand failure? How can failure become so frightening that we don’t even try? In short, what is the root cause of our failure to do deal with failure?
Why we Fear Failure
Here are three key reasons:
• We fear failure because from an early age we are taught to regard failure as disastrous personal event, not as a stepping stone to eventual success. We possibly remember being laughed at for failing, not being applauded for trying.
• We often misinterpret failure. We see it as an event rather than a process of learning. As a result, we are crushed by the event, rather drawn forward by seeing how we can do it different next time.
• We are often unprepared for failure and therefore find it difficult to deal with, since we do not form an accurate assessment of our goal at the outset and the steps need to get there.
How do successful people handle failure?
Failure is Never Personal – It is an Event
Successful people never treat failure as personal or internalise it. As a result they never regard themselves as talentless, worthless, idiotic, unlovable or anything else that devalues them. Of course, this attitude does not mean open season to blame others or circumstances for what has happened. Instead they take a realistic view of what happened, what they have learnt and what can be done different next time. It also means that friends and colleagues are very important – mindless criticism or disbelief is not helpful. Neither is mindless praise! We need supported learning so that we are in the right frame of mind to try the new things that will make a difference.
Failure is a Learning Experience
Secondly, successful people regard failure as a temporary learning experience, not as a dead end. As William Ward noted, failure “is a delay not a defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead-end street.” Of course we may need to reset the sat nav. of our behaviour based on our experience – driving into the same pot hole or cul-de-sac is not smart and it is not learning!
Failure is Not a Perpetual State
Thirdly, successful people regard each incident on its own merits and not as a perpetual or persistent state. James Dyson, the inventor, reportedly went through 5,126 failed attempts with his vacuum cleaner until he got the ground-breaking machine to work. If we regard failure in this way, then it is easier to break down and understand. If we think that it never will work, then it never will, and our critical evaluation will be clouded over by this attitude. In short, if we start out expecting to learn and improve, we will do so (whatever the outcome), if we start out expecting to fail – then we will!
The Importance of Realism
Purpose and Passion!
Successful people are always realistic about the task in hand. If the goal is a massive one, then they prepare accordingly with stage goals and appropriate action steps. They expect the challenges and risks to be in proportion to the task and they are not deterred by failures when they crop up. They have a strong “WHY?”. In the case of Dyson, he was not deterred by over 5,000 learning experiences and 15 years of effort. One thing is for certain – if we fail to prepare then we are surely preparing to fail.
Successful people also have a primary focus on their strengths. It is for this reason that teams are so powerful in achieving success – they are the platform for people to exert their personal strengths to maximum effect and collectively for the good of the team, whilst being supported by the team. Failing teams fail exactly because they have failed to recognise this mutuality.
Successful people are ignited by their passion. For this reason, challenges and difficulties are viewed as obstacles that can be overcome rather than as road blocks to end the journey. Failures are a catalyst for learning from which the way forward to final success can be better seen.
Finally, successful people are persistent in the face of challenges. They don’t give up, they re- think, they ask questions, they relentlessly seek solutions. They have perspective because they have objectively assessed what they want to achieve and they have well-formed outcomes to hold them on course for success.
Turning Failure into a Spring Board
To sum up, the mistake we make is to think of ourselves as the failure. We are not the failure – the way we tried to do something failed. Failure is not personal, nor is a pervasive or persistent state. Instead it is a process or stepping stone to success. Failure always feels worse and things look worse when we are on our knees (possibly unless we are praying!). Once we are getting up and moving forward then our perspective changes and we regain momentum. We move through what we learnt in failure to success.
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Following a highly successful career as an academic and senior executive with a multi- national, Dr Chris Mackel founded Euro Access as a niche consultancy in 1987 to provide services in strategic market studies, dealing with change and funding issues. Since then the business has secured over £93 million for clients and is now also working in crowd funding.
Over the past 5 years the Access team has developed its coaching with business leaders, entrepreneurs and high growth businesses, helping both leaders and creating effective high performance teams. Team leaders are Chris Mackel, Amanda Smith (formerly a senior staff trainer and coach with a multiple retailer) and Phil Hartshorne (formerly a senior director with Cadbury).
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