No one really wants to fail. Admitting you said it wrong, revealing you couldn’t make it work, and announcing layoffs and closings is not how anyone planned their business journey. And yet failure happens every day, and it happens to almost every entrepreneur. But what if, instead of failure meaning defeat and despair, it could mean better business success?
David Robson is an award-winning science writer who specializes in the ins and outs of the human brain, body and behavior and understands how failure can be channeled into success. The clue lies in how you document and tell your story, and thus how you frame the role that failure plays in your life.
“Spinning our memories into a well-told life narrative, and seeing our future as an extension of that story, can help us achieve our aspirations for self-improvement,” he explained. Robson has written on such topics as features editor at New Scientist and senior reporter for BBC Future. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, Men’s Health and the Atlantic and in 2022 he won Mental Health Story of the Year at the annual MJA Awards. David’s second book The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Lifepublished last year.
According to Robson, there are multiple benefits to making up your own life story and trying to rewrite our failures, and here are the top five.
Better mental health in general
“Understanding the narrative of your life and seeing your failures as positive turning points, where you can recognize what you’ve learned from the experience, is associated with a reduced risk of depression,” said Robson, who is a fan of meditation. and journaling as a way to do this.
Failure doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, and it won’t be if you don’t see it that way. Every project that ends makes room for a new one to begin, the same with relationships, agreements or contracts. Telling the story of what went wrong can bring humor, learning, and ideas for the future that help one’s brain switch to a more useful channel.
Although there is a caveat here, which is “it is not possible to turn every trauma into positive stories”, and this can in fact “create pressure that is not always healthy”, we cannot deny that “when we look at our performance in the workplace, taking stock of where we failed, despite the pain, there may be something we can move forward with.” Robson says this is a “really psychologically healthy reaction and the research suggests that this is good for your mental health”.
Greater self-esteem and sense of self-worth
“Just writing about important events in your life can boost your self-esteem,” explained Robson, who said it comes from several studies with more than 1,000 participants. Studies have found that this practice “makes you feel better about yourself and your abilities.” Robson said this may be because, “it seems to give people a sense of self-efficacy, that they realize they have a rich story to tell, which makes them feel better about themselves.”
If you’re feeling down about something, especially work-related, look at your life history and try to think of some of your successes. This could also help you put your failures into perspective. Today’s angry customer email can be better dealt with by remembering how you’ve successfully navigated customer relationships in the past. Tomorrow’s important meeting may be less daunting in the context of all the pitches you’ve knocked down.
In a sea of hundreds of positive reviews, it’s easy to focus on the one negative one. Human nature means we look out for danger and potential threats, so we gravitate toward and obsess over that one star. But thinking and writing about the event as a whole can keep us from zooming in on the small, insignificant details that cost us our confidence.
Positive effects on physical health
One of the many studies Robson read that demonstrated this effect looked at expressive writing in students. The trial found that after they wrote about an important moment in their lives and talked about the feelings they had during the experience, they were less likely to visit the doctor. The link is closure and rumination.
“Once you get into that process of expressive writing, you start to create a narrative,” which Robson said is especially powerful for entrepreneurs who write about their failures. “You become more objective and detached from the event itself and you begin to find closure. Preferably finding the lessons but also finding the larger context of how their failure fits into your overall trajectory.”
Writing about an event in this way shuts you down psychologically and stops you from ruminating, which is linked to anxiety. “The more we turn things over in our heads without finding closure, the more stressed we feel and the worse that is for our physical health.” When you do this expressive writing, you find better closure, which means better physical health. The mental and the physical are interconnected.
Increased perseverance and self-discipline
Writing and talking about your failure stories can mean you feel less defeated and more determined to achieve your goals. “Research shows that when we become more sophisticated in thinking about our life story, focusing on turning points where we faced disappointment and then managed to move forward despite the disappointment, it strengthens the belief that you can and will overcome setbacks in the future. Robson said.
Remember how you overcame setbacks in the past to feel bulletproof about anything around the corner. “If you’ve just experienced a setback,” Robson said, “you might be tempted to give up, but looking back at your life story and finding other places where you’ve suffered similar setbacks but managed to come back even stronger is a great way to go. to get back on your feet and chase your dreams.”
Robson research gathered these trends by examining students who did writing exercises about their past failures and showed that this had a positive effect on their grades in subsequent months through this sense of self-empowerment. Persistence is always required in entrepreneurship, so reminders of how persistent you are will likely serve you well.
Better able to work in difficult times
Finally, this research tells us how we can reframe our thinking while we’re in the middle of a really tough challenge, when we might feel like we’re on the brink of failure. In relation to Robson’s new book, The Expectation Effect, “we can often see our feelings of anxiety and frustration as a sign of impending failure that can cause us to sabotage what’s going to happen, so we start thinking about worst-case scenarios and see the emotions themselves are dangerous.”
This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you believe that your frustration and stress will make your situation worse, and you fear the stress you feel, it only becomes real and makes failure more likely.” This is not a recipe for the resilience required to face challenges.
But there are other, much better ways to look at this. Instead of catastrophizing, “you can recognize that stress is a sign that this is really important to you,” similarly, when you feel stressed, “see it as an energizing sign that your body is getting ready to take on the challenge. forward.” Reframe the way you interpret the emotions of your difficulties. “When you do this,” said Robson, “you become more creative, your problem-solving skills improve, and you are better able to find a solution to the difficulties you face. It helps in muting some of the damaging effects that can come from long-term stress and is a really useful skill for anyone to learn.”
Instead of going through your day reacting to everything that happens, see yourself as the main character in the movie of your life. See hurdles and obstacles as fun things to overcome and be able to tell into stories. When something important happens, success or failure, write about it, talk about it, discern the meaning, then put it to one side and move on. Improved mental and physical health are just two of the benefits, along with self-esteem, self-worth, self-discipline and a sense that you can take on the world.