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How to Really Learn From Failure

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Sybren Stüvel via Compfight

You’re probably familiar with the popular saying that “there is no failure, only feedback”. I think that is a very powerful and inspiring statement. However, it is also incomplete.

It is true that failure can constitute feedback regarding what you’re doing wrong, which permits you to adjust your actions until you’re doing things right, which leads to success. But it won’t constitute feedback and lead to success by itself.

It’s not enough to just fail in order get useful feedback and ultimately to succeed. If it were enough, there would be plenty more successful people out there. You also need to actually study failure, understand it and learn from it. Only then it constitutes valuable feedback, and thus it paves the way to success.

I do believe failure can be very useful, but only if you learn from it. And unfortunately, many people do not. Thus, they keep making the same mistakes, they don’t cut their learning curve short and they never achieve the success they crave.

For this reason, I want to show you how to consciously leverage failure as feedback. I’m gonna discuss the best 4 methods I know to really learn from your mistakes and use them to become triumphant.

1. Start by Being Willing To Analyze Your Failures

I find that many of us aren’t even willing to look at our mistakes. Because it make us feel bad.

When we fail at something, we try to instantly forget about it and we distract ourselves from the knowledge we have fallen short using food, alcohol, games, music, partying and so on.

The problem is that this prevents us from getting anything other than a bit of superficial learning from our mistakes. In order to get a deep learning experience from them, we need to study them attentively, without falling in the other extreme and obsessing over them.

So, even if it may not be the most pleasant experience right now, take a good look at your failures and seek to learn from them. Trust me: as you study your mistakes and learn from them, you’ll be able to achieve much more success, which will allow you to look at your mistakes with new eyes and not feel hurt.

2. Seek to Isolate the Causes

How do you study failure effectively? In my perspective, the most important thing to do is to identify the key causes that lead to it.

You see, most of our activities involve dozens of specific behaviors, but only a few of them are responsible for failing. It’s chief to isolate them so that we can then change them. Otherwise we might change the wrong behaviors, the ones that were not responsible for the failure.

This is often not easy, but it is doable provided that you think in terms of causes and effects, and you do seek to isolate the proper causes.

Let’s say you have a sales meeting with a potential client, and after the meeting, that potential client decides not to buy your services.

You can start to look at specific behaviors you had during the meeting and based on the verbal or non-verbal reactions they got from the other person, identify with fair accuracy the ones that made them decide to not buy your services.

Was it the way you walked into the room? The fact you disagreed with them on a crucial issue? The fact you were sloppy when you presented the benefits? You can figure this out if you analyze your behavior carefully.

3. Do Split-Tests

Split-tests are the best way I know to isolate specific causes and get a powerful learning experience.

A split-test means using two or more versions of the same behavior, presentation or process that only differ in one aspect, and comparatively measuring the results they create. Thus, you’ll understand exactly what influence that one aspect has.

For instance, you can test different versions of a sales page that look the same except for the headline, and measure the sales conversion rate of each one. Whatever difference in sales will occur, the headline is responsible for it, since it is the only variable. Thus you learn a lot about good headlines.

Whether you work primarily online of offline, you can take the concept of split-tests and use it to gain valuable insights that otherwise you may never get. So put it into practice.

4. Look With Someone Else’s Eyes

A common problem when we analyze our own failures to learn from them is that, since we are emotionally invested in the matter, we will not be able to look at them objectively. So we will make false interpretations and learn very little.

A very powerful exercise I know for dealing with this problem is trying to look at the issue as if you were someone else. Imagine you’re a cold, calculated, external consultant who comes to take a look at your issue and learn from the mistakes.

Look at them with the eyes of this external consultant, who sees the failure that took place as someone else’s. You’ll find that you’ll be a lot more objective and you’ll be able to realize things that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

And the more you use this exercise, the better you’ll get at it. You’ll develop your ability to study your mistakes in a rational and detached manner, which is crucial in gaining precious insights.

When you have the ability to effectively learn from failure, it rewires your whole way of thinking about failure. It indeed does become a form of feedback in your mind, and you no longer perceive it as failure per se; only as an intermediate step towards success. That’s when your drive to succeed and willingness to fail is sky high.

Eduard Ezeanu coaches socially inept individuals and helps them develop a repertoire of tools for social success, from naturally good comebacks, to storytelling skills, to rock-solid conversation confidence. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook as @artofconfidence.

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