How to learn from failure, according to a psychologist

·4-min read
Failure is a natural part of life (Getty)
Failure is a natural part of life (Getty)

Failure is a part of life, that’s a fact - but it doesn’t need to hold you back.

This is the thinking behind a new British Army campaign, titled ‘Fail. Learn. Win.’ aiming to inspire new recruits.

The idea for the campaign came out of research conducted by data insight firm Perspectus Global which found that 81% of young people do not achieve their goals due to “fear of failure” - and the campaign aims to combat perceptions that failure is a weakness.

The research, which surveyed 1,003 young people between 16 and 25 years of age in November last year, found that 54% of respondents have a fear of judgement from others which contributes to why they are scared of failure.

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“Failure is part of life and is absolutely natural,” Counselling Directory member Beverley Blackman tells Yahoo UK.

“If we all got things right immediately all of the time, then there would be no learning, no life experience, and we would be caught up in a situation similar to the opening chapters of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World whereby there is no individuality, no success, no failure, no difference - a bland and homogenous world.”

Blackman adds that from failure we learn more about ourselves, such as what we are good at and how we relate to people.

Instead of seeing failure as a negative, Blackman suggests looking at it as an opportunity to learn and to try again.

“When my elder son was five, he came home from school one day and announced that FAIL stood for 'First Attempt In Learning.' As both a psychotherapist and a parent, I like this,” Blackman continues.

“Failure, when viewed from this perspective, gives us the opportunity to recognise that we have not managed something, and to try again - without castigating ourselves, judging ourselves, or pinning negativity on the fact that we have not managed to achieve something.”

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Another option could be thinking of failure as a ‘dress rehearsal’. “We can then try again from a better informed, calmer, more confident position and we are more likely to succeed,” Blackman explains.

The best way to learn from failure is to ask ourselves “why?”

“Is it because we didn't fully understand what we were trying to achieve? Is it because we didn't prepare? Is it because we are asking too much of ourselves? Is it because we simply didn't like what we were being asked to do? Is it because we were caught unawares? We cannot succeed without learning,” Blackman says.

“Failure gives us the opportunity to look at something we consider we have failed in and to analyse why we failed. It then gives us the choice to fix what we have failed in and try again, or to realise that what we attempted is not for us, and to choose something else.”

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According to Perspectus Global’s research, 78% of the people it surveyed admitted to learning from a past failure while 83% agreed that failure is an important part of learning and growing.

Instead of being derailed by failure, which can easily happen when viewed negatively, Blackman suggests attaching a more “open-minded” connotation to failure.

“We can feel annoyed for a bit, which is natural, but then we make the choice to investigate and learn from it,” Blackman says.

“This is more constructive as it allows us to take a step back and view the situation objectively, and work out what went wrong.”

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Once you know what went wrong, Blackman says use that knowledge and turn it into “power”.

“We learn from our mistakes. We learn from failure. We become stronger and more well-informed about ourselves and our aptitudes through failure,” she continues.

“If we view it negatively, it will remain a negative. If we view it as an opportunity for change and development, we open the door to so much more - and from failure can come success.”

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