“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” ~Buddha
You didn't get the job. You couldn't raise the money. You missed the deadline. You hired the wrong person.
You didn't ask for help. You let someone you love down. You failed to plan in advance. You bit off more than you could chew. You forgot something important.
Worst of all, whatever the case, you set the stage for a million questions about what it means and what you should have done.
When you don't do something you wanted to do, oftentimes your disappointment has less to do with the results you failed to create and everything to do with your interpretation of what that failure means. That you're not talented enough. Or competent enough. Or confident enough. Or good enough in general.
The only way to change your reaction to failure is to challenge the beliefs that create it—those ideas about what failure means. And the best way to change those beliefs is to change the thoughts that shape them.The things that go through your head right after you feel you've let yourself down. And later when you mentally rehash it while waiting for the bus. Then in bed, before you drift off to sleep, when visions of what could have been taunt you.
Psychologists and neuroscientists estimate we think between 45,000 and 51,000 thoughts per day. If the majority of those entail negative interpretations of your weaknesses and mistakes, you will limit your potential because the prospect of failing will seem catastrophic.
Even if you repeat and retweet the most inspiring failure quotes from the likes of Gandhi and Zig Ziglar, you will fuel beliefs that keep you stuck. Afraid to try. Or afraid to let people down. Or afraid of what you'll feel about yourself if things don't go to plan.
The good news is you don't have to look far to start changing the thoughts that limit you. At any given time, there are millions of other people thinking and feeling something similar to what you are. Dealing with similar circumstances. Dreaming similar dreams. Finding new solutions and ways of thinking.
Many of them are right here, reading this blog.
Next time you decide how to interpret failure, consider one of these answers, from TinyBuddha Facebook fans, to the question:
What does failure mean to you?
1. The opportunity to try again through revised eyes. (Rebecca Spath)
2. Never trying because you're too afraid to do so. (Keitra Grant)
3. A huge learning opportunity. And the time to reassess and try again. (Michael Wong)
4. My definition of failure is, “an experience in which the universe feels compelled to grab someone by their hair and whip them in an altogether different direction because they simply aren’t listening!” (Elizabeth Lyons)
5. Reflect, learn, go again. (Ben Reyna)
6. Failure is losing sight of who you are, your hopes and dreams but then learning from them. Taking your mistakes in stride and growing from the experience. (Donnie McNeil)
7. Failure is not being aware of the present moment. (Rich Heltzel)
8. Failure is just success rounded down. (Matthew Chan)
9. Failure is giving up before your chance to succeed finally comes. (Kathryn Reynolds)
10. Failure could be the personal belief that you are just not good enough, then assuming that to be truth. Letting yourself settle into that concept breeds an atmosphere of defeat which then upholds the original idea. (Ingrid M Lindauer)
11. Failure is a signpost alerting you to the fact that you need to change course. (Barbara Hocker)
12. Failure is not letting go. (Csaba Okrona)
13. Failure just means you're not ready yet. (Sarah Jane Loewen)
14. Failure is thinking you've failed. (Meredith Myers LeBlanc ૐ)
15. Learn from it and to be determined to do things differently and better next time. With failure always come a dozen opportunities. (Kim van Olderen)
16. Failure means at least you’ve tried and now you know what to avoid..so try again. (Tonyandjen Lee)
17. Failure is a bitter sweet experience that enables us to understand that our focus was not in the right place. (Yun Molina)
18. Progress …( Gene Cary)
19. Failure is always a teacher. Regardless of the circumstance, there is always a lesson. It may not come to us right away, but it is surely there. (Michael Schunk)
20. Failure is one interpretation of an event. With our thoughts, we make the world. (Jeremy Mawson)
What these responses tell me is that we're really not all that different. We all want to make ourselves and the people we love proud. We all want to feel free to try, stumble, fall, get back up, try again, and learn as we go.
What we need is also the same—to realize success isn't about getting where you want to be; it's about accepting and appreciating where you are at each point.
To understand happiness is available now, not just on the other side of struggle, because life will always present challenges. To take the positive analogies about failure and progress and not just repeat them but start to believe them.
I say we start a revolution of thinking. Take the words we repeat and retweet and ingrain them to redefine what's possible. It all starts with the interpretations we repeat in our heads.
How do you define failure?
Photo by SteveD