Ever made a disaster of a mistake? Like one where you didn’t want to show up at work the next day? Mistakes can certainly bruise our motivation – or sideline it altogether. In fact the average American worker makes 118 mistakes per year.
So after you make a mistake, how can you stop skewering yourself for your defects?
What I’ve learned from interviewing 50+ c-suite executives is that they negotiate a new direction for their failures. They fail forward. And when people fail and then make another attempt – a do-over – usually with more experience about what to avoid – they can write a new ending to the story, motivating them to act boldly in the future.
Here are 4 steps for turning your mistake or failure into a win. So you can turn your faceplant into fuel.
Decide that the failure itself isn’t the ‘final word’
Rarely are mistakes permanent. Case in point, I was delivering a leadership training for a consulting firm. One woman stood up and shared how she had failed miserably at a highly quantitative stretch assignment. Instead of cowering or hiding though, she asked leaders if she could take another stab at it. With more experience on what to avoid, she delivered the assignment capably, and was told she “knocked it out of the park.” If you’re dealing with a fixable failure, which I’d argue most are, be dogged that you’ll write a new ending to the story. It’ll fuel your motivation to do well.
Determine The One Thing
Doing a lengthy post-mortem of a failure doesn’t motivate us as much as we think. So do yourself a favor: Figure out what single move, tactic or play you should have made differently and why it was at the epicenter of the project’s success or failure. It could’ve been the timeline you used or not consulting someone more knowledgeable. Whatever the reason, determine you’ll do that thing differently next time.
Believe every skill is improvable
If you fail at a project that’s highly technical for example, resist the urge to think “I don’t have what it takes” when it comes to all technical ability. Avoid that black and white, de-motivating thinking by adopting a more what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. See any skill as something you can grow with practice. And just like any muscle of yours that can become stronger with continuous exercise – so can your skill base.
Seek someone out to normalize the experience
I was delivering a negotiation workshop at a large consumer goods company when I asked a group how they coped with rejection. One woman explained that when she negotiated a raise, she was really disappointed to get a “No.” She went directly to her car, cried, and proceeded to mentally steep in her failure for the next 2-3 weeks. She told no one. Then a different woman shared the aftermath of her own failed negotiation. She got a “no” answer she was unhappy with and immediately approached a mentor at her same company. Her mentor said getting a “No” was entirely normal for this kind of ask and not personal to her. The first woman was sidelined for weeks by the failed negotiation. The second woman bounced back almost immediately. The lesson? Consult someone more seasoned or tenured than you and let them give you their read. You’ll be more motivated to go back and ask again.
If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that mistakes happen. See your failures as fixable – as necessary to your learning, not optional or avoidable. If you can do that, you’re guaranteed not to make the same mistake twice.