How to prevent failure and manage it well when it happens

The room is filling on a Saturday night in Sydney. It’s an old theatre with seats from many decades past, that are covered in old vinyl and snap up quickly as soon as you begin getting up. The audience is diverse – from late teens to seniors – all ready to hear about a topic that affects us at every stage of life – failure.

The event is the “Failure Lab“, an event being held across the world with an aim to “crush the social stigma of failure”. Here’s how the organisers describe it:

FAILURE:LAB is a raw and intimate evening showcasing personal stories of failure. With a refreshing environment of openness, it helps pave the way for change by crushing the isolation and stigma around failure. Failure then takes its rightful place as the crucial first step to the next big thing. Embrace it, learn from it, build on it.

I was interested in this event since fear of failure causes many people stress, anxiety and self confidence issues and bouncing back from failure presents similar challenges.

And we often don’t talk about it.

Our culture values success and achievement and makes heroes of people who do extraordinary things. But we generally don’t talk about people who tried and failed. There’s often a stigma about failure.

Yet, as we all know, failure happens throughout our lives. It’s just the type, context, and consequences that change – from falling over as a toddler, to mistakes in our job or career, through to making mistakes in old age, failure is something we experience in every stage of life.

Here are some of the lessons I drew from the stories shared in the Failure Lab…

Lesson #1: Failure is universal. On this night, the themes and threads that came though each of the stories were common, if not universal…

–  Hopes dashed
–  Not noticing the obvious/blind spots
–  Ignoring a situation until it hits you in the face
–  Not being able to achieve what you know is possible because people don’t support you
–  Jumping into a situation without adequate preparation

I can relate to every one of these themes and certainly felt more connected to our common humanity and less alone in my failures as a result. Can you relate to these too? The good news is that we don’t need to feel alone, different or inferior for having failed.

Lesson #2: There’s power in talking about our failures. It makes failure feel more normal. More part of the process. More of the rule than the exception. More okay.

Lesson #3: When we talk about our failures, there’s a shared benefit. We benefit from authentically sharing who we are and what we’ve experienced. The listeners benefit from hearing experiences they can relate to, sympathise with, or learn from.

The more we talk about our failure experiences – not as a pity party but with the intention of embracing them, learning from them, and using them to help us move forward –  the less stigma there will be about failure.

Action Steps

Recognising that fear of failure and recovering from failure both cause stress and anxiety, here are 4 positive ways to help you prevent failure and manage it well when it does happen…

1.    Do the boring work to reduce the risk of failure
Most of us want to shortcut to success at some point or another but this can increase our risk of failure. The more you do the groundwork, the research, and the preparation to ensure what you’re doing is based on a solid foundation, the better your chances of success. No great insights here… just the unexciting truth.

2.    When failure does happen, be kind to yourself.
Self compassion has been shown to be a crucial part of the ability to bounce back from hard times. Self compassion involves being gentle with yourself, not berating or blaming yourself for making a mistake, recognising that to err is human, and keeping a bigger picture perspective.

3.    Adopt a learning mindset.
This mindset, also known as a growth mindset, has been shown to help with wellbeing, confidence, learning, and success. It’s a way of moving forward so you don’t get stuck in blaming yourself and others or give up on your hopes and dreams. Here’s an example: “This situation has happened and I can’t change it. What can I learn from it? What can I do differently next time? How can I use this situation to help me in the future?”

4.    Share your experience with others, authentically and constructively, with the intention of helping both yourself and those listening to you to embrace failure, learn from it, and use it to move forward.

The way we view and experience failure has a direct impact on our wellbeing and resilience to stress and challenges. The more we can use our failure experiences in positive ways, the more positive benefits we can gain from a negative experience.

What failure experiences could you share with other people  – that would benefit you by telling your story and your listeners by hearing your story?

Something we all enjoy and want more of, yet forget to do

How often are you praised for your work? How often do you praise others?

I was talking with a former colleague the other day who’s been in a new job for the last three months and recently received praise and positive feedback from her new managers for a large project she’s been managing. She is beaming and blossoming as her previous managers gave only negative feedback, never any praise.

Giving and receiving praise is one of those perennial workplace issues. Praise is something we all enjoy and want more of, yet it’s something we don’t do often and when we do, many of us don’t deliver it as effectively as we might.

The good news is that it’s simple to learn and easy to do. It costs nothing and takes very little effort yet delivers great benefits.

As we all know, praise is encouraging, it makes us feel good about ourselves and our efforts and it motivates us to keep going with what we’re doing. Without praise, we lose that positive feedback loop and can easily become discouraged and disengaged.

More Positives at Work = Better Relationships, More Productivity, a Better Workplace

Research has found that one of the key differences between happy relationships versus unhappy or dysfunctional ones is the ratio of positive emotions experienced versus negative ones.

It turns out that to feel well and happy, we need at least three positive experiences for every one negative experience. This ratio increases to at least five to one at work or within relationships. This is called the ‘Positivity Ratio’ and it’s an indicator of the wellbeing or otherwise of an individual, a relationship, a team or even a workplace.

If you’d like to work in a happy workplace, an easy way to boost your workplace’s ledger on the positive side is to recognise and praise people for positive behaviour – you don’t have to wait for management to do it!

Action Steps

Here’s how you can give effective praise and contribute to a happy work environment this week…

1. Find the Good, Sincerely

Find the good things a person is doing and tell them what you appreciate about them. Be genuine, since insincere praise will undermine trust and won’t aid learning or development.  Even if you don’t like ALL that they’re doing, find the good in it and focus on that. Otherwise say nothing. Better to to say nothing than to give untruth or insincerity.

2. Be Specific

Highlight what they did in detail, both particular actions and attitudes. This helps them to know what you noticed and appreciated – and what to repeat in the future.

3. Give Them Time to Process and Respond

Many people will try to brush off praise, even if they secretly appreciate it. Pause to help them to enjoy their achievement and share in that small positive moment together.

4. Take Their Style Into Account

Some people like public praise, others only private praise. Would the recipient prefer face to face verbal feedback or an email? Choose how you praise based on their preferences, not yours. (This is one area where many people miss-step.)

5. Focus on Things They Can Control

This part is crucial. The recipient can’t control their intelligence or natural traits so praising these is not useful. Instead focus your praise on what they can control – ie their efforts and attitude. This is a key way to make sure your praise has the greatest positive effect, both at the time you give it as well as into the future.

You don’t have to leave it to management to deliver all the praise and appreciation in your workplace. Tell your colleagues when you see them do a good job and enjoy the joy and positivity that comes from it!

Who do you have an opportunity to praise at the moment?

Your Morning Routine: 4 Ways to Start Your Work Day Right

What’s the first thing you do when you crawl out of bed each morning? Do you check your emails and scroll down your newsfeed, take a hot shower or go for a quick jog around the block?

Whether you realise it or not, your morning routine can set the tone for the rest of your day, so if you want to stay motivated all day long, it’s important to start out on a positive note. With this in mind, here are four of the best ways to gear up for an inspiring and productive work day.

1. Eat real food

Not everyone enjoys eating first thing in the morning, but the brain needs glucose to stay alert and focused. What you eat also matters, though, because while waffles or muffins might provide you with glucose, they’ll also spike your blood-sugar levels and lead to a mid-morning crash. Better options include things like oatmeal and eggs.

Of course, you don’t have to sit down to a full breakfast to be productive, and if you’re not really a breakfast person, you can get your morning nutrition by grabbing a healthy smoothie or piece of fruit on your way to work, and then enjoying a more substantial meal later on in the day.

2. Fit in some exercise

Even if you only have time for a quick 15 to 20-minute workout before you leave for work, getting yourself moving first thing in the morning can boost your mood and make you more productive throughout the day, not to mention that it’s good for your physical health too.

One study from the University of Bristol found that on days when people exercised, they experienced a significant improvement in mood and were calmer than on days they did not exercise. Performance at work also improved as a result of exercise, as did concentration and problem solving skills.

3. Take a cold shower

While taking a cold shower might not sound like your idea of fun, research shows that cold showers can provide a number of health benefits, including stress reduction, a stronger immune system and improved circulation. One study even suggests cold showers as a potential treatment for depression.

If you can’t bring yourself to jump under a stream of cold water first thing in the morning, start by taking a hot shower and then gradually decreasing the temperature.

4. Tackle your most daunting tasks first

If you have a big project or daunting task to complete at work, it can be tempting to put it off as long as possible by crossing easier or less important tasks off your list first.

However, research shows that your willpower is the strongest when you first wake up in the morning. As the day progresses, your willpower is steadily depleted, so the longer you put off a difficult task; the less likely you are to complete it.

With this in mind, it’s best to tackle whatever it is you’re dreading when you first arrive at work, and the rest of your day will seem easy by comparison.