Have you ever tried something, and not been very successful? Ok, stupid question. If we are honest with ourselves, our lives can be thought of successive string of successes and failures. Of course, if you define failure as only feedback, then you’re in pretty good shape. But that can be hard to do. I’m sure you’ve heard about the famous quote by Edison regarding his 10,000 “failures” when inventing the light bulb.
A reporter asked him how it felt to fail ten thousand times, to which he replied:
“I never failed once, I merely found out ten thousand things that didn’t work.”
Now I’m not sure if that conversation ever took place, usually when you see some kind of quote like that, which was supposedly made many moons ago, there is a strong possibility it has been embellished over the years.
Nonetheless, it is a magnificent attitude to have. Of course it is an extremely difficult one. I’m sure that if you marched into your bosses office and demanded a raise, you wouldn’t likely feel elated about discovering yet another way that wouldn’t get you any more money.
People generally have three responses to “failure,” and two of them are not so helpful. I’d like to share with you one trick that can help at least make some progress toward Edison’s positive attitude.
The first response, of course, is to accept failure, and stop trying. You ask your boss for a raise; he says not, you label yourself as a failure. This is likely the worst response (and unfortunately the easiest) because it pretty much shuts down any possibilities for future endeavors.
This is the main reason so many people are afraid of public speaking. When we are born, we naturally scream our lungs out whenever we want attention. As we grow older, we “learn’ that many times, screaming will bring bad results, in the form of angry parents or teachers, or people simply ignoring, or even worse, laughing at our requests.
Because we “fail” so many times in getting our needs met, we develop a deep anxiety about expressing ourselves. When we reach adulthood, it’s no wonder that most of us list public speaking as far and away the number one fear, even higher than death. Our response to failure is to learn to be afraid of trying.
The second response to failure is to blame others. A guy asks several girls out, and gets rejected. After a while, some guys develop a deeply held and sometimes unconscious anger towards women in general. They’re all whores, bitches; they manipulate men to get what they want, etc etc.
Or if you start a business and don’t do so well. It’s easy to blame the customers, the economy, your competitors, and your employees.
This response is equally bad as the first. In the first, you label yourself as incapable of success. In the second, you label your environment, your reality, as an environment in which success is impossible. Both of these responses make it difficult to keep plugging away like Mr. Edison.
So what’s the best response? How do we cultivate the perseverance (or “perspiration” which, I believe, Edison said comprises 99 percent of invention, next to one percent inspiration)?
By asking ourselves the right questions:
What can I do next time to get a better response?
What can I try differently next time to get a better reaction?
How can I present myself differently next time to improve my chances?
The magic about this is you don’t really have to come up with an answer. If you get into the habit of simply asking yourselves these questions whenever something doesn’t go your way, you brain will start to look for answers when you are busy doing other things. And believe it or not, next time you are in a similar situation, you’ll somehow get a different “idea” of what to do. This is a result of the powerful processing capacity of your unconscious mind. When you ask a question, it gets to work on finding an answer.
Many people ask themselves questions like “Why do I suck so bad?” And the brain will happily answer it for them. But when you ask yourselves open-ended questions that point you toward more resourceful behavior, your brain will just as readily answer them for you.
Of course, like any new habit, it’s best to start small, and allow yourself the time to build up your new behavior. Start slow, and build up your soon to be automatic habit.
Like if you overslept, instead of saying “Why am I so lazy,” ask yourself, “How can I wake up automatically?” If you always hit your golf ball into the lake, ask yourself “What can I do to keep it on the fairway?” If you take a test and don’t do so good, ask yourself, “how can I remember this stuff easier?”
The secret is to ask the question, and trust in your unconscious to provide and answer of some sort. It may take some time at first, but an answer will come.
When you make these questions automatic, you will be amazed how many ideas that seemingly come from nowhere. When you start to act on these ideas, your successes will be automatic as well.