We’ve all heard the stories of huge entrepreneurial successes being born from failures. Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout whose first business completely bombed. Gates famously said “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
We all experience failure at some point in our lives and in our careers. Maybe your company has gone under, or you’ve been fired from a job, or you failed to win a contract with a client you were hoping to sign. How you recover from that failure will determine whether you become a future success story like Gates.
Social psychologist and executive coach Erin Baker says our ability to bounce back from failure depends on whether we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. “When people have a fixed mindset, they see their abilities as unchanging, and therefore take failure quite personally,” says Baker. These individuals will often feed themselves negative self-talk such as “I’m not good enough” when they fail at something.
People with a growth mindset on the other hand don’t see failure as the end of the journey. They view failure as an integral part of the growth process and believe that their abilities can change over time. Because of this, these individuals are better able to bounce back from failure. The failure actually motivates them to try new things.
Adopting a growth mindset takes time. Here are five ways you can practice a growth mindset and improve your ability to recover from failure.
1. Look for challenges
People with a fixed mindset may view a challenge as just an opportunity to fail and may shy away from taking on a challenge, but Baker says avoiding challenges only reaffirms the negative views these individuals have of themselves. She encourages people who are afraid of failure to seek a challenge that isn’t going to be life altering if you fail and something that is reasonably difficult, but not impossible. “These challenges can improve confidence and self-esteem while giving you an opportunity to fail; choose to label failure differently and try again hopefully with better outcomes,” says Baker.
2. Take time to reflect
“The best way to convince yourself that your abilities aren’t limited is to show yourself evidence of it,” says Baker. Keeping a journal or scrapbook of your achievements can be great motivation to encourage you to take on future challenges, giving your brain evidence that you are capable and that you have been successful in the past.
3. Start saying the word “yet”
Every time you tell yourself that you can’t do something or that you aren’t ready for something, add the word “yet” to the end of your thought. If you’re asked to speak about a topic at a conference, you may think, “I can’t do that, I don’t know enough.” Saying “I don’t know enough yet” opens the opportunity for you to learn and become knowledgeable enough about the topic. “Simply adding this one word to any of your sentences can immediately shift you from thinking about who you are (or aren’t) to who you might become,” says Baker.
4. Take an outside-in view
It’s common after a failure to feel sorry for yourself, but where we hurt ourselves is when we tell ourselves things like “I’ve failed at this, I’ll never succeed at anything,” or “I shouldn’t have even tried. I’m so stupid.” “It’s completely normal to feel sadness, frustration, disappointment, or anger (but) it becomes unhealthy when it becomes a negative self-talk spiral,” says Baker.
Instead, Baker advises to reflect upon the cause of the failure as an outsider. Examine the decisions you made as well as external forces that were beyond your control. By looking at what happened as an outside investigator, you save yourself from the negative self-talk spiral.
5. Celebrate small wins
To start getting over your fear of failure and develop a growth mindset, start counting the small celebrations in your life. As the small wins start to build up, you’ll feel more comfortable challenging yourself with bigger things. “Stretch yourself and give yourself opportunities to fail on a smaller scale than before (so you can) reframe those failures as learnings,” says Baker. “Over time you will get back to a place where you’re willing to take on the bigger challenges again.”