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  • Shane Thomas

Striving for Self-Improvement? You Don't Need Failure

All of us want to self- improve in some, or many areas of our lives. Whether it is in our careers, our fitness journey or simply our goal to get better at a hobby. In order to get better, we have to practice, act deliberately, and increase the repetition of what we are trying to progress at. Along the way we often hear the quotes “you learn more from losing than you do from winning” and “failure is the best teacher” – or variations of these that failure is the best way to improve. While I agree there is value in failing and learning from that failing, it isn’t the whole story. The value mentioned is in the “pain”. It is in the self induced beating of our ego that pushes us. However, it isn’t only the pain. It is what that pain forces us to do; reflect.


Formula for improvement: Pain + Reflection = Progress


Psychologically we want to overcome this cognitive abuse of our ego, so we work to improve and get through it. Or give up. If it is something we are passionate about, we opt for the former. If we lack passion or grit, we opt for the latter. Just like with physical pain; if we touch a hot pot we immediately pull our hand away to mitigate the discomfort.


But if we are aren’t experiencing the pain of failure, does that mean we can’t improve?


Maybe we have a knack for something, play on an undefeated sports team or maybe we don’t have the luxury of constructive feedback in our office setting to know if we are “failing”.


If we go back to the formula for improvement there is another component – reflection; the most important piece of the formula. Reflection even in times of winning, getting 100% on our professional designation exam or even upon a successful pitch to a client.


Ask yourself – Where could I streamline this process to become more efficient? Am I aiming high enough? What might I do differently next time to minimize the risk? Who can I ask for advice from? Why was this approach successful? What would have to be true/change for this situation to have turned out differently? Another option is to go decision by decision and “game theory” out the scenario’s, think back and put probabilities on the range of potential outcomes - this will help you improve even without the aspect of failure or set back. Thinking constructively about the process and the outcomes with an open mind is the best way to push yourself to improve.


The opportunity for improvement is not limited to unsuccessful outcomes. The opportunity for improvement is only limited by the quality of our reflection. Failure isn’t the best teacher, reflection is.

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