Failing fast sounds simple enough, and it’s become a common mantra in the entrepreneurial space. This mentality affects more than just entrepreneurs, though. Many people preach the power of failure—swift, forward or otherwise—as the key to future success. It’s become a rite of passage these days, where you must flounder in order to prove yourself.
I don’t dismiss the learning experiences and growth that comes from past failures, but I believe it’s much more beneficial to highlight past successes. From a mentality perspective, I can’t stress enough how important it is to approach things with a resilient, success-driven mindset. Letting thoughts of failure creep into your goals and aspirations isn’t productive.
Success Over Failure
When you embrace failure, you’re saying that failing is an inevitable result in your endeavors. Going forward, this mentality then guides your actions—or inactions—which can increase the likelihood of failure. It has an almost cyclical effect.
Statistically speaking, a large majority of startups and business ideas will fail in some way. Whether it’s because of issues related to funding, scaling or launching a viable product, failure is relatively commonplace. It’s something every professional must accept, but putting failure on a pedestal isn’t a constructive way to overcome it.
Back in 2014, I made one of the toughest decisions in my entrepreneurial career when I sold shares of the company I spent nine years building. I hated the thought of selling, and my intent always had been to scale up. After two potential acquisitions fell apart, several staff members left due to the resulting uncertainty.
I could easily have let this failure define me. Instead, it forced me to push through and look outside the traditional business sectors for my next venture: transitioning from financial services to become a winery and brewery owner.
The big difference between a failure mentality and one that focuses on resilience manifests in your attitude and actions. I reflected on the loss, but I quickly moved on to the next challenge. I began thinking about how I could be successful rather than how I could avoid failure. Being resilient made me more opportunistic and determined instead of more hesitant and risk averse—two traits of a failure mentality.
The Resilience Factor
Embracing a resilient, success-driven mentality means casting aside thoughts of failure and allowing your mind to concentrate on the strategic actions necessary to be successful. This is sometimes easier said than done, but the following steps can often help you approach your ventures with a resilience-based mentality:
Taking on a task where success isn’t likely will definitely test your mettle. Doing it every day, on the other hand, can help you develop and strengthen that resilience mentality. After all, repetition begets learning.
Start off easy by creating your own 10-day resilience challenge. Include a good mix of mental and physical activities. My first challenge, for example, consisted of a daily 5-mile run, homemade meals, waking up an hour early (no snooze, of course), asking for a store discount until I got three to agree, and introducing myself to 10 new people within my company every day (among other activities).
To improve your chances of success, consider enlisting a challenge partner. The two of you don’t necessarily need to take on the same tasks, but the reality of having a cohort can help motivate you and keep you accountable throughout the challenge.
2. Monitor your mentality.
Just like you’d track workouts, you should do the same with your mental attitude. Pay attention to when you’re at your highest and lowest, and make an effort to repeat the actions that led to the highs—cast out any actions tied to the lows.
Take 10 minutes every day to write down your daily activities, but don’t bog yourself down with what you did. Dig deeper and detail how you felt as a result of your choices. For instance: “I started the day with a 30-minute run. The sun coming up over the bean field looked amazing.” Or: “I think it’s going to be an outside lecture day so we can all enjoy the fall colors. It’s hard to believe I get paid to do this.”
Noting your attitude in relation to an activity allows for easier reflection on what choices spawned a positive mental state. You can then better arrange your day to maintain a more positive mentality. It also provides you an opportunity to harness any given emotion (even a negative one) to fuel your internal fire for success.
3. Create a positive internal monologue.
Positive affirmations work—let’s get that out of the way. Going through the act of repeating what success looks like to you personally can provide encouragement to continue on your chosen path.
Walk yourself through a situation before it occurs. I do this multiple times for a number of occasions, such as a meeting with my banker. I picture myself wearing a pinstripe suit, a fresh shirt and a striped tie—something I feel powerful in. After shaking hands, I imagine walking my banker into my office and handing him a page that lists the amount of funding we’re requesting as well as our current financials.
I think about how I will remind him of our solid business and upward growth trajectory—that, and how his prior funding helped create that success. I’ll emphasize our appreciation and our excitement in his continued support. I picture him committing that he’ll make it happen, and we end our meeting on positive terms.
You don’t need to get into such detail, but you’ll want to shift your inner monologue from thinking the worst to imagining the ideal outcome. Even if the outcome is questionable, you will increase your chances of success because your approach will be more confident.
4. Develop a short-term memory.
Failure is inevitable, and it doesn’t have to be shameful. When it happens, acknowledge the failure and take the time to reflect on the situation to extract learning and encourage growth. Then, move on. Dwelling on past failures isn’t productive.
There’s a great piece of wisdom in The Optimist Creed: “Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.” Don’t believe it? Watch a child for a few minutes. He or she can transition from a low to a high in a matter of seconds, never thinking twice about a setback.
Failure is an F-word. It’s incredibly common, but that doesn’t mean you should embrace a fail-fast mindset. Adopt a success-driven mindset that emphasizes positive thinking, problem-solving and determination, and you’ll increase your odds of success.
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