4 Steps to Use Failure as Your Stepping Stone

KreekSpeak Mental Toughness Tip: Are You Letting Go?

We’re often told to “let it go”. Bad relationships. Toxic people. Negative feelings. Mistakes. Failure. But how do we actually practice ‘letting go’?  

I’m no stranger to failure in my personal, athletic and professional life. I even did a TEDx talk on the power of non-attainment (Adam Kreek, TEDx). I believe that having a constructive relationship with failure is necessary to living the good life.

For your amusement, I’ll recount one of the first speeches I gave. It was in a school gymnasium packed with high school students and teachers. I stood up to speak and promptly forgot what I was going to say. My nerves got the best of me, to say the least. After the speech, I was red faced and felt awful. The audience felt worse. How awkward. Then came the worst part. The principal approached me, shook my hand, and told me, “I’m so sorry!  That was the worst speech I have ever heard.  You must feel awful!  At least it’s good for the kids to see someone who is successful, fail.”  She was trying to be nice, but it made me want to crawl into a hole and die. Following this experience, I was forced to learn to let go of regret, shame and guilt of failure. Were I to ever speak publicly again, this process emerged as essential.

This is the strategy that I use to let go of my feelings of regret, shame and guilt after any significant failure:

  1. Reflect
  2. Learn
  3. Grow
  4. Let it Go
Reflect, Learn, Grow, Let it go
After failure? Reflect, learn, grow, let it go.

1. Reflect. Explore what is. Take a step back, and decouple the event from your related emotion. Both are important to consider, but two separate animals. Seek to understand each in full. Do not hide the facts, nor your feelings, in a little black box. To gain the most benefit from your failure, you must explore both the facts of the circumstance and your emotional reaction, with the intention of gaining clarity about what transpired and how you handled the event.  Be patient.

Too often, we rush through this step of reflection to avoid the discomfort of negative feelings. Rushing is counter productive, as these emotions will resurface and hold you back in the future. Taking the time to expose emotions in appropriate timelines allows us to move forward, unhindered. Sometimes all it takes is self-acknowledgment of feelings and wrongdoings to allow ourselves to release them.

2. Learn. You are often most creative on the rebound from catastrophe. What did you learn about your actions that helped or hindered your result?  What did you learn from your reaction that served you well or otherwise?  What did you do well?  What could you change?  What would you take forward, or leave behind?

Back to basics. Write it out or type it out. List everything you have learned from your failure. Getting thoughts out of your mind and into another medium helps to facilitate the process of letting go. You learn and think much better when you move the analysis from your head onto paper.

3. Grow. What has changed?  What new habits will you adopt?  Have you set new boundaries?  Have you clarified self-expectations and expectations of others?  This step is the final and key action step to letting go of feelings of regret, failure, guilt, shame.  These are counterproductive emotions that will hold back your progress post-failure.

Address in writing how you will put each learning into daily or situational action. Anticipate the barriers that will stop you from achieving your goal. Tell someone about your reflections and new path forward.  Your new habits will predicate your readiness for the final step.

Your new habits will only become solidified if you mentor someone who has gone through a similar challenge.  When you teach what you have learned, you solidify the habit change and are then ready to turn your shameful disgrace into a proud stepping stone towards a better life.

4. Let it go. Let it go. Move forward confidently, knowing your past failure is now a badge of honour.  Your failure is firmly planted in your past, serving as a growth opportunity to better your present.

Now you can do a dance and sing like Elsa from the movie Frozen.  “Let it go.  Let it go!  Can’t hold it back anymore…”

What do you need to let go of?

Stay in action after failure

Send Adam Kreek a message on Twitter @adamkreek. You can also find more tips to improve your body, mind and soul on the Don’t Change Much website or through Adam’s column on CBC Sports.

Adam delivers authentic keynotes, workshops and seminars for corporate, government and not-for-profit organisations worldwide.  Please contact us for information about our offerings.