Why Failure Is Key To Success


Fear of failure is a driving force behind self-doubt; yet failure is deeply misunderstood by most of us. Contrary to what you may think, failure is a necessary component of success. If you don’t fail, you can’t get better. Failure provides you with an opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. It gives you a chance to learn, explore, and tweak. Nearly all successful people have failed, multiple times, before they were considered a success - Jerry Seinfeld completely froze the first time he attempted to do standup - he was actually booed off stage. Elvis was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was told he should go back to driving a truck. And Oprah Winfrey was publicly fired from her first television job for getting "too emotionally invested in her stories." Imagine if any of them had quit that day. But they persisted, learned from their experiences, and used their setbacks as fuel for success. Look at Michael Jordan, who was actually cut from his high school basketball team, who once said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

We are all going to experience setbacks in life and things that challenge our belief in ourselves; and that is why the stories we tell ourselves matter. Those stories are based on what we think we can and can’t do, or who we think we are or aren’t. This not only impacts how we approach a new task or challenge, but also the decisions we make on a daily basis. Things like what we eat, if and how we move our body, whether we socialize with friends and family, when and how much we sleep, and how we manage stress. It shapes what we prioritize and whether we think we can change course or create new habits. How much we believe in ourselves ultimately shapes the quality of our life. That’s an extremely powerful tool at our disposal.

In fact, I would argue that there isn’t anything more powerful than being able to achieve what you want by simply believing that you can. It is a real life human super power because how you perceive yourself, for better or worse, is entirely in your control. This also means that it is malleable - you can mold and shape it into something new, if you want to. How you see yourself today, doesn’t have to be how you see yourself tomorrow. How much you believe in your own abilities can grow and change...it just takes practice.

Two great ways to cultivate that practice and increase your self-efficacy are to reflect on your past accomplishments and reflect on failure. Reflecting on past accomplishments helps identify the strengths you utilized previously, so that you can leverage them again. Reflecting on a failure helps you to learn from it, and reframe it as a way to get better.

Try both of these tools as an exercise in increasing your self-efficacy.

  • First, think about a past accomplishment - a time when you were able to succeed at something. It can be related to health and wellness or it can be any other aspect of your life but it should be something you are proud you achieved because you had to work at it or it wasn’t easy. Once you have it in your mind, ask yourself:

    • What helped you be successful?

    • What elements or personal strengths were you able to draw upon in order to succeed?

  • Then, shift your focus and think of a time you tried something and failed. It can be something small or big. Something that happened today or 10 years ago. Think about what happened. Run through it again in your mind.

    • What did you learn from that experience?

    • What would you do differently if you were to try again?

  • There are no right or wrong answers and there shouldn’t be any judgment. This is purely about reflecting and learning from the experience.  

While the idea of self-efficacy may seem grandiose or even cheesy, the truth is that you can only achieve what you believe you can. Henry Ford was right - “whether you believe you can or you can’t,  you are right.”