One of the best ways to build confidence is to treat mistakes as learning experiences. I know: That sounds like something you’d see on a sappy motivational poster, but there’s reallyno better way to create a rich and fulfilling life than to get good at failing. So what are the keys to failing well?
Don’t Label Yourself a Failure
The fact that you made a mistake does not mean you are a failure as a human being. Making a mistake is a specific behavior or event. Telling yourself that you are a failure is a global self-judgment. Notice this thought progression:
I made several mistakes on an exam. → I failed the exam. → I am a failure.
A healthier way of looking at this would be:
I made several mistakes on the exam. → I failed the exam. → I need to talk to the professor and make a plan.
Think back to a time wen you “failed” at something. Can you rewrite the story so that you don’t condemn yourself as a human being? Can you see how changing the narrative you tell yourself can build your confidence?
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Although intellectually we know that failing can prove to be a learning experience, it’s still no fun. When a situation doesn’t go as planned, what’s your first instinct? Mentally check any or all that apply.
- I typically look for someone or something to blame.
- I tend to blame myself.
- I avoid thinking about what happened.
- I overeat, overspend, overuse substances, binge-watch TV...
It’s natural to want to avoid uncomfortable feelings. But avoidance leads to more suffering. In addition, avoiding your feelings can actually lead to less effective processing of the experience, meaning you don’t learn as much from it.
It takes bravery not to numb out but to feel the immediacy and rawness of the experience.Sure, sometimes it makes sense to take a break and engage in a distraction if you’re overwhelmed. That’s just good self-care. But don’t stay away too long; know when it’s time to come home to your feelings.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
A few months ago, my husband attended a workshop for psychologists on how to handle giving expert testimony in court. Most people become quite anxious at the thought of testifying in court, and one of the goals of the presentation was to familiarize the audience with how to handle questions that might trip them up. The presenter, a distinguished forensic psychologist who had decades of court testimony experience, said that he’s still asked questions he has no idea how to answer. Although to that point his presentation had been serious in tone, the speaker threw up his arms and exclaimed, “What can I say? I’m a flawed human being!” The nervous psychologists all laughed with relief.
I thought this was a great story: Of course, even “experts” are human. This has become one of my go-to mantras when I’m feeling anxious about a mistake: “Hey, I’m a flawed human being!” I tell myself that, and then I can more quickly move on to assess what, if anything, I need to do to rectify the mistake.
Adapted from The Self-Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem. Copyright © 2018 by Barbara Markway and Celia Ampel.