You Learn More From Your Failures? I Disagree


How many times have you been told that you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes? It’s conventional wisdom, and I get it. But I always felt there was something wrong with it.

Mistakes tell you what not to do. That’s good as far as it goes. But knowing what not to do still doesn’t help you with exactly what you should do.

Yes, it’s important to not be afraid of temporary failure. If you’re worried about that, you will never try great or “impossible” things. By all means, fail away!

But, I like to study my successes. What did I do right? How can I repeat that? How can I do it even better next time?

This especially helps me when I’m feeling down, or like I can’t do it. I think back over all the times where I figured it out – where I did what was necessary to succeed. Then, I repeat what I did right. It lifts me out of my funk time and time again.

If you want to do well at something, don’t you try to emulate the people who are the best at it? If you want to learn how to throw a baseball, do you watch someone who is making mistakes or do you watch a major league pitcher?

A study from Vanderbilt University gives us another reason “learning from your mistakes” might not be all that we’ve been told.

The experiment was about self-control. Some of the participants were asked to focus on their self-control successes while others were told to focus on their self-control failures.

Everyone was then given a budget and choices on how to spend their money. Sure enough, the ones who focused on when they did well were able to stick to their budget more than the ones who focused on when they did poorly.

I think this is true for more than self-control. Regardless of what you’re working on, if you reflect on the times when you succeeded you will be primed for more success. The opposite happens when you focus on your failures.

Bonus: Thinking about your successes feels great and motivates you! Thinking about your failures? Not so much.

Why would you want to be a failure because you keep thinking about failing?

Action steps:

1) Remind yourself that you will have to go through some temporary failures as you journey the path to success, and that’s ok. You’re trying new, great, and maybe even “impossible” things, the road will not always be smooth.

2) Learn from your mistakes by getting clear on what went wrong and how you can make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again.

3) But, Focus on your successes. Think about how you learned what you needed to know, how you performed the way you needed to perform, and how you became the person you needed to become. Repeat your success patterns as often as you can.

Let’s GO!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that I view as rude, snarky, mean or off-topic. Hey, this is to support each other and have fun! Let's Go!

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