“This is how nature works — evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building on what works.”
— Quote from Rework, by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
Learn From Success More Than From Failures
It’s okay to fail — we already covered that — but when you fail, and you’ve more or less figured out why, don’t dwell on it. Save that kind of thinking for success, not failure. Feel free to dwell on past successes when you need encouragement because that is reinforcing what you did right in the past, helping you feel presently successful, and setting you up for future success.
Think of a baby learning to walk. They may cry for a minute if they hurt themselves, but generally they get over it and keep trying. They wobble along until eventually they no longer remember what being unsteady was like.
Now imagine a baby who acted like some of us adults do, drowning in constant self-criticism. This baby would sit on the floor playing back the falls, analyzing why they happened, or how to perhaps avoid them, or if there might be a pattern. This baby would do only the safest thing – crawl, or cruise on furniture. This baby might even try walking alone, but carefully sit down as soon as things looked precarious. In short, this baby might not ever learn to walk, because this baby was cursed with insecurity, fear of failure, over-analysis, and not being able to walk perfectly on the first try. This baby learned all the wrong lessons from one experience of falling, focusing on failure only, instead of all the successful steps that came before — preventing any more successful steps from following. That is negative backwards thinking, like staring glumly at the only cloud in an otherwise blue sky; it is as futile as trying to make constellations out of the black parts of the sky, instead of using the brightly-lit stars to “connect the dots”.
Now imagine coaching a baby to walk. Do you say, “You stupid kid. You took three steps, but then you fell on the fourth one. Give up already.” No! You encourage, clap, cheer, break out the camera, and call others into the room. You count each wobbly step or growing distance as a new victory. If this is your first child, the first step probably merits several phone calls, or a ten-minute entry in the baby book, and endless praise, kisses, and cheers.
And that’s the kind of attitude you still deserve for all your efforts — applaud each victory, replay each success, emphasize everything done well. Pat yourself on the back when you persevere. Don’t become an egotistical maniac who believes they’re never wrong. Just don’t wallow in your mistakes; be grateful when things go well for you, then keep going in that direction.
People respond much better to praise than criticism — and that includes you, when you’re talking to yourself. You’ll perform better, you’ll learn faster, and you’ll be happier.