This Is the Most Productive Way to Handle Any Failure

Science is officially giving you permission to beat yourself up over getting things wrong.

failurehanakaz/ShutterstockFailure is an inevitable part of life. Though science has named these the 5 life skills that promise success, we’re told over and over again that no great success was ever achieved without failure—or many failed attempts. One of life’s most important lessons, therefore, has to be how best to handle failure. But what is the message?

For starters, ignore advice from anyone who tells you, “Don’t beat yourself up about it,” no matter how well-meaning they are. According to new research from the University of Kansas, published online by the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, we absolutely should be beating ourselves up when we fail.

Marketing professor Noelle Nelson and her team found that the more emotional a person’s response is to failure, the more likely they are to achieve better results the next time they tackle a related task.

The researchers carried out three experiments in which undergraduate students were required to perform specific tasks. In one experiment, they were asked to search online for a blender and report the lowest price they could find with the possibility of winning a $50 cash prize. However the task was rigged, and all participants were told (by a computer) that the lowest price was $3.27 less than their reported price. Consequently, no participant won the cash prize.

When the results were revealed, some participants were asked to focus on their emotional response, and others on their cognitive response (i.e. relating to perception, judgment, and reasoning). During the next similar task, participants who focused on their emotional response to failure made more effort than those who focused on a cognitive response. (Did you know that learning to embrace negative emotions can actually make you happier over time?)

Everybody has their own unique challenges, responsibilities, duties, and projects, but these findings are relevant to all of us. Your personal failure may be a cake that fails to rise, a presentation that goes wrong, or a deadline that got missed—It doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you react to it. Instead of thinking about the failure, let yourself feel bad about it. Then follow this advice on how to bounce back after your failure.

“A natural tendency after failure is sometimes to suppress emotions and cognitively rationalize the failure, but if people know the possible negative effects of that behavior, they can override that natural tendency and focus on the negative feelings,” says Nelson, as reported on ScienceDaily. “That should lead to learning and future decision-making that is more positive.”

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