How often do you fail? If making an impact while achieving high-levels of success is important to you, then your answer should be (a semi-enthusiastic) “all the time”. Deep down, you know that failure provides new growth and learning for future successes and yet you probably try to avoid it at all costs. You might even pretend you haven’t failed when you clearly have (don’t worry, it’s a common phenomenon).
Failure – even the thought of failing – creates internal resistance and fear. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to begin feeling more self-confident after you’ve failed while adopting a fail-forward mentality. It’s the key to success (and also an important part of being happy).
Table of Contents
What It Means to Fail-Forward
Have you heard the term failing forward? John C. Maxwell wrote a book about it (which I highly recommend).
The short-hand version of what the book is about is this:
- People who succeed aren’t luckier or more blessed than those who don’t (and they don’t succeed because of background, family, or money either). The difference between those who achieve great things and those that don’t is how they perceive and respond to failure.
- Most people aren’t prepared to deal with failure in a way that helps them succeed. Instead of embracing failure, it’s feared. And that leads most to do whatever they can to not fail and avoid risk.
- If you want to succeed in life and make the biggest impact, then you must make failure your friend. That means to (1) accept that you’ll fail (and that you’ll never know when or what you’ll fail at), (2) courageously move forward despite your fears, and (3) figure out how to deal with problems instead of actively trying to avoid them.
Why Failing Forward Results In Feeling More Self-Confident
You might believe that you prefer a life that’s risk-averse and simpler than one of failure… but are you so sure? Although that might make you initially feel better, it will eventually lead to a life controlled by fear.
Failure happens, regardless of whether you accept it or not. If you don’t deal with your fears, then they’ll grow and eventually take over. By ignoring your fears and “playing it safe”, you’ll be living with constant fear and will also have left your dreams behind. That will lead to nothing but regret and disappointment in yourself (that you didn’t have the courage to go after your big dreams).
But if you accept that failure is part of life, a way to learn and grow, and the BEST way to succeed in life, you’ll actually be diminishing some of those fears. Because you’ll no longer be allowing them to control you. That’s what courage is.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather face my fears and move beyond them. Even if your fears don’t disappear, it’s better to act courageously than allow fear to fester within your subconscious and take control over you.
Self-Confidence When Failing Forward
If you want to adopt a fail-forward attitude, you must understand how failure affects your mentality. Because there’s nothing like a failure to send your self-confidence into a downward spiral.
The truth is: self-confidence is negatively impacted by failure, regardless of whether you agree with the concept of failing forward and no matter your current mindset. Human beings aren’t wired to accept failure without any impact.
Part of adopting a fail-forward attitude means putting into place practices and strategies that are designed to continually build and maintain your self-confidence levels. Otherwise, your fail-forward attitude will eventually dwindle, you’ll begin to fear failure, and you’ll start avoiding it altogether. And we’ve been over why you don’t want to do that.
[Recommended Reading: How to Keep Building Self-Confidence as a High-Achieving Professional].
How to Begin Feeling More Self-Confident (After Failing)
When it comes to cultivating and maintaining your self-confidence levels when adopting a fail-forward lifestyle, there are two key areas in which to focus:
- Focus Area #1: How to cultivate higher levels of self-confidence no matter what’s going on in life.
- Focus Area #2: How to begin feeling more self-confident after it’s taken a hit due to a perceived failure.
4 Strategies That Cultivate Self-Confidence While Living a Fail-Forward Lifestyle
Strategy #1: Building New Knowledge and Skill Development.
Self-confidence obviously takes a hit when you don’t know something or lack necessary skills. The easiest fix is to beef up your knowledge and/or skills where it makes sense. But there’s more to it than that.
When you’re focused on learning as much as possible and building new skills, you’re preemptively guarding yourself against some of your biggest confidence killers: failures due to your weaknesses or lack of knowledge. This doesn’t mean that you won’t still fail, but it does help you from taking failure too personally.
If you’ve done all you can by striving to learn, grow, and develop then you’ll be as prepared as possible. You’ll have done your best. Not only does that increase self-confidence, but it allows you to not feel as badly when failures happen – regardless of the reason behind your failure. And it also helps create a willingness to take calculated risks (and hence stay true to the fail-forward attitude).
Strategy #2: Forgive Yourself Often.
Research shows that being able to forgive yourself is a key driver for success. You must accept your failure fully and forgive yourself if you want to learn and grow from it. This approach will motivate you to improve, hence aiding in your success.
Here’s the thing: you must be able to learn from your mistakes if you want to adopt a fail-forward attitude. And part of learning from your mistakes includes letting go so that you can move on. It doesn’t help to obsess over your mistakes. You can’t move on if you’re unable to forgive yourself for any perceived wrong that aided in your failure.
So, how do you forgive yourself? It’s all about being compassionate to yourself – as you would be with someone you care about. Here are a few tips for self-forgiveness:
- Create a ritual to follow every time you need to forgive yourself. This will make it easier to get started and help to make it a habit.
- Start by identifying what needs to be forgiven and why you need to forgive yourself.
- Don’t get stuck in the story or allow yourself to devolve into negative self-talk. Once you identify what you’re forgiving and why, quickly and move on.
- Ask yourself how you would advise your best friend in the same situation – and then take your own advice.
Strategy #3: Manage Your Inner Critic.
Everyone has an inner critic (even those perceived as successful). Your inner critic is the voice inside your head that says things like:
- “I’ve really messed this up again. I can’t do anything right.”
- “I didn’t perform well on that project, so shouldn’t take on another one like that.”
- “I’m not as smart as everyone else and have just been lucky. One day, everyone will figure that out and expose me as a fraud.”
This negative self-talk is a symptom of self-doubt and limits your ability to believe in yourself and your abilities. It’s preventing you from achieving your full potential. In my experience of coaching high-performers, I’ve found that it manifests in 2 primary ways: (1) grinding over decisions to ensure everything turns out “just right” or “perfectly” and (2) second-guessing past decisions.
The good news is that you can manage – even prevent – negative self-talk through simple mindset practices. The key is to focus on cultivating a growth-oriented, mentally resilient mindset. To start cultivating and strengthening the right mindset, utilize the following 3 simple practices every day:
- Practice gratitude: find 3 things every day to be grateful for and write them down.
- Self-affirmations: self-affirm your capabilities realistically and specifically.
- Practice kindness: Be kind to, give a compliment to, and/or express your appreciation to someone every day (this can be to a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a stranger).
[Recommended Reading: for more about how to practice affirmations (in a way that actually works) read How You Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety Without Giving Up Your Lifestyle].
Strategy #4: Face and Manage Your Fears.
The funny thing about fear is that it grows and takes control when you do nothing about it yet diminishes to something manageable (and sometimes disappears) when you face it. So, the question is: how do you face your fears?
Here’s how to get started in facing and managing your fears:
- Name your fear. This is simple, yet powerful. Name what it is that you fear and be specific.
- Identify how your fear is limiting you. This will show you that there might be something to fear on the other side too (hence giving you some courage to do something differently and make a needed change).
- Challenge your fear. Ask whether it’s really likely to happen the way that you fear it? How likely is it? How bad would it even be should it happen? This has a way of making you realize that your fear has grown out of proportion to what’s realistically likely to happen. And it will also help your mind start coming up with solutions. You’ll no longer be a victim, but a strategist.
[Recommended Reading: for more about how to overcome fear and increase self-confidence, read 7 Effective Tools for Building Self-Confidence & Taking Control of Your Life].
4 Steps to Feeling More Self-Confident After a Perceived Failure
Step #1: Provide Context.
You’re not defined by the outcome of your actions, but by your behavior and your values. Context is about reminding yourself that you aren’t the sum of your failures (or even your successes).
When providing context, proactively remind yourself that:
- You’re not truly failing so long as you’ve learned something.
- You can incorporate what you learn into future actions, which will ultimately lead to better and more success.
- You aren’t the sum of your achievements, but instead the sum of your behavior and values.
- You’ve failed before and you were able to learn from it, let go, and move forward. You’re still here and fine, and will be tomorrow despite this failure.
Step 2: Take Responsibility to Proactively Learn From Your Failure.
Once you’ve provided context, it’s time to see what can be learned from your failure. It’s not enough to remind yourself that you can learn (you must proactively do it).
Get started by asking questions that get to the heart of why you failed, what could be done differently, and how you can incorporate what you’re learning into future actions. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What could you have done differently or planned around?
- Do you need to correct a mistake or apologize for something? If so, how?
- What have you learned that will make you better prepared and stronger in the future?
- How will you incorporate what you’ve learned into future actions?
Step 3: Let Go and Move On.
Once you’ve provided context and analyzed what can be learned, it’s time to let go and allow yourself a break from it all. The last thing you want to do is to obsess over and over-analyze what went wrong. That tends to lead to incorrect conclusions and can batter your self-confidence further (the opposite of what you’re aiming to do).
To help you with this, surround yourself with supportive people you trust who can help you to move on. Do something you enjoy and that’s unrelated to whatever it was that you failed at. This will help you to break free and move on.
If you want to move on, you need to have the right mindset (one that’s resilient and growth-oriented). And there are practices that you can adopt to help you do that. For help with this, grab hold of 8 proven strategies to help you (1) increase mental resilience, (2) decrease stress, and (3) change how you relate to your thoughts:
Step 4: Reflect On Past Failures That Led to Success.
Although this step might seem similar to Step 1, it’s slightly different. Look to specific times when you’ve failed that led to later successes. Ask yourself what you learned from it and then how that helped you to succeed later on.
This process will further remind you of why you believe in failing-forward while helping you feel more confident in your next steps.
Your Next Steps
Something that I find interesting is that my clients rarely bring self-confidence up as an issue they want help with when we first speak. Yet it’s one of the things I end up coaching around the most.
They come to me highly successful yet they’re mentally drained, physically exhausted, and utterly unfulfilled. Their biggest problem is that they don’t feel comfortable saying “no” or doing things on their own terms (yet very much want to). And let me tell you: that’s all about self-confidence and having the right mindset.
When working with my clients, I help them to develop a mentally resilient, growth-oriented mindset that empowers them to start being unapologetically themselves, say “no” when they want to, and achieve success on their own terms. Like my clients, you too can develop this mindset.
Until next time…
P.S. Don’t forget to download these 8 powerful strategies to change how you relate to your thoughts, be more resilient, and feel less stressed (they’ll help you feel calmer, more confident, and in control)!