Why I'm Allowing Myself to Get Bummed Out by Failure in Order to Succeed

Flowers in ice

We're here again. I've got my head buried in a pile of pillows on the couch and I'm taking short intense breaths. On the inside I feel like smashing something to pieces and jump and run and scream really loud all at the same time. Yet, I remain completely still on the couch, like a bag of potatoes (style note: not one of those boring brown colored bags of potatoes, but one with a floral pink pyjamas and fluffy grey sweater). Yes, this my friend, is what my creative frustrations and failures look like.

This strong emotional reaction is what happens in me when an idea or project I had envisioned doesn't quite turn out like I had planned or hoped for. It's the disappointment of facing the gap between my ambitious fantasies and my earthly reality. In that moment it's not even about things like self doubt or low self confidence, I'm just filled with burning irritation and passionately hating the thing I've just created.

Most recently I've come to encounter these feelings in the process of taking, or I should say, making pictures. I'm using the word “making” pictures since my style has become more thoughtful and styled recently, instead of mundanely captured everyday moments.

But anyways, back to the feeling of creative failure. When I find myself in these situations there's often an internal dialogue that starts playing inside my head, one that can be quite contradictory. On the one hand I think “come on, it's not that serious, just let it go and move on”. I will start to look for rational explanations to why my idea didn't work and try to analyze my way through it. On the other hand, I just feel really bummed out and disappointed and want to cry a little. I had secretly hoped I would impress myself and now just I feel disappointed that I didn't.

So, the question then becomes, what would be a constructive way of dealing with these feelings? Because it's pretty safe to assume that there will plenty of more of these situations in the future, so maybe it would be good idea to have a method to dealing with them instead of taking it all out on our poor couch pillows?

Well, actually it turns out that my “bury the head in pillows” tactic is a pretty good method. According to a study done at Stanford University people who allow themselves to get affected by failure emotionally, rather than cognitively,  will actually be more likely to succeed when faced with the same task in the future.

People who approach it from a more cognitive aspect and try to think themselves through it by reasoning end up often justifying to themselves why they failed. The study suggests that that can be a self protective thing which can make you less likely to learn and develop from the experience, as opposed to someone who really takes it personally. The theory is that by allowing yourself to get emotionally engaged in the feeling of failure you will be more motivated to try harder next time and put in more effort, all in order to avoid those nasty feelings.

I've always been quite a dramatic and emotional person so this is game changing information for me. No more of trying to convince myself I shouldn't get so affected when things don't go my way, instead I can now allow myself to feel bummed out because I know that I can use that energy as a motivator next time.

Wohoo for being a sensitive person who doesn't deal well with losing or failing!

So there you have it, now you have science saying it's ok to become emotional after you've worked really hard for something you didn't get. Use that knowledge to get really productive instead and make sure to learn from the experience.

Sleeping with books and butterflies

How do you react to failure? Can you recognize if you're more prone to react emotionally or rationally? I would love to hear about your experiences.

I first stumbled upon the study through the podcast The Good Life Project, link here.

For the full study in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, link here.