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Overcoming Obstacles

Phill Nosworthy August 20th 2019

The English philosopher Bertrand Russell once observed rather accurately that one of the most painful things about our time is that the people who feel the most certainty tend to be the stupid ones - while the ones with the imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision. He made that observation in the middle of last century. But I think it rings very true. Research now even supports his opinion.

Psychologists have shown that the lowest performers are the least aware of their own incompetence. This has been seen across interview subjects, lab technicians and young accountants. The reason is that poor performers fail to learn from their mistakes. So in the strangest of ways I'd like to use an obscure piece of research - something known as the Dunning Kruger effect. If you know that you've failed you instantly find yourself in the company of the intelligent and most self-aware people on the planet. But that would come as cold comfort right.

You do know that failure is actually still a part of the process. It's not something to be avoided. It's definitely not something to be embraced either. It makes me laugh when people say that you should embrace failure. I think even better how about not failing wouldn't that be nice - but it just isn't the way that life works. Failure is the process of learning. The more we can change our relationship to not getting it perfectly right every time the faster we will grow and evolve. So, how do you get the most from failure?
Firstly don't deliberately try and avoid it. People who try to avoid failure usually only ever pursue simple goals and tasks that helps them avoid mistakes and setbacks of all kinds. The problem is your growth and your success will only ever be as big as the challenges that you set for yourself.

Research shows that the goal of avoiding failure is perfectly correlated with having a fixed mindset where you don't think you could possibly learn or get any better. So don't try and avoid failure. If you do fail know that what comes next will define your eventual success or failure.

Dr. Timothy Wilson's research has shown that your interpretation of failure, or literally your next moments reaction to failure is the thing that you need to watch out for most. Imagine you've aced your studies all the way through high school. You'll like an academic God but when you step up to college level your first paper comes back with a D on it. Wilson's research shows that first response to that moment of failure will ultimately define your success throughout your studies. If you freak out and see that D as proof that you won't cut it at this new level you're going to prove yourself right. But if you choose to see that D as a trigger to work harder and tweak your approach success is almost inevitable. Watch for your instant reactions to failure and know that handling it well at that moment will shape your eventual actions and potential for success.

Thirdly and perhaps the most practical tactic on this particular list is to not personalize the failure. Learn to separate your performance from your identity. I have a mentor that continually tells me to do my best and leave the rest.
Finally don't sit in your failure or your success for too long. Don Shula is the coach who has won the most amount of games in NFL history and you know how cutthroat a career that can be when winning and losing is held as the highest ideal and tragedy. He had a simple rule for winning and losing 24 hours to celebrate or lick your wounds and then move on powerfully to whatever needed to happen next. I want to encourage if failure happens. You are up to the challenge - and your growth depends on your ability to pick yourself up and give it another shot.

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