the paradoxical role of failure in self-driven change

a friend of mine had this insight during our last productivity coaching session:

“the feeling of failure undermines progress, but failure itself is part of the process.” - miriam mack

failure is a tricky thing. many people these days are talking about failure. some of them discuss how failing is an important part of entrepreneurship. others talk about failing small and failing fast as a way to learn. in the case of productivity work, failure plays somewhat of a paradoxical role.

on one hand, failure is a part of the process. any self-driven learning is going to include some failure. i mean, i guess it’s possible that someone wanting to change their life could start and be perfect at it. but i’ve yet to see that happen. so far, my experience is that failure happens because change is hard. the trick is to keep at it. over time, the new practice or habit will stick and eventually it will become more natural than not to do it. that’s where the long-term changes come from.

on the other hand, the feeling of failure is detrimental. it undermines progress. it sets of chemical reactions in your brain that make you want to give up. this reaction is so powerful that self-help experts all over will explain how and why to set yourself up for success. i tell people all the time that done is better than perfect and to set rewards for yourself that encourage your success.

so failure is both a part of the process of change and it’s important to acknowledge that it will happen. it’s also important to minimize the feeling of failure because it undermines your drive to keep trying.

this is tricky thing, but it seems possible to work through the paradox. i’ve done it myself and i see and support other to people do it all the time (my friend, erin, for example…).