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Dec 14, 2021
Failing is an art, and one that we could all stand to master. And it’s becoming clear, as another generation of psychologists, management thinkers, entrepreneurs, athletes and trainers are discovering, that what we should be focusing on, paying homage to — even plastering to the insides of our boardrooms and locker rooms — is the power of losing. If you want to succeed in life, business or sports, then you first have to learn how to fail, fail a lot, and fail well. In today's Daily Dose, we drop some of the most important tips for getting back in the saddle after failure has visited your door. Read on. You'll thank us later.
The Downside of Winning
1 - A National Religion
Hall of Fame pro football coach Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Before Charlie Sheen, before Donald Trump, Americans had anointed Lombardi as the high priest of the nation’s true national religion: not Football, not Christianity, but Winning. And a powerful meme was born, one that was not just catchy and compelling, but one that, as new research and thinking across a range of disciplines suggests, was also largely wrong and (rather ironically) self-defeating.
2 - Success Can Be Misleading
Aside from our feelings toward some winners, winning itself tends to feel pretty good. But it is not always a good thing for you. For one thing, success can be quite misleading as an indicator of an individual, team or company’s underlying merit. Bill Gross, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of the business incubator Idealab, conducted a study of hundreds of startup companies that concluded, somewhat contrary to his own company’s name, that what really drives success — more than the originality of an idea, a good team or a quality business plan — is timing, which accounts for 42 percent of the difference between success and failure.
3 - The Hazards of Complacency
Winning can also make you complacent, by giving you a false sense of your abilities and blinding you to your shortcomings, and once you become content, even arrogant, you stop learning as much or working as hard. Business history, among other things, is littered with the corpses of complacent companies that grew too comfortable and were ultimately beaten by scrappy upstarts. Case in point: Research in Motion (RIM), whose ubiquitous, even iconic, BlackBerry, dominated the market for mobile communications, until it was blindsided by the iPhone and the Android operating system.
4 - The Power of Realistically Positive Thinking
And you don’t have to be successful to be complacent or blind — sometimes just having an unrealistically positive attitude is enough. You shouldn’t forget what you’ve read about “the power of positive thinking,” but you should view it with a healthy dose of skepticism. According to some psychological research, being happy and having an optimistic outlook may have some benefits, but if you are relying on them to bring you attainment and success, then you may be visualizing up the wrong tree. One 2007 study found that moderately happy people were more successful in terms of income, education and political participation than very happy people.
Failure Is Everywhere
1 - Everybody Fails
The good news is that failure, unlike precious metals, is common and valuable. Failure often doesn’t tend to make the headlines unless it’s a Bill Buckneresque choke or a Google Glass flop, but it’s everywhere, including behind the success stories of so-called winners. A tap-dancing act once defeated Bob Dylan’s high school band in a talent competition. “I missed more than 9000 shots in my career, 26 times I was trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed,” no less than basketball legend Michael Jordan once pointed out. “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
2 - Losing Builds Knowledge
We’ve all heard the truism that losing builds character, but more importantly, it builds knowledge and motivation. There is no trial-and-error without error — and lots of it. And mistakes, it turns out, are really a form of wake-up call, even at the molecular level. When we make a mistake, our brain hones in quickly on the source of the problem and raises our attention level when it comes to the next decision so that we do not repeat it. Neuroscientists have discovered that this wake-up call can happen extremely fast in the brain, sometimes even before we are consciously aware of the error. This is one powerful mechanism hard-wired into us (but not utilized) that explains why mistakes can be so conducive to learning.
3 - Failure Is Constructive
Choosing to embrace your failures and learn from them can also be a constructive route to winning. This sort of acceptance applies not just to garden-variety mistakes but to devastating losses as well. Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi is probably best remembered for being the losing pitcher in the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, where he was one strike away from giving the Red Sox their first World Series title since 1918. After retiring, Schiraldi returned to his hometown of Austin, Texas, and had a rewarding career as a coach at St. Michael's Catholic Academy, something he wouldn’t change for the world. “I think I’ve affected a lot more people this way,” Schiraldi reflected in the book, “than if we had won the World Series. I could have been a complete jackass.”
Learning to Fail Better
1 - The Right Message
Just because failure is everywhere and it’s valuable doesn’t mean it has to be rewarded in its own right. One of the more bizarre contradictions of American culture is that even as we valorize winning, we tend to reward losing as well, most notably in the form of the now ubiquitous participation trophies (a $3 billion-a-year industry!), which get handed out like candy in junior sports leagues and send the rather un-motivating message that success is really about just showing up.
2 - The Problem of Too Much Praise
While mistakes can send a wake-up call to your brain, if we are not careful about acknowledging failure, negative feedback can also lead the brain to shut down, ignoring the mistake to avoid feeling bad. Research by a psychology professor at Stanford, Carol Dweck, has shown that an excess of praise and recognition in children can lead to underachievement and an inability to cope with challenges and adversity, which can lead to problems in college, the workplace and later in life.
3 - Small Victories
Part of learning to fail better is to learn to treat the process, and not the outcome, as a series of potential victories. The greatest victories are won behind the scenes, an idea that is backed up by neuroscience, including research into the neurotransmitter dopamine, the so-called “reward molecule.” Dopamine receptors play a key role in forming both good and bad habits, but through your own attitude and behavior, you have the power to boost your own performance, perseverance and outlook by learning to associate task completion with feeling good — essentially administering a hit of dopamine to yourself that will boost your confidence and lead to behavioral reinforcement.
4 - A ‘Blue Ocean of Knowledge’
Despite our abundant experience of failure, there is still so much we do not know about it. Hence, learning more about failure is a big opportunity. But while the topic of failure remains rather taboo among entrepreneurs, athletes and people in general, the good news is that many millennials, raised in the wake of financial crisis, are more open to confronting their fears and failures. Still, studying failure, and learning its many lessons, remains as expert Leticia Gasca puts it, “a blue ocean of knowledge” awaiting a new generation of intrepid explorers.
Good job Henry Mack, Duane Roller, Vidya N and others who've sent in their quiz responses. Keep them coming at: email@example.com.
What Hall of Fame football coach once said “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”?
Which once-popular electronic device fell from grace following the advent of the iPhone?
Which neurotransmitter do scientists call the brain’s “reward molecule”?
Which NBA legend missed more than 9,000 shots in his storied career?
Which Boston Red Sox pitcher famously lost Game 6 of the 1986 World Series?
WHAT TO READ: “Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?” by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz inScientific American examines research suggesting there should be limits to looking on the sunny side of life.
WHAT TO WATCH: Sportswriter Curt Menefee, author of Losing Isn’t Everything, talks about the story of Boston Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi onThe Rich Eisen Show.
On Sunday, we asked for your thoughts on solutions to the southern border issue. Here are some of your top responses (edited for clarity and length):
"Moats and walls are not going to stop what is happening, and it is time to embrace what will happen in the next 100 or so years without fear but to capitalize and direct it rather than have an underground economy that will continue to grow unabated!" — Rob Johnson
"It doesn’t matter what the border solution is because whatever it is is mainly cosmetic. Congress isn’t looking to get rid of illegal immigration, they’re looking to look like they’re looking to get rid of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration can be profitable and no one wants to make their constituents pay ten bucks for a head of lettuce because there’s no labor to harvest them.
A large part of illegal immigration is economic. They come here for jobs, and it’s the availability of jobs that attracts them. Prosecute people and businesses for hiring illegal immigrants if you really want to slow illegal immigration. But Congress won’t prosecute wealthy constituents so expect a lot of cosmetic solutions. Just understand that they’re cosmetic." — Steven Taub
Her name alone is a lightning rod for liberals and conservatives alike, but how well do you really know Ilhan Omar? The congresswoman tells Carlos why Minnesota is the best place in America for whites but not people of color, and the surprising thing she was most nervous about before taking office. To listen to the full, unedited conversation between Carlos and Ilhan Omar, subscribe to the podcast version of the show here: http://podcasts.iheartradio.com/s_34Zjdh
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