7 steps to transform failure into simple feedback

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

A few month ago I vowed on Facebook to give up processed sugar for 30 days.

Well, I cheated.

I ate sugar within those 30 days.

My effort failed.

Haven’t I said in the past, “View all failure as feedback.“?

Those are wise words, but easier said than done. Because failure often feels like, well, failure.

So I discovered 7 steps to help you transform failures into simple feedback.

One of the biggest secrets to achieving your life and career goals is to try, gather the feedback from your efforts, consider how you can do it better next time, and then try again.

What makes that simple formula complicated are those pesky feelings of fear that can prevent us from trying again or even trying in the first place.

Returning to my pursuit to give up sugar for 30 days…I mostly gave it up.

My quest was made more difficult because I was in Spain for 21 of the 30 days. I’m a vegetarian, and the meals in Spain were extremely meat heavy. Most menus had nary a vegetarian offering.

My first sugar cheat was at a work dinner. It was a fixed, meaty menu, so the chef was preparing something especial for me.

And special it was.

For the main course, the server plopped in front of me a mound of steamed okra with not even a scoop of rice to go with it. Okra is possibly the only vegetable that I don’t like, so at the end of the meal when they served chocolate mousse cake with homemade pistachio ice cream, I caved.

After the meal, I felt rotten. I had announced to the world that I would not eat sugar for 30 days. Yet, I did.

I even posted the incident to Facebook vowing to not cheat again….but I did.

In the end, I ate sugar about 3 times during my 30 days.

I felt embarrassed by my failure, so I didn’t do another update on Facebook. That is until I started to realize how much I had learned (and relearned) from this seemingly failed experiment.

First and foremost, I learned that I feel better, lighter, more energetic, and crave less junk food in general when I’m eating less sugar.

Second, I relearned that slip-ups are a natural part of any bid to change a habit, so I need to be gentle on myself.

Third, I learned when I was most susceptible to eating sugar. For example, I shouldn’t try to change a dietary habit right before a 3-week work trip.

And fourth, I relearned that life is sweet, so even if I strive to be healthy, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a piece of pie from time to time. I live in Belgium, for crying out loud, so why would I deprive myself of the world’s best chocolate??

The real truth is my 30-day sugar experiment wasn’t a failure at all – it was quality feedback on how I can healthfully incorporate sugar into my diet.

Today, I have no sugar cravings, I only eat processed sugar as a treat, I’m eating less junk food overall, and I have more energy.

Hmmm….that sounds like more than feedback – that could even be considered success.

The following are 7 steps to help you transform failure into simple feedback:

1. Think about a goal you tried to achieve, an old habit you tried to change, or a new habit your tried to adopt that you think you failed at

Did your effort to learn Spanish fizzle after 2 weeks? Did your attempt to give up wine last until happy hour? Or best yet, did you try to give up sugar for 30 days and caved?

2. Make a list of all the things you learned from the effort

Identify when you were prone to slip-ups, think about when you were most self-critical, identify the times when you felt best about yourself.

3. Consider how well the goal or habit fits into your lifestyle

Maybe you’re just fine with your old habit or the new habit doesn’t really serve you. Try to decide if the habit or goal is well worth pursuing for you. Or maybe there’s a better time to pursue it.

4. If you were to try again, what would you do differently?

Consider your answers to steps 2 and 3. Taking what you learned into consideration, how would you do things differently?

5. Try to replace the word “failure” with “feedback”

When talking to yourself or others about your pursuit, replace the word “failure” with “feedback.” Make the word feedback synonymous to success – because learning is the ultimate form of success.

Here’s an example: “I tried to do a headstand at yoga class once and fell so hard and loud that I scared the bajeezus out of the whole class. That spectacular fall was such a feedback because it taught me how to fall in a way so I wouldn’t hurt myself.” (Yes, that happened to me.)

6. Be gentle

I have my moments when I’m pretty hard on myself for not doing things perfectly. So being gentle on myself is something I have to constantly remind myself.

Failure – uh, I mean, feedback is an inevitable part of any challenging endeavor. So instead of being hard on yourself, give yourself a gentle pat on the back for having the guts to try.

7. Try again!

This is the secret sauce to success, so allow me to repeat it:

1. Try
2. Gather feedback
3. Make adjustments
4. Try again

To quote author Richard Yates: “If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail – it takes back bone to lead the life you want.”

I challenge you to straighten your back bone and give a past “feedback” another try. See what you learn and how you can improve.

I’d love to know, what have you learned from your past feedbacks? Post a comment below.

And I’d be ever so grateful if you shared it with a few friends. xoxo

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