Why dwelling on failure is the route to future success


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Study found if you embrace failure and negative emotions it makes you do better 

Those told to think emotionally after fail put more effort into a similar task later 

Those instructed to think rationally protected ego by saying they tried their best

Following a bad mistake, well-meaning friends and colleagues will tell you not to beat yourself up.

But feeling upset and berating yourself for your stupidity may actually be the way to go.

A study has found people who embrace their failure and the negative emotions it causes do better next time.

Those told to think emotionally after failing to find a low-priced deal in a task put more effort into a similar challenge afterwards, setting themselves up to succeed.

But those instructed to think rationally about their mistake fell into the trap of protecting their ego by thinking they did their best, it could not be helped and did not matter. While this may give people a better night’s sleep, it stops them trying harder to succeed.

The results of the study led by Kansas University support the advice of millionaire Sir Richard Branson, whose advice is to ‘pick yourself up, brush yourself off, don’t let your ego get the better of you’.

The study’s co-author, Dr Selin Malkoc from Ohio State University, said: ‘All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad. But we found the opposite.

‘When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions – when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.’

Failure has been credited by moguls from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates for helping them achieve success. Irish playwright Samuel Beckett famously wrote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again.’

The US researchers asked 98 people to search online for a blender with specific characteristics at the lowest price, to win a cash prize. The study was rigged so that participants were told they had missed a blender almost £2.50 cheaper.

Half the group were told to focus on their emotional response to losing, with the other half instructed to focus on their thoughts about how they did.

However the thinking group, asked to write down their thoughts, displayed far more self-protective thoughts than self-improvement thoughts. The comments from these people included ‘This wasn’t my fault’ and ‘I could not have found it even if I tried.’

Both groups were then asked to perform a similar task, searching for the lowest-price book within their budget.

Those who thought emotionally spent 25 per cent more time searching, which in real life would better set them up to succeed.  

Explaining the result, Dr Malkoc said: ‘If your thoughts are all about how to distance yourself from the failure, you’re not going to learn from your mistakes.’

She added: ‘Emotional responses to failure can hurt. They make you feel bad. That’s why people often choose to think self-protective thoughts after they make mistakes.

‘But if you focus on how bad you feel, you’re going to work harder to find a solution and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.’ 

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