By Jonathan 3 Comments

Learning From Success Versus Learning From Failure

Some people will tell you that failure is a good thing because that is how we learn.

I disagree.

A failure may well lead us towards learning something, but that does not mean that failure is how we learn, only that it is possible to fail and still learn something.

Think about it, what does a failure really teach you?

It teaches you that you did something wrong. How did knowing you did something wrong ever teach you how to do something right?

I know your thinking right now of a million examples, and your brains automatic response mechanisms are hard at work right now trying to prove me wrong. That is only natural, what I am saying goes against the commonly accepted truth.

I remember as a very young child having my mouth washed out with soap because I said a “bad” word. I don’t remember what that word was, why I said it, or to whom I said it to. I had certainly failed to do something, and in this case it was a failure to respect the linguistic limitations set by my father. But did I learn anything of value? Hardly. I learned nothing about language, how to use it, the effect of words on people, etc. Nothing. If anything at all, I may have learned to keep my mouth shut, but I don’t know, it was a long time ago, there are any number of factors that may have resulted in my shyness as a child.

Think about training a dog

If you are a dog lover then you know that training a puppy is one of the most rewarding and also trying experiences we can have.

You will also have discovered that negative re-enforcement is almost always completely ineffective when it comes to shaping a puppy’s behaviour. If a puppy does something wrong, such as peeing on the rug, or chewing your shoe, and you punish him for it, he does not learn not to pee on the rug or not to chew your shoes. He learns to pee on the rug in an area you won’t notice right away, and to make damn sure the next time he chews on a shoes that he eats it too in order to cover all traces of his indiscretion.

He hasn’t learned from his failure, he has learned to hide his failure.

We humans do the same thing.

On the other hand, when you offer a dog praise for doing his business in the yard, very quickly (unless he is a Chihuahua) he learns that works. He has become successful in making you happy, and he does not forget how to make you happy in the future (again, unless he is a Chihuahua, they rely on cuteness to compensate for their lack of respect for your carpet).

Failure is discouraging, success is affirming

When you fail, and especially when you fail consistently without any success, you will quickly find yourself discouraged. How much have you ever learned when you were discouraged?

Children in school who are constantly discouraged give up. They don’t learn from their failure, they learn to accept their failure. But if they are lucky enough to receive the right kind of help, and are able to experience some degree of success, they begin to learn again.

The lesson always comes from the success, not the failure.

If you are failing at something, the correct course of action is to find out why, and remedy the situation, not kid yourself into thinking there is a lesson in it for you.

We will fail in life, there is no question about it, the most that failure can ever do is teach of what not to do. If life only ever offered us two ways of doing things, then failure would be a fantastic way to learn. But life doesn’t give us such an easy choice, and that means that failure is a very inefficient way to learn. Few of us possess the tenacity to fail long enough to learn how to do it right.

A game of roulette

Winning at roulette is easy. Just bet on a number. If you don’t win, bet on another number. If you still don’t win, then bet on a third number. Just keep betting on numbers, and eventually you will win.

But all of those failures will certainly cost you.

If failure it starting to get the better of you, then find some success so you can learn from that. If you don’t have any of your own, learn from the success of others.

Do not let failure turn you into a quitter.

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3 Comments:

  • Jonathan says:

    Hi Kimya,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Is there something wrong with your site? I went to check it out and the only content on the front page was a giant Google ad.

  • Rachelle says:

    Why are you harping on Wilson? He may be a spoiled, annoying chihuahua at times but despite the fact that he may not have learned his training at all, he has learned something else: when he shows his love to those around him they can’t help but love him back. I think this is a pretty valuable lesson, no? :P

    Anyway, I had started a response to this article but it got a bit lengthy so I decided to make a blog response about it instead: Happy Failing: How to Turn Your Failures Into Successes.

    <3