“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” — Lao Tzu
Your Outcome: Make the most of your setbacks, failures, and lessons. Take the lessons you learn each week, carry the good forward, and use them to refine your approach. Let the rest go.
Welcome to day 21 of 30 Days of Getting Results, based on my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
In day 20, we learned how to ask better questions to get better results. By asking better questions, we get clarity on what counts for ourselves and others, and we figure out what’s really valued.
Today, we learn how to find the lessons, fail fast, and fail forward.
Find a Way Forward
The keys to rapid learning are turning failures into feedback, carrying the good forward, and staying curious. The worst pitfall to fall into is a state of “learned helplessness”, where you shutdown or start thinking that no matter what you try, it just won’t work.
Don’t dwell on what you did wrong, figure out what you can do right.
Just because you don’t get the results you expected, don’t lose your way. One of my favorite reminders in Peaceful Warrior is that a warrior does what they love, despite the setbacks and the challenges.
They find a way.
Why Carry the Good Forward
When you carry the good forward, and let the rest go, your lessons become a spring board that support you in all areas of your life. Rather than get bogged down, or beat yourself up from all the things that don’t go as planned, you find smarter strategies and tactics for improving your success.
This builds your momentum and your personal toolbox you can draw from whenever you need it.
Find the lessons
No matter what goes wrong you can always find the lessons. Mistakes happen. We’re human. Things don’t always go as planned. It’s easy to look back and second guess yourself after the fact, with perfect “20-20 hindsight.” That’s what makes judging and critiquing so easy, since you have a new vantage point and more information. Rather than use the vantage point as a critic, turn your inner-critic into your personal coach and use your feedback as a way to pave a path forward.
You can use questions to find the lessons:
- What did I learn?
- How can I make the most of this?
- How can I use this?
Test your results and find the questions that work for you. If you’re in a situation that doesn’t seem like it will change, then change yourself first by asking the question, “If this situation never were to change, what’s the one quality I need to make the most of this?”
Turn failures into lessons. Don’t just ask, “Why did I fail?” It’s important to also ask, “What did I learn?” Carry the good forward.
As you get into the habit of failing forward, you’ll find it easier and easier to turn failure into feedback, while learning the key lessons and insight that help you spread your wings or bounce back faster each time.
This is a practice I learned early on at Microsoft. The idea is to test your results as soon as possible to find out what works and what won’t. Rather than spend a long time planning, figure out a mini-plan, start taking action, get feedback and adjust your plan. This way, your plan is informed by real-world feedback, you stay out of analysis paralysis, and you learn faster with real success, failures, feedback, and data under your belt.
The key to failing fast is to shorten your learning loops so that you can adjust your approach. Stay flexible in your approach. Use feedback as your guide to improve your results. When something is not working, find the way forward by paying more attention to what you’re learning from the experience.
Catch the Next Train
Don’t be late for today. Be early for tomorrow. All the time you spend dwelling on what you missed or opportunity lost, takes away from you getting ready to catch the next train. While your rear-view mirror is helpful for learning lessons, find a way forward and lead yourself with skill by staying forward looking in your approach. Whenever you find yourself dwelling, ask yourself, “What’s next?”
Get Up to Bat
This is one of my favorite metaphors. You get a new chance at bat each day, each week, each month, each year. As long as you keep getting up to bat, you have another chance. If you’re going through change, then remember that change is a process and that it might take multiple times or multiple chances to get it right.
Allow for the fact that change is hard. You might fail multiple times; just keep getting back on your horse, learn from each setback, and carry the good forward. Don’t break yourself against your own goals by biting off too much or beating yourself over the head with them; instead, use them to lift you and guide your choices.
Cut the Chains that Bind You
If you saw Disney’s movie “Up,” then you know what it’s like to cut the ties that bind you. Cut the deadwood or whatever is holding you back. In “Peaceful Warrior”, the reminder was to “put your bags down.”
In the movie, “Up in the Air,” the main actor, played by George Clooney, asks the question, “What’s in your backpack?” This forces you to take a look at all the possessions, relationships, commitments, and responsibilities that you carry around in your metaphorical backpack, and whether they’re helping or hurting you, or just how much they are weighting you down.
The way that I turn all of these insights into action and keep it simple is with a one-liner reminder — “Carry the good forward, and let the rest go.”
- Add the question, “How can I use this?” to your mental toolbox for dealing with your setbacks, mistakes, and failures.
- Add the question, “If this situation never were to change, what’s the one quality I need to make the most of this?” to your mental toolbox for dealing with the worst in your life.
- Reframe your “failures” as “feedback.” Treat your feedback as an endless supply of learnings and lessons you can choose to act on, ignore, or make the most of.
- Each Friday, find the three lessons you can carry forward from the week, into your next week, to create your momentum and a springboard for your success.
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