Photo Credit: Bruce Klemens
Failure sucks, doesn’t it? There’s no worse feeling than seeing your hopes, dreams, and plans go up in smoke. It’s tough to start all over again and pull yourself up from the dirt to keep at it. For many people, it’s just too hard to try again if it means you’ll fail.
Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
According to a new study, having a good cry (or some other emotional response) is the best way to dust yourself off and move on.
The study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, involved three experiments that required undergrad students at the University of Kansas to perform a variety of tasks.
The first task involved an online search for a blender, and they were to report the lowest price they could find. A cash prize was offered as an incentive. However, the test was rigged—the computers informed the participants that the lowest price was lower than they were able to find—and no one won the prize.
After this first test, the students were asked either to focus on their emotional responses to their failure or to the cognitive responses, including logical, rational assessments of why they failed. They then underwent another similar task.
Don’t Suppress Your Emotions Upon Failure
Interestingly, the participants that focused on the cognitive responses performed worse than the ones that focused on emotional responses. The latter group exerted more effort in the pursuit of their task.
According to the paper’s lead author, “A natural tendency after failure is sometimes to suppress emotions and cognitively rationalize the failure, but if people know the possible negative effects of that behavior, they can override that natural tendency and focus on the negative feelings. That should lead to learning and future decision-making that is more positive.”
If you’ve failed, it’s okay to feel bad about it. In fact, this study indicates that it’s better to allow yourself an emotional response to failure. As the study discovered, “The kinds of thoughts — like rationalizing a failure — people tend to come up with are sometimes counterproductive.”
“Allowing yourself to feel bad or even focus on negative emotions after a failure will help guide future decision-making in a positive way, at least if the task is similar to the one you failed at earlier.”
Feel the emotions, learn from your mistakes, and pick yourself back up again. In the long run, your emotional responses to failure will give you a higher chance of succeeding.
1. Nelson, N., Malkoc, S. A., and Shiv, B. (2017) “Emotions Know Best: The Advantage of Emotional versus Cognitive Responses to Failure.” J. Behav. Dec. Making, doi: 10.1002/bdm.2042. pub: September 8, 2017.