Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Coaching Lessons: How to Turn Failure into Success

Failure brings with it powerful, sometimes overpowering, emotions. As Art Petty described it on his blog yesterday: "the moment of failure feels much like being transported to an alien landscape where suddenly everything is not as it should be." Link here.

When you are being assailed by powerful emotions, you might well believe that they are demanding to be heard, if not heeded. If you believe that emotions must be understood, worked over, worked through, until you gain insight and awareness into why you failed... then you are ready for psychotherapy.

You are not ready to succeed. If psychotherapy works as I just described, it will not lead you to success. It will lead you away from success, away from the future toward the past. It will make failure a meaningful experience, an integral part of who you are.

Coaching takes a different tack. Any coach will tell you that when you have fallen, you must immediately pick yourself, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.

In Petty's words: "The faster you can move everyone from 'what just happened?' to 'what next?' the faster you pass through the cold alien landscape of failure. Linger too long on an extended self-pity party and you might as well set up camp and become a permanent resident. Your goal must be to move through this phase or process in a hurry."

If speed is of the essence, and if you want to use success to diminish the hold of failure, you should avoid exploring your emotions and working them through. You should not go looking for that certain something in the past that is making you feel so badly. And you should certainly not imagine that failure is trying to tell you something about who you really are.

When your emotions overwhelm you, when they demand attention, your job is, as Petty suggests, to rechannel the energy toward future success. Surely, your emotions are telling you that you failed, but they are not, therapy withstanding, telling you that you are a failure.

Now one ever moved forward by obsessing about the past.

Think of your emotions as transients. Your job is to ensure that they do not take up permanent residence. Be wary then of any form of psychotherapy that tries to build them a new house.

We all feel ashamed when we fail. Shame is probably the most powerful of negative human emotions. There is only one cure for the shame of failure: success.

Yet, psychotherapy will try to transform the shame into guilt. Once you have learned to see it as guilt you will need to discover who you should blame. Once you have punished the guilty party, the siren-song of therapy goes, you will be released from the negative emotion of guilt.

Therapy wants you to embrace failure, then to find someone to blame.

First, you will try blaming the world. As Hamlet put it: "How all occasions do inform against me and spur my dull revenge."

When you cannot act, whether because you do not know what to do or because your therapist has convinced you that it is more important to get in touch with your feelings, you will likely see reality as a conspiracy to inhibit you.

If your back is up against the wall, if the entirety of the world is arrayed against you, then inaction becomes the proper and rational response. What else can you do?

Eventually, you are going to start blaming yourself. You might discover, with a certain type of therapist, that you, like Oedipus, are the criminal you are looking for.

If you are suffering because a crime has been committed, and if God is just, then you yourself must be the criminal. Then you will feel empowered. You will be able to punish yourself, even martyr yourself, in order to release your negative actions and feel good about yourself.

None of this will show you how to act in the world, or how to snatch success from the jaws of failure, but now, thanks to therapy, you will no longer care.

If, after you have failed, you turn around and look back, you are going to be facing failure. After a time you are going confuse the matter and believe that failure is your future, not your past.

Welcome, demoralization and depression!

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