After a recent failure, I was reflecting upon the success and failures in my professional and personal life. When I was ‘in the moment’ it was hard to predict failure, though success seemed achievable. At a high level, before achieving success, I was in Flow, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his pioneering work on happiness & creativity.
Before failure, I tend to believe that I am in Flow, only to realise that it was one step short of Flow. How do I become more aware of (and hence take action) my state? I took a Third person view my life through past successes and failures.
Before each of my successes, there were 3 important things in place:
- Skills to succeed – I had developed skills that were essential for success through practice (A check on the High Skills axis by Mihaly). How did I get there? By an acute assessment of what would it take for anyone to succeed and almost a burning desire to succeed. Why succeed? There was a strong inherent desire – to achieve, to prove and it was my idea of a ‘happy’ life (Okay, I was wrong here, but it worked). It was challenging to succeed and that in itself was also a driver.
- Balanced mindset – Before each of the big successes, I had series of failures. Less to do with skills or the challenge, more to do with the mindset. The failures created humility in me and this was very important. I also had small wins in between. These built confidence in me. Again very important. What this did as a whole was to create a fine balance in mindset to receive success with gratitude. The fact that success was not all due to my efforts, has played a very important role in my receiving the bigger successes in life
- Patience – I am separating this out of mindset and skills. This relates to relationship with time. I persevered for long each time. There were lots of downs. I got depressed and almost wanted to give up on occasions but did not completely give up. I just corrected my goal, made it less ambitious and persevered. Lowering the ambition resulted in higher believability (hence more balance) but the key trait was patience and faith in self & a greater force
In essence, as I look at my successes as a Third person, I was making myself ready for success.
Turning failures into success
An easy explanation for failures is lack of the three ingredients listed above. However, as a Third person, I do see more than just the lack. Lack means the space was filled up with something else. 3 most important areas I discovered are:
- Emotional well-being – Some of my biggest failures, where I felt being an a**hole, are the ones where I let my emotions take control of my actions and decisions. Key among them was Fear – of failure, of losing what I had and of under-achieving, took over my actions. As a result, my actions were about avoiding failure and avoiding losses or doing something out of desperation. Another one was attachment – attachment to the outcome, the result and giving entry to anxiety & negative stress. Anxiety killed flexibility and detachment, and instead brought all focus to the goal (vs. the journey). Check for me now – > In pursuit of a Big Goal, if I am not enjoying the present situation, I am likely afraid of the future or attached to (only) a particular outcome
- Being Superman – It now looks like a pattern. Flow leads to increase in self-confidence. Too much of an increase could result in over-confidence. Over-confidence for me is about doing everything myself or doing a lot of things. In my biggest failures, I chose to do a lot, falsely believed myself being capable of doing everything or going overboard in the act of giving my ‘100%’. From a skill perspective, this meant focusing on what I didn’t know or weak areas, rather than further strengthening what I already knew well. Agreed that situations demand a stretch, but they are a stretch i.e., 10%, 20% or 30% of a base. I made new bases! Check for me now -> In pursuit of a Big Goal, almost 70-80% of my focus must be on what I am already excelling in and excited doing
- Naive perspective & analysis paralysis – Naive perspective resulted in misreading the intensions of others, inability to care for self, unrealistic expectations from others and too much analysis than action. I am not sure if these are all linked, but as a Third person it seems that Naive perspective was an unknown for me for long. This resulted in too much analysis of the situation and lesser action than what was possible. Check for me -> Am I taking daily action for 1%, just 1% movement ‘towards’ my goals? Or am I analysing too much to keep myself ‘busy’? Where others are involved, am I being Naive or too analytical about it?
What not to do is almost as important as what to do. In my own experience, I started from a position of What to do, but filled up a minor part with What not to do. Gradually, this part expanded, until it filled up almost the entire space.
How do others prepare themselves ready for success and what helps them turn failures into success?