Many of us make the same mistakes over and over, but new insights can help us learn valuable lessons from our failures.

Failure is frequently viewed as something to be celebrated in today’s motivational literature. Disappointments are a necessary stepping stone to success; a turning point in our life story that will eventually lead to victory. We are encouraged to “fail forward” rather than give up.

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If only it were that easy. A wealth of psychological research over the last decade has revealed that most people struggle to deal with failure constructively. Instead, we find ways to devalue the task at hand, which means we may be less motivated to persevere and achieve our goal. The “sour-grape effect” describes this phenomenon. Alternatively, we may simply fail to notice our mistakes and carry on as if nothing has happened. something that keeps us from learning a better strategy for improving our performance in the future.

Inspirational speakers frequently quote novelist Samuel Beckett’s words: “Fail again. Failing better”. But the reality is that most of us fail again and again.

Recent research indicates that there are ways to avoid these pitfalls. These solutions are frequently counterintuitive: for example, one of the best ways to learn from your mistakes is to offer advice to another person who may be facing similar difficulties. It turns out that by assisting others in avoiding failure, you can improve your own chances of success.

The ‘sour-grape effect’

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Let’s start with the sour-grape effect, which was discovered by Hallgeir Sjstad, a psychology and leadership professor at the Norwegian School of Economics, and colleagues.

He was intrigued by people’s proclivity to abandon their dreams too soon. “The study was an attempt to understand why we sometimes give up too soon, even though we could have succeeded if we had been a little more patient and willing to try again,” he says.

Sjstad asked participants to take a practise trial of a test designed to measure the precision of their intuition in his first experiment. They were asked to estimate the weight of 20 apples, for example – They were also told that a guess that was within 10% of the correct answer was a sign of strong intuition. They were told that high performance on several questions was strongly related to “positive outcomes in life, such as extraordinary achievements in work and a well-functioning social life” – a message designed to increase their desire to succeed.

Following a couple of practise questions, participants were given sham feedback – either extremely positive or extremely negative. They were then asked to forecast how difficult it would be to perform well on the actual test, as well as how happy they would be if they scored 100%.

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Sjstad hypothesised that people who received negative feedback on their practise answers would undervalue the significance of their future performance for their emotional state. And that is exactly what occurred. People who felt they had failed on the practise run predicted that a perfect score would have little effect on their immediate happiness. This, however, was not the case; when they took a second test and were told they had received top marks, they were overjoyed. They were completely incorrect in assuming that the outcome would not make them proud.

According to Sjstad, this is self-defense. “Most of us want to believe that we are competent and capable individuals, so when external feedback suggests otherwise, “It is a significant threat to that self-image,” he says. “The easiest way out is to deny or explain away the external signal, so we can reduce the inconsistency and preserve a positive sense of self. “I believe we do this all the time, even when we aren’t aware of it.” (It’s worth noting that Sjstad debriefed his participants after each of these experiments, so they didn’t leave with a false impression of their intuitive abilities.)

In a subsequent experiment, Sjstad investigated how failure in the practise questions influenced participants’ other assessments of the importance of the test results in their lives. He observed clear signs of sour grapes once more: after receiving negative feedback, participants were much less likely to say that the test results reflected “who [they] were, as a person,” or that their intuitive intelligence would determine their future success in life.

He also put the sour-grape effect to the test with students at a Norwegian university. He discovered that simply reminding students of their current low grade-point average caused them to significantly underestimate the predicted benefits of graduating with an A average.

Sjstad believes the sour- The grape effect has the potential to influence motivation in a variety of areas of life. If you have a bad interview for your dream job, you may decide that you don’t want to work in that field after all and stop applying for similar positions. The same is true if you do not impress at a sports trial or if a publisher rejects your first manuscript submission.

“It may be tempting to blame someone or something else for our shortcomings, trying to convince ourselves that our ‘Plan C’ was actually our ‘Plan A’ all along,” he says.

Sjstad is not claiming that we should always stick to our goals; it can be healthy to put our ambitions in perspective and change course if the process is no longer fulfilling us. However, the sour-grape effect may lead us to make this decision prematurely, rather than examining whether we can learn and improve.

The ‘ostrich effect’

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Devaluing the source of your disappointment is just one way your mind can avoid dealing with failure constructively; another coping mechanism is to bury your head in the sand, diverting your attention away from the upsetting situation so you don’t have to deal with it.

Researchers have long known that we frequently turn a blind eye to bad news. Economists, for example, have discovered that when investors’ fortunes are falling rather than rising, they are less likely to check their financial status.

According to a series of recent studies by Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, this phenomenon has been dubbed the “ostrich effect,” and it may be an example of a much broader tendency to overlook negative information. Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioural science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and an assistant professor of management and organisations at Northwestern University in the United States.

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