Reframing Failure

By: Other | April 6, 2018

Written by Joy Francisco, Ph.D.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” — J.K. Rowling

All situations that happen to us in life have no inherent meaning. We are the ones who assign a meaning, seeing a situation through a certain frame.

We can change the way we look at something and consequently change how we experience it. This is called cognitive reframing.

Cognitive reframing enables the idea that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to what happens – no matter how challenging our positions might be.

If we want to change something, be it how we feel, how we do things, or what we believe, the change always begins with us altering our thoughts and reframing how we see reality. Our thoughts about the situation are always more important than the situation itself.

Two very practical and easily applicable exercises used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for managing thoughts and interpreting events include emotional accounting and cognitive reframing. With emotional accounting, we strive to transform automatic negative thoughts into more positive ones. With cognitive reframing, we try to find a more constructive interpretation about what is happening to us.

Consider some event that happens to us: We perceive it as a negative one based on our toxic core beliefs. That causes automatic negative thoughts and feelings, which lead to inaction. Failure, for example, is a very real event, but it is not an end destination, just another event in the course of life. Failure is something that happens, not a personality characteristic. It is important to separate the events of failure from the personal characteristic of being a failure. Yet, the negative stories we tell ourselves about such events are based on irrational core beliefs that lead to self-defeating thoughts, emotions and actions.

The point of cognitive reframing is to see the current situation from a different perspective. A reframed perspective proves tremendously helpful in problem solving, decision making, and learning.

Therefore, we can reframe failure as an opportunity to learn. We are restricting our ability to learn when we confuse our personal sense of self-value with success. It is learning through failure that provides the greatest lessons that life can teach us.


Image: Angel James de Ocampo on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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