There’s a lot of evidence to show that focusing on areas where we excel can help in achieving goals and gaining happiness. This makes sense, right? If you can boost your natural abilities, that successful momentum should carry you further, correct? But there’s another school of thought that proposes the exact opposite. In this way of thinking, it’s actually honing in on the stuff that you suck at that allows you to reach new levels of success and satisfaction.
This doesn’t mean giving yourself hell for not hitting a PR every single race or achieving success in your business straight off of the starting blocks. But it does mean accepting that your failures (everyone has a least a few in life) can be useful stepping stones in figuring out an easier path towards greatness. Here’s how.
How to Achieve Success by Focusing on Sucking at Things
You’re More Likely to Learn From Mistakes Than Successes
Einstein said that doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result is a sure sign of madness. And guess what? Your brain agrees.
According to a study carried out by psychologists at the University of Exeter, UK, when someone makes a mistake, a lower region in the brain reacts to it in an astonishing 0.1 seconds. This reaction is so quick that it occurs before the information gets processed in the brain’s frontal lobes, where it’ll eventually become conscious thought.
Because of its speed, this reaction becomes something of a subconscious “early warning signal” that kicks in when the person goes to slip up again, allowing them to make that split-second decision to do whatever they’re doing differently this time.
But here’s where focusing on that mistake makes sense. You may need to repeat your error to catch that signal or really see where you’re messing up. Once you figure that out, though, you can change your actions in a way that will propel you forward. You’ll not only know how to succeed, but just as critically, you’ll know the exact mistake that you mustn’t make again.
Accepting Negative Feedback Builds Grit
Acknowledging failures and focusing on f*** ups isn’t always compatible with your ego. But reframing negative responses (your own and others’) as being constructive criticism can help you rebound from failure much quicker, and develop the resilience you need to reach your goal.
Research shows that “mastery” feedback — feedback based on helping you to master an action — is much more effective in building resilience and grit than feedback that has no real point or is “ego-involving.” (For example, saying “Don’t worry! You were much better than all those others out there” or “You were useless. The worst in the race.”)
So, if you’re giving feedback to yourself, accept where you went wrong and then look for ways to learn and build on that information. If you’re receiving feedback from someone else, ask them directly what they think you could do to be better the next time. Remember, grit is about developing sustained, consistent effort toward a goal, even when you falter or fall flat on your face.
So, put your pride away and use constructive feedback to help you shift your mindset, get back up, and keep moving forward.
Deliberate Practice Tunes You in to Areas That Need Improvement
Most people who practice a sport, a musical instrument, or a specialized skill of any kind, do so without much intention or structure. They go to the gym and do their workout or they pick up their instrument for an hour or two and they play it. As time goes on, they may become bored and burnt out because, really, they’re stuck on a not-very-motivating, rinse-and-repeat cycle.
Nonetheless, this is standard practice. But while all practice is helpful, much more effective is the kind that is purposeful and intentional. In other words, deliberate practice.
The term “deliberate practice” was coined by Royal Swedish Academy member and former Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, Anders Ericsson. In researching how people become experts, Ericsson discovered that those who planned their practice with focused attention and clear goals in mind (and did so consistently over time) were more likely to progress in their chosen field than those who practiced every day without any particular system in place.
He noted that in a planned practice routine, the two main components were focusing on improving the skills that the expert already possessed, and then extending the reach and range of those skills.
Speaking to the BBC, Ericsson noted, “It’s not clear why some people think that doing more of making the same mistakes will make you better. Sixty minutes spent doing ‘the right thing’ is better than any amount of time spent learning in an unfocused way.”
Deliberate practice, like building grit or attempting to figure out where you’re making your mistake is, of course, no small feat. It requires consistent concentration and intentional commitment to succeed.
But, just like the other two, it does show you that your mistakes are signposts toward success — as long as you’re willing to acknowledge when you suck, and then use that knowledge to work on getting better.