Coach for Positive Failure: Setbacks Leverage Learning

Failure, errors, setbacks, mistakes -- these descriptors can spark negative emotions and often drive students to back away from trying again and from investigating what went wrong. However, no path to success is a string of mini-successes all in a row. The stumbles, missteps, and outright train wrecks along the way are ripe opportunities for discovery of what isn't known yet, why it hasn't been learned, and what can be done to learn it. These experiences are the major levers of growth, stamina and resilience-leverage points for lifelong success. 


Joe De Sena, founder of Spartan training and races, counsels learners to "reframe failure as feedback." One of the specific strategies he defines for this goal is to "accept the cost of action" and look at the cost of non-action by comparison. When a student is hesitating to take a potentially productive risk, coaches can ask questions that encourage them to weigh both action and non-action:

  • What is the worst that could happen if you took this action? What steps could you take to deal with it if it occurred?

  • What is the best that could come out of taking this action? How might you benefit?

  • How might you feel if you don't take this action? What could be the cost?

  • Think of yourself a month from now. What would future you want to say you chose to do, and why?

  • If you were to take this action, what can it teach you no matter the outcome?

As a coach, you can help students create lifetime learning through failures and setbacks so that they will be unstoppable in their personal and professional lives. Model taking productive action by joining us to hone your coaching skills. 

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