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Dealing with Failure

Ed Halliwell
Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Learning outcomes

  • The importance of setting failure in its broader context: failure now can be the ground for success later
  • Cultivating a mindset where we take interest in failure as a chance to learn

Executive Bio

Ed Halliwell

Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Ed is a UK-based mindfulness teacher. He has written three books: Into The Heart of Mindfulness, Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention (published in a new edition as Mindfulness Made Easy) and (as co-author) The Mindful Manifesto. He is an associate of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and Sussex Mindfulness Centre, and regularly speaks on mindfulness-related topics, in the media and at conferences, festivals and other events. He leads public mindfulness courses, workshops and retreats in London, Surrey and Sussex, and has introduced and taught mindfulness in workplaces such as Accenture, UNICEF UK, Imperial College Business School, and the Houses of Parliament. Read more

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Interview Transcript

This is the last topic for the day, a skillful relationship with failure would look like what, to you?

I’m probably not going to say anything new but to repeat that, if we can meet any situation with interest, if we can meet any situation with curiosity and gentleness, then I would invite you to explore that that can lead to skillful responses, whatever the situation is, in the first place. What has happened, has happened. The past is the past. That can’t be changed. But, maybe, remembering that things are impermanent and uncertain and, whilst it leads to discomfort, it also leads to the possibility of interesting things happening. There’s no inevitability that a failure now is not actually the ground of success later.

So if we can meet failure with courage and, actually, something to learn from – and I’m calling it failure, but you could say it’s another opportunity. I remember a psychotherapist that I used to work with, who used to like using the phrase an AFGO, to describe moments of so-called disaster or failure or things falling apart, he called them an AFGO. I’ll tell you what three of the words of the acronym stand for and you can decide what the other one is. The A stands for another; the F, I won’t say, for the purposes of decency; G is for growth and O is for opportunity. So an AFGO is another growth opportunity. The way he would say it is, another growth opportunity, which is why the F is quite important, because it gives that sense of, aargh, I’ve failed again.

But as soon as we can go, rather than, aargh, I’ve failed again, and start to say, I’ve failed again, how interesting. That didn’t work the way I was hoping. I wonder what didn’t work. Can I get interested in what didn’t work? Can I learn from what didn’t work? Maybe I can see this as the ground of what might be possible now. I’m no entrepreneur but what I have heard from entrepreneurs, and what you might call very successful business people, is that they seem to talk a lot about how much they’ve failed. Actually, it’s the attitude that they bring to the things that haven’t worked, that have led to really creative insights. New ways of meeting situations, that become creative and, therefore, become successful.

So if there’s no failure, then there’s no learning. That doesn’t mean that we need to try and seek failure out but if we can learn from what’s happened already, then we’re in the best situation to be able to deal with what’s happening now, and what we bring to what’s happening now, gives us the best chance of it leading to a fruitful future, when that arrives.

Thank you very much, Ed.

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