Failing upwards – Apply intelligent sympathy to our inner voice

It is strangely ironic how society is often so silient when it comes to failure.

Yet everyone fails. Big or small. Yet we know we need to become friends with the concept of failure if we are to progress throughout our ventures. I call this emotional intelligence skill ‘failing upwards’. In this series, I look to reframe our notions around failure and discuss how we can fail well.

Inner critic test

Try this inner voice test and see if you are being too harsh with yourself.

For each question, mark 1, 2 or 3 to how likely the statement matches to your inner dialogue and add the scores.

0 – not at all

1 – sometimes

2 – medium

3- very true

1. When a patient complains, I am sure they are right and I messed up

2. When a dental procedure goes wrong, my first thoughts are that I am not good enough.

3. It is hard for me to start new dental skill because it is unacceptable for me to make mistakes even when I’m learning

4. Other peoples evaluation of me is more important than my evaluation of myself.

5. Even when a do a good job of rectifying a mistake, I still feel guilty.

Add up your ratings;

If you scored upto 6: a relatively kind inner voice

7 – 10 : this kind of inner voice can make it hard to fail and still pick yourself up

11 or above; the burden of the inner critc is often unreasonable and unbearable

Retelling our story

Failure becomes painfully unbearable when we pair it with the pressure from our innner critic. This is the harsh voice that speaks rather unkindly when we fail. We could do with developing the skill to gently nudge that harshness to a softer, gentler more compassionate voice. We all know this skill. We often show this level of compassion to our friends, colleagues and patients.

Failures sting so much often due to perception of the situation wrapped around self worth. A kinder approach my be to flip the script on this voice, and remind ourselves of a more balanced view. We are certainly not the sum of our successes or failures.

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