Productive Failure

  Hey, hey everyone. Andee here. I am so glad that you are here!!

I have felt the need for a while to rebrand failure. I think failure has gotten some pretty bad publicity. We don’t think it’s a good thing and it is a good thing. It’s actually required. I haven’t met anyone who has gone through life without failing. It seems to be part of the human experience, but for a lot of us, we don’t want it to be part of the experience and we’re trying to avoid failure at all costs.

And you know what? It’s costing us our life, our relationships with our kids, even our success as a parent. Failure is absolutely necessary for us to create success in our life.

Michael Jordan summed this up beautifully. He said,

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

I was listening to a YouTube interview of Ed Sheeran and he said the same thing. He said,

“We are not talking enough about failure. There’s so much out there about how to succeed and how to have a better life. And that’s all well and good, but what we’re forgetting is to get there. You are going through a trail of failures.” And so he said, “pull up this YouTube video. I made it when I was 14. You’ll see how bad I was.”

And they start playing it and it wasn’t, it was not good. And laughing at himself, he said, “that was when I was 14. And at 19 I wrote ‘A List’ and it went viral.”

His point was that it was the failures, the experiences and the commitment he had to his end result that allowed him to get where he was at 19. He never would have gotten there without having a myriad of failures along the way.

Successful People Understand The Power Of Productive Failure

If we were able to dive into the inner workings of extremely successful people, we would see that they were not successful because they were lucky. It was because they understood the power of productive failure.

Nelson Mandela said “Don’t judge me by my successes. Judge me by the number of failures that I’ve pushed myself up and continued on from.” That’s not a direct quote, I’m paraphrasing his words. He wanted people to look at the times he recovered from his failures, not the times that he succeeded without struggle. That is how he want people to judge him. That is how he wanted people to know who he is.

From a parenting perspective, welcoming in failures is vital.

As we are trying to figure out how to release the control and the punitive consequences and the rewards that we’ve been using, and we’re moving into connective limits and focusing on the relationship and being genuinely connected to our kids.

This is a new territory, a new land we’re stepping into. And so there are going to be a ton of failures along the way. If you are letting your brain make the failures mean this isn’t working, that you aren’t good enough then you are going to give up. You’re not going to make it to the other side.

If you want to become a better version of yourself, you need to fail. You need to go push yourself to the edge of what you are capable of. By doing that, you’re telling your brain you want to learn something new. So it responds.

Redefining Failure

The definition of failure on Google says that

“Failure is the omission of expected or required actions.”

That’s so simple. When Michael Jordan doesn’t make a free throw, he didn’t make it. He expected to make the free throw and he didn’t, it is as simple as that, no big story or drama.

As a parent this can look like trying to create a better bedtime routine and it not working. Missing the expectations, the omission of expected actions or results. That’s it.

It’s not personal. Instead of avoiding failure, I want you to be seeking it.

Productive failures looks like deciding on something, going for it, and learning. Non-productive failure is when you quit before you start, you let confusion just keep you spinning and spinning.

If you go all in on a goal and you are relentless, you are focused on getting it accomplished, you likely won’t accomplish it right away. This is NOT a problem. All of the failures you have along the way serve to teach you and help you improve until you achieve your goal.

I’m going use the example of a baby learning to walk and they’re falling epically every third step. They keep face planting over and over and over again, but they continue to pick themselves back up. What the baby doesn’t know is that by pushing themselves up and trying again, they are building muscles, neural pathways, and all of the skills actually help them to learn to walk. If the baby didn’t go through that process, they wouldn’t be able to walk. They wouldn’t have the skills. They wouldn’t have the ability, so the competency for babies to walk comes from the failures (the literal face plants) that happened along the way.

Confidence and Competency Come Through Repeated Failure

People tend to think that we can only be confident if we are competent and we know we aren’t going to fail horribly. We don’t want to go do something that we’re not competent at. We’re sitting around wondering “When am I going to be competent at that?” You will never be competent if you don’t go fail at the thing first.

Competency comes through the failures and the confidence comes by knowing no matter what, you are going to keep going until you are competent and know the skill.

It is easy think that we can only be competent and confident once we already have the skill. This is a lie. The competency and the confidence come by the failures along the way that culminate into learning the skill. Just like the baby learning how to walk for the first time.

So if you are creating a bedtime routine for your children, and you aren’t feeling very confident or competent at creating a bedtime routine because you’ve never created one that actually works with you kids. I want to say that the competency and the confidence comes through the failures of figuring out the plan, the routine, the things that are gonna work for your kids so that you have that smooth bedtime routine.

If you’re so afraid of failing, that you don’t try then you are condemning yourself to an automatic failure.

When we are not taking massive action and not going for the things that we want, a lot of times it’s because we’re confused.We’re just spinning in our little bubble that feels terrible, but it what we are familiar with. This is how our bodies work, Our nervous system would rather keep us safe and uncomfortable than learn something new because the unknown is a danger to our primitive brain. We have to be aware of this tendency in order to override it.

If we continue to iterate on the bedtime routine and we’re using every failure as a learning opportunity then we will eventually figure out the bedtime routine. We will understand for our child these are the things that work the best.

Productive vs. Unproductive Failure

I want to pull these two apart so that we can understand the difference between them. Productive failure is when we fully commit to achieving our goals, and that we learn from any failures that happen along the way without letting them stop us from reaching the end goal.

There are five E’s that are the formula to productive failures,



Ending, which means we’re sticking to the end. We’re not giving up halfway,

Emotionally invested, and

Evaluating at the end, which allows us to learn from the failure.

These are the requirements for productive failures. I’m not saying that you have to look forward to failing. Of course we want to figure out our problems, but when the failure happens along the way – and it will because failure is inevitable – I want you to think about using the failure productively to help you get closer towards your goal.

A productive fail could look like deciding on something, going for it, and learning as you fail until you eventually reach your goal. Those are the three steps in a productive fail. Really, that’s the three steps in taking productive action. Decide, go, and learn.

Non-productive failure is when you quit before you start.

You let confusion keep you spinning and spinning. You’re not sure what to do, so you don’t do anything. You fail because you aren’t taking any action so you aren’t any closer towards reaching your goal.

Let’s use the bedtime routine as an example. You think things like:

“I’m so confused, I can’t even come up with a bedtime routine. I’m still failing. I’m not achieving my goal and I’m not gaining any strategic byproduct skills out of that process because I’m taking no real action.”

Confusion can keep you stuck. You might also fall into the trap of thinking that you have to get the plan perfect before starting. Perfectionistic thinking can keep you really stuck in non-productive action. You quit ahead of time or you quit halfway through. You give up. You start the bedtime routine and you get some resistance and so then you just back away and give up.

My Brief Stint As A Runner

In fifth or sixth grade I was trying to learn how to run. We had to do these exercises in PE and they timed us and measured all these things and reported it to the higher ups. And when it came time to do the mile, for some reason I ran the slowest mile in my class. I was a competitive gymnast, so I was in good shape.

I think it was because of my knees, I had damaged my knees and they hurt, but the reason doesn’t matter. I was very embarrassed and I decided I wasn’t cut out to be a runner. This belief stayed with me for a couple of decades, until after I was done having kids. I decided I was going to get into running, so I got this app on my phone called Couch Potato to 5k

A very appropriate title for me. It had very small incremental runs. Walk, run, walk. It was very simple and I followed it for about a week and a half until I decided that I wasn’t making fast enough progress. I decided that it was never going to work. Who was I to think that I should be running a five K in a week?

Other people might be able to do that, but it was a little bit above and beyond for my physical abilities at the time. So I gave up because I didn’t think I was ever going to get the results. This is a great example of non-productive action. I didn’t make progress physically. I didn’t learn any mental skills to help me be more resilient, to do better next time.

I literally just gave up on myself halfway.

Pest Control

Now, let’s compare this to an example of productive failure from my son. He’s back east in Pennsylvania selling pest control door to door. This is such a hard job. It’s commission only. So he only makes money if he makes sales. We’ve had a couple of conversations where he is facing the reality of having a day where he’s knocked 50 or 60 doors and no one has said yes.

And he’s so committed to stay out there, but also so honest that part of him does not want to stay out there. One day he was calling, and he was telling me how hard it is and he was frustrated. Rightly so.

This is a killer job. Part of my mama heart is thinking, “this is the best way. He’s collecting so many productive failures every day. Are you kidding me? He’s getting so many no’s. This is such great training for his emotional resilience and his, development as a human, but dang hard.”

So he’s talking to me and he’s frustrated that he hasn’t gotten more sales. And I say to him, let’s think about it as every rejection is getting you one step closer to a sale. So I threw out a number. I said, “what if every a hundred doors, you got one sale?

So he said, great, let’s just go with worst case scenario. And that means every time you get a no, you’re collecting those nos and every no, you collect, you’re getting yourself closer to the yes. And he started to get a little bit excited and he’s like, oh, I can do that.

I can do that. And so he’s getting at least one sale a day. He’s he’s knocking the amount of doors that allows him to get one sale a day and he’s collecting enough nos and he is every, no, he’s using as evidence that he is getting closer to the yes. That is productive failure at its finest.

It’s such a good example of it. That is what we wanna harness as parents because every single day we are getting 50, 60, 70 no’s. Especially when your kids are younger, you’re getting a lot because there’s lots of emotions when they’re younger, but as they become older, you might not be getting as many no’s as toddlers.

What if we allow all of those failures to be productive failures, to grow our brain and create strategic byproducts?

For example, our parenting failures could teach us patience, emotional intelligence, or better communication skills. We are learning things along the way as we navigate all of the failures, because every failure is a productive failure because we decide that we are going to learn from the experience.

Then we are taking action and sometimes that action is literally just saying to ourself, “he just did that, and that’s okay. I am not gonna let that get in the way of my connection with him.” That’s so good.

We don’t want to have any unproductive failures in our life. We want to turn them all around, and learn as a result. So the three steps, again, of a productive failure are we, make a decision, we go take action, and then we learn from the action,.whether it’s positive or negative.

Lessons From Failures

Every door that my son knocks on, he records himself selling the person at the door, and he then evaluates it.

He listens back to it, and he learns from it, and then he keeps improving.

That’s what we want to be doing. We want to be learning from every, no and every failure.

I want you to be collecting productive failures. Do something to celebrate your productive failures, and I want you to collect a lot of them because every time you have a productive failure, you’re learning new skills. Your brain is growing, and you are getting closer and closer to success.

If we want to double our success, double our connection, do better at being patient, have the bedtime smoother, then you have to double your failures. You have to go all in.

Now, productive failures require intense focus and energy. So let me review the five E’s again.

You have to be energetically present. When I did my couch potato to five k, I was not a hundred percent energetically committed to that. I was 50, 60 percent present. Then it dropped to 30, 40 percent until it was zero, and I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t really showing up. So if you create a bedtime routine and you’re just going through the motions and you’re reluctant or nervous or second guessing yourself, you’re not going to leverage that experience for your, or at least not leverage it fully for your growth.

Once again, couch potato to five k did not give it a hundred percent effort. A hundred percent ending power crossing the finish line. A hundred percent commitment to evaluating and a hundred percent of your emotional capacity there.

Are you going to be at full capacity? No, probably not, but you’re hitting your threshold for that situation or that relationship. So I’m just going to say them again. Without the explanation, energy, effort, ending power evaluation, and emotional presence focus.

That, is what is required of you when you are allowing yourself to create productive action in your life, and that is my challenge for you. Track your productive failures. Try to get a hundred this month. They can be little, they can be big, it doesn’t matter. That is what’s gonna grow you up. That is what’s going to create success. If you want to be the calm connected parent, the calm connected mom, do this work. Go kill it at doing productive failures.

If you don’t, you’re still gonna be uncomfortable. You’re gonna still have the failures. It’s just gonna feel crappy, and you’re not gonna get the growth, and it’s not gonna create the end result that you want. You’re just gonna stay stuck and confusion, perfectionistic thinking, feeling overwhelmed, waiting around to feel confident or competent instead of realizing, oh, my confidence and my competence comes through productive failure.

My learning and growth comes through productive failure. My success as a parent to show up at any given moment when there’s off track behavior. The kids are fighting, they left the kitchen a mess, they’re having an emotional meltdown to show up in a way that is calm and connected that I’m able to feel confident.

I’m able to set a limit from a place of compassion and firmness. All of that is the result of a whole bunch of productive failure along the way, learning and growing every step of the way.

Go gather and track and celebrate your productive failure. Comment below and let me know what productive failures you’ve had recently. I would love to see you comments!

Thank you so much for being here today. Help us all rebrand failure, seeing it in a new light, not believing the old stories we had about it and using it in a productive way so that it always is promoting growth and progress and more connection and more confidence with our kids.

That is what I want for you.

Alright, we will see you on the next episode. .

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Andee Martineau

Andee’s a mom of 6, reformed yeller, and the creator of Connect Method Parenting. She’s on a mission to help moms feel in control, bring the fun back into parenting, and ditch the yelling, corrections, and endless feelings of failure!

Can you imagine your kids happily listening to you, helping around the house, confiding in you, and getting along with their siblings? She’s got you covered with simple, scientifically-sound steps to do just that (that actually work. For real!)

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