Fail Gracefully (ALFA Method)2 min read

Even if you have the best possible tools, and make a sincere effort to follow the principles laid out in Mindful Self-Discipline, you will still face setbacks and likely “fail” from time to time.

When that happens, you can deal with this failure in a way that causes you emotional suffering and makes it harder for you to be disciplined, or you can deal with it with mindfulness and self-compassion—knowing that failure is only feedback, and that it’s not the end of the world. Failure is not terminal, and it says nothing about yourself.

For most people, shame is not an effective response to a “failure” experience. Shaming ourselves creates emotional distress. And you know what we are really good at doing when we are suffering? Seeking quick relief. So adding shame, blame, or guilt to the mix only sets you up for further failure, because now you are in a state of emotional distress, and will seek relief through instant gratification and distractions—which offer you a feel-good experience for close to zero effort.

The same is true for self-criticism, guilt, and feeling disappointed with yourself: they tempt you to stray further or to give up. 

Yet, for some people, a healthy dose of self-criticism and fear of future shame can move them forward to do something they actually want to do.

How do you know which of these two you are? Observe what happens when you shame yourself. Do you feel more driven and then go forward with positive action? Then use that as a fuel, if you wish. If instead shame leads you to indulge and procrastinate further, then practice being kind to yourself and failing gracefully, using the ALFA Method.

The ALFA Method is a process of forgiving yourself and starting over.

  1. Acknowledge. Take ownership of what happened without beating yourself up. Describe it in emotionally neutral language. Instead of saying, “Ah, I messed up again”, say “I chose to procrastinate, and now the project is late.” 
  2. Learn. What can you learn about this situation, and about yourself? What triggered you to act this way? What will you change so this doesn’t happen again?
  3. Forgive. Remember that you are human, and release all narratives of self-criticism, shame, or blame. You made a mistake, and it’s now in the past. Repair the damage if possible, and focus on being ready to move on.
  4. Act. Start again. Remember the importance of your goals. Gently but resolutely recommit to your goals and habits. Get up as many times as you fall. 

Your goals are more important than your failures. Remember why they really matter, and know that everything else shall pass. For inspiration, read success stories of people who did what you are attempting to do, and the failures they faced along the way.

Do whatever you need to do to move on from the self-pity stage, so you can once again be on track with living your designed life.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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