Why You Need a ‘Failure Journal’
There’s surprising power in recording all the ways you screwed up
A couple years ago, after pushing myself to learn some new skills, I started a “win journal,” a running collection of the big and small victories that I achieved every day. It helped me whenever I was feeling discouraged — I could simply return to the journal and remember that I’m capable of accomplishing great things.
The win journal boosted my self-confidence, but there came a point when I wanted to make some bigger strides in my life. To do this, I knew I needed a clearer picture of what was working and what wasn’t. So to go along with the win journal, I created its antithesis: the failure journal. The self-awareness it’s given me has been key to my growth.
In a failure journal, you record your — you guessed it — failures. You can do this in either a digital or paper notebook (I use the Notion app). While chronicling your blunders may not sound as enjoyable as capturing your wins, the process is powerful. Not only does it help you remember your mistakes so you’re less likely to repeat them, it allows you to disassociate with the emotions around your failures and discover lessons in each one. You’re reframing failure as a necessary part of success.
Track Your Failures Obsessively
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Try to see every journal entry as a launching point for growth. For each failure, ask yourself these four questions:
What is the “failure?”
Describe what you consider a failure. Focus only on the intended result and the ultimate outcome — this is about noting facts, not emotions. For example, in my failure journal, I noted that I did not reply to an email in a timely manner and lost a good opportunity to connect with someone important.
What caused the failure?
Trace back your steps and see if there is a specific action that caused you to fail. The idea is not to blame yourself, but to simply understand what you shouldn’t do next time. My mistake was going so deep into a work activity that I ignored all of my other responsibilities, including responding to emails. By the time I replied back to the person, it was too late. They no longer wanted to collaborate with me.
What would “success” have looked like?
Here, you can focus on two things: what success would have looked like in terms of results and what it would have meant to you personally. If I would have responded to that email in a timely manner, I could have made a connection that might have led to new clients and exciting opportunities.
What is the lesson in this failure?
This is the most important part of this whole exercise. What is the lesson? What are you going to do differently next time? Take as much time as you need on this one. The idea is to train your brain to remember: If I do x, y will happen.
With my failure, I realized I need to do two things going forward: 1) Put deadlines in my calendar for replying to people, and 2) Schedule blocks of time specifically for administrative tasks such as email.
Since I started failure journaling, I stopped dwelling on my mistakes and started using that time and energy to focus and what matters, like my self-improvement and the well-being of the people I care about most. If you want your life to change, you have to fail more, not less. And when you record your failures regularly, you’ll begin to see them for what they are: life lessons.