Failure in focus

This page is dedicated to all things failure. The ability to feel comfortable with failure – is a critical element to supporting and enabling resilience and positive mental wellness. Explore the full collection of failure resources and materials.

Fail Again, Fail Better: Celebrating Failure as a Wellbeing Intervention for Researchers

What do Post-It Notes and Penicillin have in common? They were both the results of research “gone wrong”, and may easily have ended up in the bin, had the researcher not paused to reflect on the value of their apparent mistake.

Failure is often a considered a negative but looking at it differently can open unexpected routes to success. Albert Einstein said, “failure really is just success in progress.” However, the pressures of the research environment can make it difficult to take this view.

Paradigms of educational histories teach us that failure can have disastrous consequences for future success (Jackson 2003). Elliot and Thrash argue that for many young people, fear of failure becomes “a dispositional burden that they must carry with them into each new achievement situation and that affects the goals they choose to pursue” (2004, 968).

By the time high-achieving students reach PGR level, fear of failure is often strongly developed and can lead to intense anxiety, as well as a risk-averse approach.

What can we do about this?

Salford University’s Doctoral School has developed a “Failure Fridays” initiative, in which experiences of failure are re-framed as opportunities for personal development and pathways to success. Drawing on creative and entrepreneurial practices, “Failure Fridays” present the experience of failure as something to be embraced and explored rather than avoided, drawing on research from creative and entrepreneurial contexts (Naray-Davey & Hurley, 2014; Babineaux and Krumboltz 2013, Hall 2007).

The intervention aims to create an open environment where researchers feel comfortable discussing mental health issues, and to get involved in conversations connecting with others. Flipping one’s inner monologue from “I failed to work hard enough” to “I failed to ruin my weekend” can have transformative effects on self-esteem, confidence and healthy working practices.

Outputs so far include wellbeing workshops, ‘re-gain your lunch hour’ activities and online resources such as the ‘Healthy Mind Platter’:

Building on the success of these pilot outputs, the initiative has developed to involve the broader academic and student community, external partners, and groups in the wider community as agents for change.

“Failure Fridays” provide playful, creative and open spaces (either physical or virtual) to explore self-care approaches through active failing, conversations about failure and fostering openness to failing as part of a self-help approach and strategic pathway to success.

Specifically, Failure Fridays engage with the following themes:

Failure is part of being human

We learn more through failure than through success. The times things went wrong, those embarrassing moments and our fails stay with us and are easier to recall than the occasions when everything went to plan. We are psychologically and biologically wired to remember the negative, this instinct helps us to protect ourselves against future disasters and keep us safely away from harm.

Embracing failure can improve wellness and positive mental health

Activities that support mental health needs have received much media coverage and funding to reduce the strain on the NHS, emergency services and improve the long-term outlook of those with mental health related conditions. Failure Fridays challenge negative misconceptions of failure and explore the positives that help us to build resilience and inspire positive action.

It’s OK to fail and fashionable too!

Failure isn’t a barrier, it’s a key milestone to success and as we discuss experiences, strategies and approaches to embrace failure, we openly invite participants to share their experiences too. Many celebrities and role models have openly talked about failure on their social media channels, sending more realistic and positive messages to young people.

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