Do You Focus On Failure More Than Success?

I have a question for you – what are you good at? With this blog’s focus on parenting, I could rephrase it to ask, what makes you a good parent?

You know what would be easier questions – what are you NOT good at – and how are you NOT a great parent? See, our world is quick to point out what it thinks is wrong with us. We know the answers to these more than to the earlier questions.

We focus on failure

In fact, this focus on failure is so prevalent that it now frames much of how we think. In the workplace, the annual review rarely starts with your successes – it jumps to your weaknesses and failures. At home, if you were to track what you say to your kids for just one day, your would see that most of it would likely be critical or corrective. We are just in the mindset that we are here to notice and fix our and their weaknesses and failures – and that we do others in our lives a great service when we point these out to them.

So here’s the problem. This creates a pretty critical vocabulary in our conversation with ourselves and others. Since what we focus on grows, the more we tune in to what isn’t right, the more we see what isn’t right and we miss what is right. We miss the opportunities to applaud successes, encourage effort, support discovery and inspire engagement. We are cheap with praise – with ourselves and with others.

Don’t try this but it makes my point

Let me share a workplace story that has application everywhere. In one of my roles during my career, I headed up an education department for a great company. My department took off – it took on great challenges, built sound education and changed many employees. Not once in the couple of years it took to do all this did my manager ever say “Thank you,” “Good job,” or “Nice going.” Frustrated, I delivered what could only be known as a career limiting move, when I said to my manager (okay – I don’t recommend this), “I think you have only 5 thank yous left in you before you die and you are afraid to waste one on me….” Well, I didn’t lose my job, but I did hear a little about respect. I earned that one.

But the meaning was that it didn’t occur to my manager to notice our successes – his mindset was that if things are working fine, that is how they should be – and no comment is necessary; he believed he should only watch for failures and challenges. With this thinking, he missed the successes – the things that we should always do more of. Remember this: what gets noticed and applauded, gets repeated.

Watch for successes

So, what are you great at and how are you a great parent? And since we are talking about this, how are you helping your kids focus on what they are great at, instead of regularly reminding them of what isn’t quite right about them?

Each of us is a work in process; we learn as we go. That learning should include learning about our successes, not just our failures. Our constant focus on failures and fixing weaknesses becomes the negative yack we play in our heads, and someday, it becomes the way our kids parent their kids – fix, correct, improve, find the negative, find the faults. Blah, blah, blah. Who can blame our kids for not listening to us if this is the primary communication they get from us?

This doesn’t mean only give your kids praise – you know, the “every kid gets a trophy” syndrome. It does however remind us that life is about learning – building on the successes AND learning from the failures. Both teach us about us and our kids. We should regularly notice and applaud true and legitimate successes with the same energy we focus on correcting weaknesses. This will set up both you and your kids to be able to answer the question, “What am I really good at?” And with that information, you’ll both know how to be ready for life.