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Can failing be fun? The answer is yes, if you ask Erin Diehl, a speaker, improv teacher, and coach, who spoke at the Booth Women Connect Conference earlier this year.

As founder and CEO of the professional development company improve it!, Diehl helps those in the corporate world to face their setbacks in a more positive way, making it easier to learn from mistakes rather than reeling from them. That means adding a dose of humor to failures, working with accountability partners, and purposely practicing the art of failing. Her mantra? Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Diehl shared her insights with Boothies and members of the larger community at the annual conference.

Embrace Tiny Failures

Erin Diehl cheering on stage with three female volunteers
Erin Diehl (right) with audience volunteer

Waking up late, spilling coffee, missing a birthday, and not responding to a text are all considered tiny fails, or smaller mistakes that happen to us daily. Diehl asked volunteers from the audience to share their own small moments of failure. Speaking openly about these disappointments, she said, helps us realize that we can move forward from all types of failures, no matter the size.

Instead of beating yourself up for every mistake, it’s important to notice that failures—both big and small—happen often, Diehl told the audience. “Get used to answering: What did I fail at today?” she said.

For some people, Diehl suggested it can be helpful to journal in the evening, taking note of any failures that happened throughout the day. Others may want to offer their own moments of failure during a family discussion on the topic at the dinner table. “It feels good to liberate those failures, to validate them, to talk about them,” she said.

Creating times to reflect and deal with your failures on a regular basis can also make it feel less intimidating to make mistakes and makes it easier to create a habit of moving on from them, she added.

“When we take those tiny fails and start to validate them and redirect them, we can see them differently.”

“Get used to answering: What did I fail at today? It feels good to liberate those failures, to validate them, to talk about them.”

— Erin Diehl

Find the Gift in Failure

Many of us automatically feel down after making mistakes, both at home and at work. Instead of dwelling on the idea that you failed or messed up, Diehl teaches clients to practice understanding how to learn from it each time, using improv methods and tenets she learned from her years on stage.

“Anytime you start to beat yourself up about that tiny fail, anytime you start repeating in your mind how mad you are at yourself for whatever it was that you feel like you failed at, you’re going to clap and say: ‘new choice,’” she explained. “Then you’re going to forgive yourself for talking to yourself that way and you’re going to reframe that thought with a kinder, more loving, and positive thought instead.”

For instance, instead of feeling embarrassed if someone points out that you spilled coffee on your clothes or have food stuck in your teeth, you could reframe these moments as conversation starters that allow you to make a new acquaintance or get to know someone better. Instead of feeling guilty for hitting the snooze button or missing a morning workout, you can focus on why it was necessary for your body to get the extra sleep—it allowed you to rest and heal and bring the energy you needed to accomplish your other tasks for that day.

Acknowledging that you’re choosing not to attack yourself for the mistake allows you to turn negative thoughts and limiting beliefs into something more positive, Diehl said. “What I’m saying is: find the gift in your fails.”

Move On from Big Fails

“When we start to exercise celebrating these tiny fails, we are strengthening ourselves for those worst, terrifying failure moments, which then feel less daunting,” Diehl suggested. Yet she acknowledged that coping with those big failures isn’t always as simple as embracing and reframing them. Instead, she suggests using a methodology called MOVE ON:

  • Marinate, or give yourself time to process the situation. “This doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “It could be weeks or months. Give yourself that time.”
  • Own the mistake you made, as well as your feelings about it, and then forgive yourself.
  • Verify the lessons you learned from the experience. “Ask yourself, what are the two to three things I’m going to take with me from this experience? What are two to three things I’m going to leave behind?”
  • Evaluate your next steps. “You put a plan together so that you can ensure you’ve learned from this experience and you can take action so it never happens again.”
  • Ohm, or take a meditative approach to your experience. “You sit with everything that you found out about this experience—the marination, the forgiveness, the lessons, the steps you’re going to take,” she said. This then prepares you to move on to the:
  • Next failure. “Because there will be another one and another one,” she said. “That’s how life goes.”

“So many successful people have failed more times than they have succeeded, and let me share with you these cold hard facts to let you in on the secret: Failing frequently leads to success.”

— Erin Diehl

Partner Up

Erin Diehl speaking on stage in a blue suit
Erin Diehl at the Booth Women Connect Conference

For those trying to redefine failure, Diehl recommends designating an accountability partner who can be a source of encouragement. Expressing to someone the emotions you feel about not measuring up can make it easier to cope once new challenges arise.

She recommends thinking of somebody in your life whom you would call with either really positive news or bad news. Pick that person to be what she calls your Fail Friend Forever—someone you can turn to who will acknowledge your failure and encourage you to move on from the mistake.

“This person is your accountability partner for failure who is going to help you fail more frequently,” Diehl said. “When those tiny fails happen, this person is going to help you not beat yourself up and redirect it with a new choice.”

For those just starting out or who may be skeptical of embracing failure, she has one reminder: “So many successful people have failed more times than they have succeeded, and let me share with you these cold hard facts to let you in on the secret: Failing frequently leads to success.”


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