Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The Smart Way to Learn from Failure

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The Smart Way to Learn from Failure

Many of us make mistakes on endless repeat – but new insights can help us to learn valuable lessons from our failures.


5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Is there an optimal technique for dealing with failure?

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


When people fail, they often create a false narrative to protect their egos and make the failure easier to swallow. A college student with a low grade point average might downplay the benefits of graduating with honors. If your application for your dream job gets rejected, you might insist that you never wanted to work in that field anyway, and you never apply for a job like that again. If you notice your stocks are plummeting, you might stop checking your portfolio. Do any of these behaviors sound familiar? If so, science writer David Robson provides a more constructive approach to failure.


People, by nature, fail to handle failure constructively.

Modern self-help guides extoll the benefits of failing. They profess that failure, something to be celebrated, is a step on the road toward success: Fail forward, fail fast, fail again, fail better, they trumpet. If only it were so simple! Alas, humans, by nature, don’t take failure on the chin. Rather, when confronted with failure, humans adopt a number of self-preservation techniques to protect their bruised egos.

The “sour grape effect” helps people deal with disappointment after a failure, but it also blocks future success.

Perseverance and patience are important criteria for success, so why do so many people abandon their dreams after a failure? Hallgeir Sjåstad, a professor at the Norwegian School of Economics, designed a series of experiments to investigate the psychological effects of failure. Sjåstad’s team found that when people were told they’d performed poorly at a task, they tended to devalue the task and downplay the impact of the skill in question. After a rejection from a publisher, for...

About the Author

Science writer David Robson is the author of The Expectation Effect and The Intelligence Trap. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Observer and The Washington Post, and he has worked as an editor at New Scientist and BBC Future.

Comment on this summary