Money Smart Athlete Blog

The Money Smart Athlete’s Relationship to Failure

Mar 15, 2018 | Financial Psychology

by Debra Russell


As an athlete, you have a distinct advantage when it comes to financial challenges or failures – that is, if you remember the lessons you’ve learned from your sport.

There Is No Failure, Only Feedback!

As a successful athlete, when you have a loss, or blow a play, you cannot afford to wallow in despair. You know that every mistake brings with it an opportunity:

  • To learn,
  • To grow,
  • To hone your skills,
  • To evolve your strategies,
  • To become the best you can be.

If you’re in the middle of a game, you have to shelve the emotions and keep moving. But after the game, or from the sideline, you can think and analyze and learn from those results.

If you apply that framework to your relationship with money, to your financial losses or blown plays, and remember that when something doesn’t go the way you intended, there is tremendous opportunity. You can become ever savvier and more sophisticated in your financial dealings by exploring the feedback.

Definition of Feedback:

  1. Process in which the effect or output of an action is ‘returned’ (fed-back) to modify the next action.
  2. Information about reactions to a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

2-Step Process for Dealing with Financial Set-Backs

When you experience a financial loss or when an investment doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped or you get ripped-off by someone you trusted with your money, you have the unique opportunity to improve your financial skills using this 2-step process.

  1. The Debrief
  2. Mining the Feedback for Value

Each step is a thinking/brainstorming/writing process. Sit down with pen and paper (or keyboard and computer) and ask yourself the following questions. Give yourself 10-15 minutes with EACH question and write down every answer that comes to you – even if it doesn’t make sense in the moment. Really let yourself explore each question with as much depth as possible without editing or judging your response.

The Debrief

  1. What actually happened? (Be as objective and detailed as possible. Pay particular attention to the decision points, the emotions that drove your decisions, and what you were thinking/believing/feeling at the time.)
  2. What questions did I ask and did I get the answers I needed?
  3. What information was I given?
  4. Who did I trust?
  5. Who did I ask for help/advice/support and what were their responses?
  6. What strategies/tactics did I employ?
  7. What were ALL my results (both positive and negative)?

Mining the Feedback for Value

    • For each decision point, what could I have chosen differently, and how might that have changed my results?
    • What questions could I have asked? Where did I quit on getting the information I needed and why?
    • What strategies and tactics could I have chosen instead? (List all of them, even if they are strategies or tactics you’d NEVER choose).
    • Who could I have asked for help/advice/support? What stopped me?
    • What beliefs and emotions drove my decisions?
    • What were the payoffs/benefits of my choices? (Even when the outcomes are negative, we always make the choices we make because it serves us in some way – getting conscious to your payoffs is a critical step towards choosing differently.)
    • What lessons have I learned from this experience that I could apply to future opportunities? (Be careful not to be too judgy here – look for the principles underpinning the experience rather than beating yourself up for the choices you made.)

I recommend doing the Debrief as soon as possible after you start seeing your results from any business decision or event (good or bad). You want to capture your experience on paper while the memory is fresh. If the loss is significant and you are having strong emotions around it, you might want to wait a bit to mine the Feedback. Or you might do a session of mining right away, and then let it sit for a few weeks and come back to it after some of the emotion has settled.

It can be really helpful to work with a coach through this process. An objective viewpoint can be invaluable.

These questions should give you a good start to explore the feedback from your efforts so that you can learn from your experiences. In answering the questions for mining, don’t edit, think of ALL the ways you could have done things differently.

Very often we stop at 2 choices – this or that. But often there are literally hundreds if not thousands of choices, if we would just allow ourselves to think outside the box.

The most successful athletes are always learning, always questioning and growing, always honing their skills. This is also necessary to create success in your finances and business.

If you think of a venture as a failure – there is nothing to be learned and you cannot hope to do better in the future. If you think of every result as feedback, you will always be learning, growing and improving.