Treat Failure Like A Scientist

Treat Failure Like a Scientist

I recently had a wonderful conversation with my friend Beck Tench. During our chat, Beck told me about an interesting shift in thinking that occurred while she worked at a science museum. During her time there, Beck learned how to treat failure like a scientist. How does a scientist treat failure? And what can we learn from their approach?

This post originally appeared on em> James Clear's blog.

Here's what Beck taught me…

Treat Failure Like A Scientist

When a scientist runs an experiment, there are all sorts of results that could happen. Some results are positive and some are negative, but all of them are data points. Each result is a piece of data that can ultimately lead to an answer. And that's exactly how a scientist treats failure: as another data point.

This is much different than how society often talks about failure. For most of us, failure feels like an indication of who we are as a person. Failing a test means you're not smart enough. Failing to get fit means you're undesirable. Failing in business means you don't have what it takes. Failing at art means you're not creative. And so on.

But for the scientist, a negative result is not an indication that they are a bad scientist. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Proving a hypothesis wrong is often just as useful as proving it right because you learned something along the way. Your failures are simply data points that can help lead you to the right answer.

Failure Is The Cost You Pay To Be Right

None of this is to say that you should seek to make mistakes or that failing is fun. Obviously, you'll try to do things the right way. And failing on something that is important to you is never fun. But failure will always be part of your growth for one simple reason…

If you're focused on building a new habit or learning a new skill or mastering a craft of any type, then you're basically experimenting in one way or another. And if you run enough experiments, then sometimes you're going to get a negative result.

It happens to every scientist and it will happen to you and me as well. To paraphrase Seth Godin: Failure is simply a cost you have to pay on the way to being right. Treat failure like a scientist. Your failures are not you. Your successes are not you. They are simply data points that help guide the next experiment.

Treat Failure Like a Scientist [James Clear]

James Clear writes at, where he uses behaviour science to help you master your habits and improve your health. For useful ideas on improving your mental and physical performance, join his free newsletter. Or, download his 38-page guide on Transforming Your Habits.


    While this is the way scientist are supposed to react to failure - they can often fall into the same patterns as the rest of us - with studies paid for by businesses that expect "results" - failure is no longer a good thing.

    This is why true scientific discovery - should not be controlled by big business.

    The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'

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