From failure to flourishing: a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral model
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Two studies were conducted to examine if and how failure can lead to subsequent psychological flourishing. Both studies used the context of individuals’ biggest job-related failure or most significant challenge to test a proposed model of adaptive response to failure. Specifically, it was proposed that, at a cognitive/emotional level, an adaptive response to failure is characterized by acceptance of negative emotions and self-acceptance. Further, it was proposed that at a behavioral level, an adaptive response to failure involves goal disengagement coupled with goal reengagement, including reengaging with new goals that are intrinsically meaningful. These complementary studies both examined the relationship between individuals’ response to failure and psychological flourishing. Studies were conducted with different participant samples and used complementary designs to provide converging evidence for the proposed model. Using a random sampling process to recruit participants, Study 1 (N = 50) consisted of semi-structured interviews with individuals from the Austin community. Study 2 (N = 101) was an online study and consisted of a series of questionnaires and a writing task. Analyses were conducted on interviews, questionnaires, and writings to examine the relationships between response to failure, including acceptance of negative emotions, self-acceptance, goal disengagement, and goal reengagement, and psychological flourishing. Overall, findings underscored the significance of acceptance and goal reengagement in predicting psychological flourishing after failure. Goal reengagement, in particular, consistently predicted subsequent flourishing. Results also indicated that in response to failure, both persistence toward meeting established goals and moving beyond established goals can lead to subsequent flourishing. These findings imply that flexibility, rather than adherence to a singular response, may be adaptive in responding at a behavioral level to failure. Furthermore, results showed that failures characterized by higher emotional distress can lead to greater subsequent psychological flourishing than failures characterized by low levels of emotional distress. Overall, both studies demonstrate that failure, when responded to in an adaptive way, can lead to a broad range of positive psychological outcomes.