Turning Failure into Success in the Fourth Dimension

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By Dan Coulter

Ever gotten frustrated when you’ve failed? I have. It’s especially hard when you feel that you’re somehow failing as a parent – or that your child is failing at something and you can’t fix the problem.

If you’re trying hard and you’ve made repeated attempts, it can be especially disheartening.

But even this kind of failure can be a step toward success.

To illustrate, let’s look at the movie, “Back to the Future.” Marty McFly, the time-traveling lead character, is a young musician who won’t send his audition tape to a record company because he’s afraid of failure. During the film, Marty is continually admonished by time machine inventor Doc Brown, “You’re not thinking fourth dimensionally!” By that, he means Marty isn’t taking the effects of time into account.

What does time and thinking fourth dimensionally have to do with failure and success?

Failure can feel final in the moment when you experience it. But it’s really only final for that moment. The next moment, you can start looking for another way to succeed.

In the film, Doc Brown has a framed photo of Thomas Edison over his fireplace. Edison tried thousands of experiments that failed before finding a good filament for the first practical electric light blub. The inventor said of these failures, "They taught something that I didn't know. They taught me what direction to move in."

So, we just have to get into that mindset, right? Simple. Okay, not simple. But possible.

Late in the movie, we learn that Marty has what it takes to be a successful musician when he plays a knock-em-dead version of Johnny B. Goode on guitar at a high school dance. This means, like almost all other good musicians, Marty had learned to practice through his initial failures to play songs adeptly, gradually becoming better.

Just like off-key notes are part of learning to play a piano or guitar, failure is part of the process in raising children. And no matter how experienced you get, no one gets it perfect.

My kids are now adults. They’re both doing well. But I still have moments when I wish I could convince each to do things differently – and I fail. But I’m much less likely to let frustration hamper me than I used to be.

I’ve learned to be more strategic, and try less direct approaches.

For example, when you encounter a behavior you want to change, biting your tongue and not commenting may be the best way to start the change process.

Let’s say you’re at dinner with your family and your daughter is taking large bites of food and talking with her mouth full. It’s tempting to correct her then and there. But if you’ve tried that before and it just caused an emotional scene, maybe it’s better to let it go for the moment. Then, plan a session where you sit with her and talk about it. Be inventive. Who are her favorite movie stars? Maybe you could find a movie that involves one of them sitting at a dinner table eating with good manners. Show her that section of the video and practice eating a meal with just you and her. Describe how you are both going to eat beforehand, demonstrate doing it right, then let her try. Make it fun. Don’t expect too great a change in one session. Eat a number of private, practice meals. Talk about the benefits of eating politely. Praise progress.

Generating even a small success can help your child feel, well, successful. And success is a great building block to more success. Especially if you take on behaviors you want to change one at a time.

At the end of the movie, Marty (having traveled to the past, overcome numerous failures, and helped his father find new ways to succeed) returns to the future to find things changed for the better. He also finds a new optimism.

The lesson is that success or failure can be a state of mind. If you’re willing to use patience and keep trying new approaches, you can always be in the process of turning failure into success where it counts -- fourth dimensionally.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the DVD “Manners for the Real World – Basic Social Skills,” and other videos that can be helpful to people with Asperger Syndrome and autism. You can find more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter (Revised 2014) Used By Permission All Rights Reserved

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