We all know that we can’t choose when we fail, only how we react to failure when it does happen. But what’s less clear is why some people are better at brushing off mistakes than others.

In a paper titled Resilience to Emotional Distress in Response to Failure, Error or Mistakes: A Systematic Review, psychologists from University of Leeds and University of Sydney looked to answer that question by reviewing studies that had been done on the topic to date.

When they analyzed the data, they found three traits in particular that predicted who was less likely to experience emotional distress following failure:

  • High self-esteem: People who have positive views of themselves seem to be less likely to take failures to heart and more likely to move on when mistakes happen.
  • Positive attributional style: People’s attributional style has to do with how they explain the things that happen to them. People with more positive attributional styles tend to see themselves as responsible for good things that happen to them but to see bad things as arising from external flukes. People with more negative attributional styles see things the other way around, blaming themselves for the bad things and dismissing the good things as accidents.
  • Lower socially-prescribed perfectionism: Socially-prescribed perfectionism is a particular kind of perfectionism that has to do with the belief that other people are expecting perfection from you. As you can see, it makes sense that people who feel this way more strongly would also have a harder time accepting failure.

Overall, then, these findings suggest that the people who are most resilient to failure value themselves, give themselves credit for the good things that happen to them while not taking their mistakes personally, and aren’t driven by a need to be perfect for the sake of other people.

Put these three traits together and you have a skill that we can all aspire to: the ability to stay positive and keep moving forward when things don’t work out how we want.

Image: Flickr/Pierre Pouliquin under CC BY-NC 2.0