If at First You Don’t Succeed: Personality Type and Recovering from Minor Failures
“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commander (ENTJ) personality type
We are all likely to fail... at least now and then. We hope it’s a rare occurrence, but there are times when our skills aren’t enough or we simply make a mistake. Dealing with failure is a challenge, and even as we work to improve ourselves, we can be frustrated with our remaining shortcomings. Some people may take a pragmatic approach, moving on easily from minor failures that have only minor consequences. Others may have a deeper response, and even small failures can test their self-confidence.
How we respond to and recover from our own failures ties into our personality type, so we decided to investigate further. We asked our readers if they agreed with the statement, “You are good at not letting minor failures hurt your self-confidence.” A little over half (58%) of respondents agreed, but that fairly neutral result doesn’t mean that there weren’t significant differences between individual personality traits, especially Mind and Identity.
Which personality types tend to take small failures in stride? Let’s explore the data in more detail below.
Analysts (60% agreeing)
Thanks to their core Thinking trait, Analysts are good at examining failure in critical, objective detail and may see minor failures as opportunities to learn and find a more effective way to succeed. Much like they would with a scientific experiment, Analysts gather useful data about what worked and what didn’t, modify their plans, and try again.
Yet Analysts as a group didn’t agree with our statement at a high rate. Self-assured as these personalities often are, when their deliberate and logical efforts result in even minor failure, it can shake their confidence. Their Intuitive trait only exacerbates this, as it may cause them to dwell on thoughts of what went wrong, so that their failures stick with them longer.
Sentinels and Explorers (59% each)
Overall, personality types with the Thinking trait were 9% more likely than those with the Feeling trait to agree (62% vs. 53%, respectively), and Sentinels and Explorers were divided along those lines. Those with the Feeling trait might experience greater disappointment when they fail even in minor ways, as it can be tough to emotionally reconcile good intentions with poor results.
As Observant personalities, though, Sentinels and Explorers usually approach failure with a practical mind-set – they tend not to dwell on the past, focusing on the moment and what they can do with it. Sentinels are realistic about the fact that failure can happen even with the most careful processes and procedures, and they are eager to address the problem in order to move forward. Explorers tend to take a more flexible and relaxed approach to life, believing that they can handle failure and other challenges that come their way.
Almost evenly split, Diplomats demonstrated the most difficulty recovering from failures, due to the influences of their Intuitive and Feeling personality traits. When dealing even with minor failures, Diplomats may be prone to imagining all the negative consequences, especially if they’re worried that they’ve let other people down. They may experience dips in self-confidence because they’re often quite honest about their emotions – and this isn’t a bad thing. Sweeping feelings under the rug isn’t their style, and although it may take some time, Diplomats will bounce back from failure.
We saw much more significant variations in the Strategies, with Extraverts being 21% more likely than Introverts to agree that they’re good at not letting minor failures hurt their self-confidence (66% vs. 45% agreeing, respectively), and Assertive personalities being 44% more likely than Turbulent types to agree (81% vs. 37%). Let’s look at how these differences play out among the Strategies.
People Mastery (83% agreeing)
Extraverted, Assertive People Masters have a big advantage when it comes to maintaining self-confidence in the face of failure. People Masters are confident in their strengths but also comfortable with their weaknesses. They don’t mind the limelight and they don’t mind asking for help when they need it. These personalities love to engage life, which gives them the energy to recover from setbacks quickly. With their people skills, they may even get a boost from their social circle that helps them feel good about themselves after failing.
Assertive Commanders (ENTJ-A) and Assertive Protagonists (ENFJ-A) tied as the personality types to agree with our statement the most (85% each). Commanders and Protagonists, especially Assertive ones, relish leadership roles and recognize that they can’t be effective leaders if they’re easily defeated by failure. Commanders may be focused more on achieving specific goals and Protagonists more on broadly inspiring others, but they’re both interested in learning from their failures and modeling that learning for others.
Confident Individualism (77%)
As Assertive personalities, Confident Individualists agreed at a high rate. While they would certainly prefer to succeed, they usually don’t care much what other people think if they fail and simply try again, rather than wallow in frustration or disappointment.
Confident Individualists’ Introversion, however, makes them a little less self-assured than People Masters in the face of failure, likely because it represents a challenge to their own self-reliance. A mistake will be harder for these personalities to stomach if it means they have to consult someone else for advice or assistance.
Social Engagement (46%)
The Turbulent Identity has a significant impact on how Social Engagers react to failure. Turbulent personalities tend to have broad, recurring self-doubt, and even minor failure might seem like confirmation of their own internal criticism. But Social Engagers’ Extraversion somewhat tempers their instinct to be hard on themselves, as they’re more likely to lean on close friends or family for support and to engage in other activities that can distract them or boost their self-confidence after a minor setback.
Constant Improvement (30%)
Constant Improvers struggle the most with bouncing back from small mistakes or failures. Their Turbulent Identity leads them not only to doubt themselves, but also to set very high standards for their own accomplishments – maybe unrealistically high, on occasion. These perfectionistic personalities can easily become frustrated by any level of personal failure and have a tendency to stew on it internally, rather than reach out for help.
Of all the personality types, Turbulent Defenders (ISFJ-T) and Turbulent Adventurers (ISFP-T) agreed with our statement the least (27%), albeit for somewhat different reasons.
Defenders are likely to see a personal failure as being wrapped up in someone else’s well-being, since they so often take on roles as protectors, supporters, and caregivers. To Adventurers, every experience, good and bad, influences how they view their ever-evolving sense of self, so it’s understandable that a failure can feel like a setback in their own personal growth. The Turbulent Identity can make these feelings even more intense for Defenders and Adventurers, making failure that much harder to accept.
This study indicates that the Identity personality aspect, more than any other, influences how we cope with failure. Those of us who tend to feel good about ourselves in general don’t take it so hard when we fail. Those of us who tend to have perfectionistic standards mixed with self-doubt can be a lot more easily shaken by even minor failures.
In the end though, what makes the biggest difference in our lives may not be how we feel when we fail, but what we do about it. Forgiving ourselves for failure, and for any negative feelings that it may provoke, is a great way to practice persistence. It’s impossible to universally prevent failure (and it’s perfectly okay to be disappointed by it), but it is possible to move forward with enthusiasm and resolve anyway.
Are you good at not letting minor failures hurt your self-confidence? How do you bounce back when you do fail? Share your thoughts in the comments below.