On failure

Success-Failure-BloggingOne month into my official candidature for the PhD and I've already hit a speed bump. This was partially triggered by a personal set back and partially by having the realisation that my research design wasn’t working. 

The result of this, for me, was that I began to question everything – my research, my career plans, my sense of self. As you can imagine, this is a fairly distressing and uncomfortable experience. I tried to justify it to myself that this was actually a good thing, and that in questioning myself I would gain greater clarity, make better decisions in the long run and that ultimately it would be a learning opportunity. This is the kind of story that has been described in the psychological literature as a ‘redemption narrative’ (McAdams et al., 2001), where positive outcomes occur as a result of negative events. This has also been implicated in research on growth mindsets, resilience, and post-traumatic growth.

Today I read an article which suggested that the ‘success as a consequence of failure’ narrative can prevent us from actually experiencing the humility of failure, and allows us to avoid feeling and accepting the pain and discomfort that failure can bring. This struck a chord with me because, although I realise that telling ourselves the ‘success from failure’ narrative is reassuring, it isn’t always true - reality doesn’t always have positive outcomes. At times, believing that good things will come from challenges can set a person up for greater disappointment. Sometimes bad things happen. It is important to accept that and to understand that we can’t always control outcomes and we can’t always get what we want.

The reverse view is also important though, because often we need to have a little optimism to keep motivated in order to persevere with difficult tasks. So how do we find a balance when we experience failure? Cognitive flexibility would seem to be an important skill, whereby we simultaneously accept the existence of failure, and allow ourselves the space to experience the associated feelings of failure, while also working to continually make progress towards our goals.

So, my task now for this week is to acknowledge my own self doubt and uncertainty. The personal setback is something that I can’t change, so all I can do is to accept this situation. However I can change my research design and improve my chances of succeeding with my research. Instead of putting my head under the covers (which is what I really feel like doing), I’m committed to seeking and accepting help from others and to seek out the information that I need to help me make decisions about my research.



Jamieson, M. (2016). Sitting with Failure [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.livinginrelation.com/uncategorized/sitting-with-failure/

McAdams, D. P., Reynolds, J., Lewis, M., Patten, A. H., & Bowman, P. J. (2001). When bad things turn good and good things turn bad: Sequences of redemption and contamination in life narrative and their relation to psychosocial adaptation in midlife adults and in students. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(4), 474-485. doi:10.1177/0146167201274008

Doctoral research - narratives and identity


It's been quite some time since I've written a blog for this site. I've been busy over the past few years with supervising student's research projects and managing the private practice. With the start of the new year I'll be beginning a new journey focusing on conducting my own research, and I intend to update this blog with my progress more regularly. 

In brief, the focus of this research project is to explore how dramatic narratives within film and television influence the development of an individual's identity construction. This will involve conducting interviews to examine how people remember influential media narratives from their childhood and how they narrate their adult identity. 

PhD research is a lot of work, and there will probably be times when it becomes overwhelming and frustrating. However it should also be a highly rewarding experience and will most likely contribute valuable knowledge about how media affects individuals over their developmental lifespan. Social and personality research doesn't exist within a vacuum, and I'm grateful to my supervisors and colleagues for their hard work on related topics. 

For now, I have a lot of reading to do and paperwork for gaining the necessary approvals to collect data with participants. If you have any questions about this research, you're welcome to contact me to discuss the theory or implications of studying media effects on personality. 


Comments are disabled on this blog page.
If you would like to join the discussion, please click through the links to Connected: Media Psychology's Facebook or Twitter pages.