Success And Failure blog

Understanding the way we perceive the constructs of success and failure can provide a secret stash of ammunition in business and in sport. If we look closely at the concept of success and the concept of failure and the perceptions which athletes for example hold about them it is possible we can impact performance.

In sport psychology territory attributions are often broken down in to stable and unstable categories. When an athlete attributes their success to ability e.g. ‘I worked night, noon and morning to get to this level’ this fits in to a stable category where performance is seen as something which can be predicted and something which the individual has control over. Take the comment ‘I had a lucky streak this week’ (unstable attribution); there is very little feeling of control over the effort and no room to predict future performance.

When one’s experience of success is built on stable factors this leads to greater expectations of future success and in turn increases confidence. Same for business. When we expect great things from our colleagues and impart the message in an encouraging manner, much of the time the individual will rise to the occasion. There is a lot to be said for praise. How praise is delivered will impact performance too and needs to be handled carefully – a topic worthy of it’s own blog really so keep checking in to the website ( for more information on that in the next few months!

For athletes the connection between attributions and sporting goals has an impact on behaviour which in turn will influence performance so it is important for sport psychologists to examine how an athlete perceives failure and success. Clearly when failure is repeated it is likely to dawn that lack of ability and/or negative beliefs are involved. There are other reasons why attributions are formed. These include the level of energy and effort expended, the history of past performances and whether they were successful or otherwise.

Given that attitude has an impact on performance, those with a less favourable attribution can improve performance simply by changing how they view success and how they view failure.

Exercise: Have a look at your own attribution style. When did you last experience success and/or failure and what reasons did you give for either? Are these stable or unstable attributions? Would it be useful to alter your attributions? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences of this!