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Failure. We all do it.

Failure happens to all of us. Screw-ups, setbacks, and struggles are part of being human. Yet, we tend to forget this when we scroll past friends portraying their picture-perfect lives on our Instagram feeds.

In fact, daring to take on life’s most meaningful challenges involves substantial risk of failure. Whether you did or didn’t have control over the factors that contributed to a failure, it can cut deep, sometimes in ways that are painful, disorienting, and shame-inducing.

Most of us are hard wired to avoid pain or we look for quick fixes to relieve it. This innate response can reduce our capacity to recover from struggles and can negatively impact our health. But, there are steps we can take to help us respond to failure in a more positive way. Failure is, after all, one of life’s greatest teachers.

How to Bounce Back From Failure:

Invite the truth.

When we let the truth in, we often realize that our initial version of what happened might not tell the whole story. Accepting the truth might mean acknowledging that you weren’t the best fit for that role, compatible with a  partner, did not have the skills (yet) to be successful in a class, or that your life direction needs an adjustment.  It could also be that a situation was unfair and no amount of effort would have made a difference. In most cases, it means admitting that we’re all human and a work in progress. If you’re struggling to accept the truth and let it go, reflect on what is holding you back.

Check out these tips to help you find truth and let go:

  • Revise your story. Revisit the story of your failure. Is it honest and accurate? Or are some parts filled with judgment, blame, guilt, or shame? Try rewriting it without self-deprecation or blame. If shame appears, change the narrative so that you avoid defining yourself by a single failure. Failing doesn’t mean you are a failure; it means you’re human.
  • Cultivate Shame Resilience by moving away from shame (feeling trapped, powerless, isolated) and toward cultivating empathy (connection, power, freedom) for yourself and others.
  • Confront your shame and guilt. These difficult and toxic feelings can show up uninvited. Although some guilt is beneficial, shame, on the other hand, is toxic and destructive. See tips for how how to confront shame and guilt head-on.
  • Practice self-care and compassion. Make sure you eat well, move your body, sleep, and do things that you enjoy as you recover. Treat yourself well. Cut yourself some slack and remember that to be human is to fail sometimes
  • Adopt a Growth Mindset.  We develop our skills and abilities through consistent practice. Seeing setbacks as learning opportunities enables us to embrace life’s ups and downs.

Face it and embrace it.

  • Failure can evoke feelings of pain, anger, sadness, fear, shame, guilt, confusion, doubt, distress, defeat, and everything in between. It’s natural to want to escape from feelings that overwhelm our state of being. Yet, when we numb what we perceive as “bad”—that is, fear, sadness, and anger—we also numb the good, as in joy, gratitude, and peace. Recovery from failure begins with facing the discomfort it brings. Allowing ourselves to feel difficult emotions allows us to face our situation so that we can learn from it and move forward.
  • Try these tips to help you move through the “difficult phase”:
    • Write about your experience. What happened? How do you feel? Be honest and thorough in your narration of the event. Processing the experience in this way can help us understand ourselves and the situation better. It can also help us feel less emotionally charged.
    • Practice mindfulness. Lean into what you’re thinking and feeling in the present moment without dwelling in the past (coulda, shoulda, woulda) or the future (what if). Attend a mindfulness workshop or try an app  to learn how to be in the present moment.
    • Be aware of the negativity bias. Our brains are built to focus more on the bad than the good. When something difficult happens, it can consume us. Try to find balance by focusing on what is good in your life, especially by practicing  gratitude for the small things we often take for granted.

Learn from it.

Learning and recovering from setbacks doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. When we fall down and get back up, we can become stronger, wiser, more courageous, more resilient, and more self-compassionate, even if that does not happen right away.

Give these tips a try and learn what your failure is trying teach you:

  • Take a trip to the future and write about it. Describe your screw-up or struggle as if you’re reflecting on it from the future. From this perspective, the difficulty of your failure is long gone and you’ve survived. What made this a meaningful learning experience? Did you defeat shame with empathy and dignity? Did you develop a special connection with a friend or mentor? Did you keep trying? Did you embrace a new direction? What would “future you” say?
  • Name one thing you learned.It doesn’t have to be a life-altering discovery. Small and simple lessons can add significant value to our lives. Here are some examples of lessons learned to get you started:
    • I don’t have to go it alone.
    • Reaching out for help is courageous, not weak.
    • Those who love and care about me still love and care about me, despite my failure.
    • What seems impossible becomes possible when broken into little chunks.
    • I can’t fix it if I keep pretending it isn’t broken.
    • I can’t control everything that happens, but I can control what I do about it.

Break the stigma.

Let’s reframe the narrative around failure by sharing our experiences and learnings. Be kind to yourself and others. Live with authenticity and transparency, and embrace your imperfections. Together, we can end  shame-inducing stigma to create a culture of honesty and compassion about approaching life’s inevitable struggles. Take the Rams Fail Forward pledge.

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Make a commitment to yourself and your community by taking the Rams Fail Forward pledge.

Rams Fail Forward stickers can be found at the info desk in the CSU Health Network.