If you’ve ever experienced failure, you’re not alone.
Maybe you applied, interviewed, ran, or auditioned for a position and were rejected. Maybe you did poorly in a class or at work. Maybe you broke a rule, broke a promise, or had your heart broken. Maybe you disappointed, lied to, betrayed, or embarrassed yourself or someone else. Maybe you experienced an unfair situation where you couldn’t succeed no matter how hard you tried.
Screwups, setbacks, and struggles are a part of life. 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’s a painful, disorienting, and sometimes shame-inducing experience.
Most of us are hardwired to avoid pain and look for quick and easy ways to relieve it. This innate response can reduce our capacity to recover from future struggles and can negatively impact our health. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to help us cope, learn, and grow from life’s inevitable difficulties. We encourage you to embrace the potential that resides in failure because there is so much it can teach us.
How to Bounce Back From Failure:
Face it and embrace it.
- Failure can evoke feelings of pain, anger, sadness, fear, shame, guilt, confusion, doubt, distress, defeat, or some combination of difficult emotions. It’s natural to want to escape or numb these intense, unpleasant feelings, but when we numb the bad (fear, sadness, anger), we also numb the good (joy, gratitude, happiness). The first step to recovering from failure is to face the discomfort. Allowing ourselves to feel hurt forces us to focus on the situation we’re in, understand it, and learn how to approach the scenario differently in the future.
- Try these tips to help you move through the “hurt 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 workshop or try out a mindfulness app to learn how to be in the present moment. Creating awareness can help us in so many ways.
- Be aware of the negativity bias. Our brains are built to focus more on the bad than on the good. This means that when something difficult happens, it can consume us. Try to find balance by focusing on what is good in your life, especially the small things we often take for granted. Practicing gratitude is a useful way to help shift our mindset in a positive direction.
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, or that you weren’t compatible with that person, or that you weren’t at your best, or that your learning strategy needs improvement. It could also mean that the 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 imperfect. 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 judgement, blame, guilt, or shame? See if you can rewrite it without judgement or blame. If guilt or shame appear, try changing the narrative. Failing doesn’t mean you’re 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 everyone fails, and it’s okay.
- 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.
Learn from it.
Learning and recovering from setbacks doesn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing process that continues throughout our lives. Each time we fall down and get back up, we’re a little bit stronger, wiser, more courageous, more resilient, and more self-compassionate, even if it doesn’t feel like it 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 hurt 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 engage with one another and start talking about our failures. Be kind to yourself and others. Live with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and embrace your imperfections. Together, we can end the stigma and shame and create a culture of openness and honesty about life’s inevitables struggles. Let’s reframe the narrative around failure by sharing our experiences. Take the Rams Fail Forward pledge.
Resources To Help You Bounce Back:
- Stanford Resilience Videos
- The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown
- Listening to Shame, Brené Brown
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth
- Growth Mindset: The Power of Believing that You Can Improve, Carol Dweck
- How to Have a Really Successful Failure. Abigail Lipson
- Growth Mindset Article
- Rising Strong: The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution. Brené Brown
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck