How to Get Back on Track After an Upsetting Failure
Whether you like it or not, missteps are a part of our lives. Some of them are casual, while others are soul-crushing. But what they do to you depends on how you handle failures. How do you perceive them? Can you use them for your own good? Here are some tips for how to overcome failures feeling like a winner.
1. Define failure
When something you call a failure happens, catch it by its tail and think about how you define it. Is it possible that you overuse this word and stress over every little hiccup in your daily routine? Or perhaps you only leave this expression to name absolutely catastrophic events. What would those be?
Believe it or not, failure is not an objective thing. Everyone perceives it completely differently. What you call by this harsh word tells a lot about you and your own beliefs and values. So what is it to you? Do you think it is possible to sometimes call it another word, like a setback, a misstep, a break, or a learning curve?
2. Analyze your reaction
If you want to deal with failure, you can't get away from some self-reflection. You've already crystallized your definition of a setback and that will be handy whenever something happens not according to your plan. But what do your thoughts and emotions, right after something like this happens, tell about you?
Take a piece of paper and a pen. At the center write down every emotion your misfortune caused you. Try to be as specific as you can. Now, turn the paper and divide the other side into two columns. On the top left corner write “automatic thoughts.” Write down all the thoughts that come up to you when you feel you made a mistake. Don't edit anything, just write each new thought under the previous one.
3. Marry positivity with rationality
When you're finished with the left side of the paper, go and write “rational thoughts” on its top right side. Look at each of the thoughts that have arisen when you were upset about your failing. Try and find a rational response to each one of them.
See the left side as an accusation of some ruthless judge who tries to convict you for life in a parallel universe where every single mistake is fatal. Now, see the right side of your paper as a response from your earthly lawyer who seeks justice but understands that mistakes are not (always) crimes. Be that lawyer and defend yourself.
When you're done with your more positive and rational responses, turn the page and read what you previously wrote about your emotional state. Emotions are a fleeting affair, not to be trusted offhandedly. Can you see if they've changed while you were busy with your thought analysis?
4. Don't take it personally
After digging into your perception of this upsetting situation and into your own reactions, it's time to try and see the bigger picture. I'm sorry to break it for you, but you're not special – everybody fails. And, even more interestingly, the more successful a person is, the more failures he or she had to overcome in the past. Isn't that a funny thought to ponder?
If you're working on something that is of great importance to you, chances are you've isolated yourself a bit from the rest of the world. This births a risk of making every mishap to grow way out of proportion. But if you look around, you'll see that every single person has to deal with very similar challenges.
5. Take action
So you took some time to think it over, to make your insights, to draw conclusions. It's time to actually move on. And the very phrase “to move on” implies action. Be honest with yourself and see what is there to be done. Because there always is.
Recognize the cause, reset your goals to be more realistic, change your approach, change your circumstances, and try again. Don't shut down from others even if you don't feel your best right now. Coping with failure in a passive manner is a slippery slope to self-destruction. Even if you actually have to wait it out, waiting is more fun while busy.
6. Learn from your mistakes
To paraphrase J. K. Rowling, you only escape failing if you escape living altogether. Because in every attempt to learn something or to do something out of your comfort zone means risking to make a mistake. Only when you are at peace with the presence and necessity of this risk, you are then ready to learn and actually live.
Accept your responsibility without beating yourself up. You took part in what happened to you so some of it was due to your activity or passivity. But don't put too much on your shoulders at the same time, as there are always external factors that don't depend on you. Learn your part and envision yourself handling it in another way in the future.