Lost job, separation, reprimanded by the boss, failed a test, messed up a performance, turned down by a girl or lost a fight.
It’s difficult to go through failures and setbacks, it hurts one’s self esteem. You loose motivation and you can develop defensive behaviors. Of course if you risk nothing you can’t experience failure.
Everbody that acts and takes risks will experience failure and setbacks sooner or later. Nothing lasts forever, that is the law of volatility which applies to everything. That’s life.
I want to take the negative stigma out of failure. In our performance driven society, the peer pressure to achieve, is but an illusion and self imposed. Everybody is creating it for themselves. Who forces you to outperform everyone else?
However, this isn’t meant to be an essay about dealing with failures in a specific culture. There is no reason to fear setbacks or attach a negative stigma to them.
Not only do setbacks belong in the game, along side of success, they can be used as a learning tool. Setbacks are a wonderful tool for learning and improving. But only if you get back up and try again. Giving up is not an option. To quit after giving it your all, that’s another topic.
Failures and setbacks are personal first of all.
Typically, after a setback, everyone is down and out. You doubt yourself, you question yourself, you are mad at yourself and the world, you are questioning everything. Frustration. “Life sucks!” It takes time to be able to get back on track. Take that time.
Depending on how big the setback was you might be at a point where nothing seems to work anymore. At the same time, an emotional firework starts: pain, anger, disappointment, sadness and depression. It’s a natural reaction to numb these feelings with sweets, fatty foods, alcohol, drugs and other distractions. Definitely options to get through the first phase. However if you are prone to loose yourself in such things, you better stay away from it. In that case talk to your friends, family, or your local pastor.
Don’t hold on to your negative thoughts. Stop brooding! The same thoughts in an endless loop? Your head keeps playing the same movies over and over again? Stopping it, but how? If you can’t stop your thoughts going round in circles, try these techniques:
#1 Focus on your breathing. Breathe into your abdomen. Breathe through your nose. Slowly. Count until five when breathing in and do the same when breathing out. Increase the time of breathing out. Continuously focus on your breathing. This will give you, literally, a breath of fresh air.
#2 Watch your own thoughts without holding on to them. Be a doorman. Say „Welcome“ and „Goodbye“. Let them pass by, don’t hold on to them. Just like a doorman doesn’t follow his guests into their room.
It helps to develop a positive mindset immediately. If you can look at something in a negative way, you can look at it in a positive way. It’s just a thought. Even better is a neutral mindset:
There are no mistakes, there is only feedback.
If you already feel the pressure to avoid mistakes and you are afraid of failing, then you should tackle this first. There are several reasons for this. For musicians, athletes and everybody who has to perform, it is mainly the expectation they are demanding from themselves. There comes quite a lot suffering with this. I once reached a point as a musician where I put myself under so much pressure with my own expectations that I couldn’t play at all. To get out of that was quite a lengthy process. You are creating this pressure by yourself. You can even see this behaviour with children attending school. When they play their instrument and make a mistake they are sometimes not able to regain the concentration to finish the piece. They are struggling so much with themselves. It doesn’t matter, if it is the fear of mistakes or the pressure of performing it really good. Both just is based on a wrong impression of themselves.
I can assure you that everybody is feeling some kind of pressure or fear in our current society. But you can work on that. You have to repetitively clear your mind that your value as a human being is not dependent from success or failure. A humorous way to deal with mistakes helps too.
Failure is overrated and so is success.
When I look at the big picture these are just small parts of the puzzle. Everything depends on the way how I am handling my fears, in this case the fear of failure.
Boxing trainer Cus D’Amato once said:
“There is no difference between a hero and a coward. Both feel the same. The difference is in how they act.”
Once you have found back to yourself you can actually gain profit from a setback. Rethinking everything and going into a new direction. Now is the time to analyze. What went wrong? How can I make it better? From a good setback, you can gain a lot of momentum for a huge comeback. At least that’s how it works for me. You can find chances and potential to move forward strongly if you are using the momentum of the rebound right. It breaks up your routine and that is a good thing. Setbacks open the way up to new possibilities. Things you didn’t think about before. It’s like you gained new power, everything feels new and your creativity is fired up.
To blame other people or outer circumstances for your failure can be encountered with healthy self-reflection.
Keep in mind:
It’s your life, your responsibility.
Lying to yourself is another self-protective mechanism. “That never would have worked”. “That’s not the right thing for me anyway”. “She wasn’t that pretty at all.”
It would be very stupid to continue in the same manner you acted before and hope for different results.
It is important to accept your setbacks and know that they will happen. Highs and lows are needed for development and that is how learning works in general. If you want to reach your goals you need perseverance and stamina.
The biographies of many successful people are a great potpourri of failure. That’s the way that lead them to success. I would call it a targeted, focused and risky experimenting. What success really is, everybody needs to define for himself.
Here are my five ways to deal with failure:
- Setbacks are, if you look at them in a neutral way, a part of success. Without them no great development is possible. With a positive mindset you can see the possibilities that failure offers. You can always find something positive if you try. A source for inspiration are for example the biographies of successful people I mentioned.
- The “Why“ of my actions has not changed. But it’s time to think about the “How”. It doesn’t make sense to question everything now. Get back to yourself and listen to your inner motivation.
- Mind games. „How would Rambo act?“ Think of your idols, what would they do in your situation? Talk to them. “What would John McClane advise you to do, goddamn it?” or – for girls “What would Jeanne d’arc have done?”. “How would Audrey Hepburn handle this situation?”
- A bit cliché but still working: Be thankful! Job gone, wife gone, house gone, but hey – you’re still alive. There is always something you can be thankful for. Be thankful for something, every day.
- Achievements. We have to make us successful again to get our initial motivation back again. To do this it is best to set yourself short term goals. A big goal should get split up in milestones anyway.
General reasons for setbacks are impatience, the urge to be perfect, arrogance, complacency and expectations that are too high (from yourself).
The dependence of your own self-esteem from other people’s actions or opinions.
All that provokes tense actions which are driven by the wrong motivation and therefore results in setbacks.
Be modest, do your job, bethink yourself on your strengths, keep your goals in mind and be patient.
Everything will be fine.
If you find this article useful and would like to read more you can use this translator to read my german articles.
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