How to deal with failure

Avatar for Avaana Team By in counselling, emotional wellbeing, mental health, Self improvement, Success on 23/09/2023
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One of the beliefs that is most harmful to your emotional well-being is that failing makes you a failure. While it is challenging and upsetting to learn how to deal with failure, if you try something and fail, it doesn’t make you a failure. Today we’re going to talk about taking it in your stride and not letting failure get you down.

how to deal with failure

History is replete with examples of the best and most successful people failing before finally finding success. But while it is hard, you cannot learn if you don’t fail, and if you don’t learn, you can’t progress in life. The most important lesson when learning how to cope with failure is how to adapt and respond to the challenges that life throws at you.

Resilience in the face of failure

Resilience is your ability to cope with failure, learn how to leverage your inner strength, and make use of your support networks. This is one of the most important skills that you can learn in life if you wish to learn how to deal with failure. It allows you to face ups and downs positively and helps keep your health and general well-being on an even keel.

Failure is a part of life. It is difficult to handle and yet all of us must learn how to deal with failure at some point. Setbacks are common in everyone’s life, no matter what background you come from or which skills you possess. It may come in the shape of financial trouble, business losses, relationship woes, or other life events. But if you can build resilience, you will have the courage and ability to accept the losses and make the best of your situation.

A resilient nature helps you get over trouble quickly without doing too much damage to yourself.

Some of the best ways of building your resilience are:

  • Forging strong relationships and bonds with people in your life
  • Learning how to manage stress and anxiety
  • Leveraging your strengths and working on your weaknesses
  • Being humble enough to accept help when it is needed
  • Improving your ability and willingness to solve problems
  • Boosting your self-esteem and confidence levels

One of the best ways to understand how to cope with failure is to learn strategies that help you handle defeats and still feel like you are in charge of your life. There are several strategies that we’ll discuss but it’s up to you to choose one that works for you.

Coping strategies that teach you how to deal with failure

You are likely to come across numerous coping mechanisms on your journey to understanding how to cope with failure. It’s easier to understand them when they are classified by type. Here are some of the most popular types of coping strategies that you might find useful:

Defence mechanisms

These are the original group of mechanisms as defined by Freud. Some of them are well accepted and believed to be accurate examples of mechanisms used by individuals in response to failure while the rest are ill-supported by evidence.

Attack mechanisms

These are an attempt at transferring the stress or difficulties that you feel to other people.

Cognitive mechanisms

These involve you attempting to change your thought patterns to learn how to deal with failure.

Self-harm mechanisms

The least effectual of all mechanisms, these methods involve bringing harm to yourself either on a conscious or, more likely, subconscious level.

Conversion mechanisms

These strategies are an effort on your end to convert or change the failure to something else; an opportunity to learn and grow, for example.

Behavioural mechanisms

In contrast to cognitive mechanisms, these involve changing your behaviour patterns in a way to understand how to cope with failure.

Adaptive mechanisms

These methods belong to a group of healthy mechanisms that allow you to mould yourself to the failure to deal with future instances of the same.

Avoidance mechanisms

This is a type of unhealthy mechanism that involves steering clear and ignoring the failure at hand.

Why do we fail?

When we fail, it could be for a variety of reasons or one specific reason. Sometimes it isn’t our fault or it was something we couldn’t have helped, but in some cases, failure or success is entirely in our hands.

When we fail, we must spend some time understanding where we went wrong and how we can prevent failing in the future. When you’re learning how to cope with failure some introspection is necessary so you can learn from the past and apply those lessons to the future.

The more general reasons for failure are:

Not enough time/not being prepared

One of the primary reasons we tend to fail is that we have too much to do within a day and too little time to get it done. There are work commitments, social obligations, exercise, family and everything else that comes up in your To-Do list. When you can’t give enough time to a task or a relationship, it might be the reason for failing at it.

The key to overcoming this specific reason is to learn how to balance your commitments and prioritize the important tasks. You need to pick the tasks or relationships that are critical and step back from the ones that are not.

There are many helpful tips on the internet when it comes to hacking your productivity and boosting your efficiency at work. Use lists or apps to help you prioritize and schedule your errands so that you can feel more in control.

Not being able to keep up

Some phases in life have a steeper learning curve than others. Some of the most common reasons are a new job, learning a new skill, entering a new environment or experiencing a new life event.

All of us have different speeds of learning and different rates of adaptation to these learning curves, and sometimes, we are unable to keep up with new lessons that life requires us to learn.

If you feel that you are unable to keep pace or manage the new circumstances in life, seek help from your colleagues, loved ones, or those who are more experienced than you at the moment. Do not hesitate to ask for help because the sooner you do that, the easier it will be for you to adapt.

Extraordinary circumstances

Even though extraordinary circumstances are rare, they count as a general reason because, when looked at from a larger perspective, they happen to a large number of people. Sometimes life throws you into a situation that seems doomed to failure.

In such cases, you do not need to feel bad or overwhelmed but simply accept that this is something that is beyond you. Back off, take time out and remember that just because you are down, it does not mean you are out. Recuperate and come back stronger for this challenge or other battles of life.

How to deal with failure through positive mechanisms

When learning how to deal with failure, you can choose strategies that help in the short term but are bad for you in the long run. For example: binge drinking may help you ‘take the edge off’ but when it becomes a habit, binge drinking can be very harmful. There is a difference between doing something that comforts you while you pause and recuperate, and doing something that is a crutch to help you avoid reality.

Positive coping mechanisms help you reduce overall stress and improve well-being while still allowing you to handle all that life throws at you. These strategies require you to alter your perspective and view the situation in a different light so that you can approach it from a different angle.

dealing positively with failure

Such strategies help you develop a sense of maturity and enhance your ability to acknowledge your shortcomings without self-blame. Doing this will not only teach you how to deal with failure in the short term but also strengthen your ability to predict and avoid future failure.

Over time, positive coping mechanisms allow you to turn negative experiences into positive ones.

Here are some positive coping mechanisms that can help

  • Benefit-finding: Learning how to spot the silver lining and become aware of the good within the bad. This helps you reframe your perspective, so you are less likely to feel frustrated or angry with failure.
  • Immediate problem-solving: This technique helps you identify issues that you can fix now and gives you something constructive to do. It helps prevent you from ruminating about failure and gives you a plan of action that you can follow.
  • Spiritual growth: This is similar to benefit-finding, but it focuses on the spiritual or emotional growth that you have achieved by going through this event. It is not easy to do this, but it can be a great help to your emotional health.
  • Root-cause solving: This is a technique that allows you to analyze the cause of failure and spend time understanding how to fix it. It is a more proactive approach and is helpful for times when you may have experienced a setback but cannot give up.

Short-term strategies that will help you figure out how to deal with failure

Even if you know and understand the importance of positive coping mechanisms, it isn’t easy to stick to them in the days or weeks immediately after something goes wrong. When we fail, we feel humiliated, angry, frustrated or sad, and these emotions are strong and often overwhelming.

At this time, you’re vulnerable to negative thoughts and harmful behaviour and are unlikely to try and make a sensible plan to cope with your thoughts. That’s when these short-term strategies will help. They’re easy and will come more naturally to you at this time, making them the best ways to learn how to deal with failure.

  • Crying to seek release and comfort
  • Helping others less fortunate than you so you can feel better and reclaim a sense of gratitude
  • Channeling your anger into productive activities like cleaning the house
  • Adaptation or spending time figuring out how you can adjust to this new reality

If this list seems too theoretical, here are some practical activities that you can do right now so that you are distracted and occupied.

  • Brisk walking
  • Reading
  • Socializing with loved ones
  • Meditating or trying guided meditation
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Learning relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation
  • Taking up a hobby
  • Gardening or doing yard work
  • Playing games or solving puzzles
  • Watching television or movies
  • Listening to music
  • Visiting a sauna
  • Getting a massage
  • Listening to or playing music
letting yourself relax when failure comes

Sometimes you just need to give your brain time to process your emotions while you keep yourself busy.

Negative coping mechanisms that you should avoid

As you understand how to deal with failure, you must avoid negative coping mechanisms that are bad for you. Remember that unhealthy coping strategies might seem easy right now but tend to worsen your ability and resilience in the long run.

Apart from the long-term damage, unhealthy coping strategies add to your stress levels because they are toxic to your mental and physical health.

Here’s what you should avoid:

  • Dissociation or separating the self from difficult situations and parts of life
  • Picking fights to “let off steam”
  • Regression or behaving like a child so that you can avoid complexities
  • Repression or suppressing negative thoughts
  • Distancing or avoiding the problem and the people involved in it
  • Denial or refusal to accept that there is a problem
  • Self-harm or hurting yourself to block out the pain

When we’re dealing with difficult situations, we’re not always aware of what our behaviour is doing to us. If you catch yourself doing any of these things in excess, you might be using negative coping mechanisms that will hurt you:

  • Smoking or drinking more than usual
  • Doing drugs
  • Excessive sex or masturbation
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Eating too much or drinking coffee or energy drinks

Learn how to ask for help

If you struggle to learn how to deal with failure all on your own, reach out to a close friend or family member. Sometimes you need to talk about your emotions to help process them and by bottling them up, you’re preventing your brain from doing the work it needs to do.

let others help you cope with failure

If you feel you cannot talk to anyone you know, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. Ask your GP for a recommendation so you can find a counsellor or look for a source at the community health centre.

Remember this

Failing at something is just something that happened to you; it is not who you are. Learning how to cope with failure is just another life skill that we should all learn.

Before we end, here are nine positive affirmations to help you learn how to cope with failure and get through those bad days:

  1. Spend your time thinking about what you learned from failure so that you don’t find yourself in the same situation.
  2. Flip the fear of failure on its head by turning it into resilience: the worst has happened and you’re still here!
  3. Remember that failure is a small part of your life. In ten days, ten weeks, ten months, and ten years, you won’t feel as bad as you do today.
  4. Remember that you’re also responsible for your successes. The faster you get back on your feet, the better it will be for you.
  5. Most people tend to hide because they are scared of failure. You stepped out and aimed higher. Appreciate yourself for being more than other people.
  6. Negative thinking paralyzes you from taking action; positive thinking electrifies you into taking charge. How are you going to spend your day today – learning how to cope with failure positively or spending hours ruining it?
  7. When you look around you and see the success of people around you, remember that you’re not seeing the failures that went into their success. It’s not a fair comparison.
  8. It’s never too late to try to do something. Colonel Sanders started KFC at 66 after facing rejection from over 2000 restaurants. Don’t give up because you’re scared of failure.
  9. Many people have a hard time because they refuse to let go of the past. Redirect your energies to the now and future because you can control that.
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