Whether you were denied a promotion at the office or you failed to qualify for a marathon, failing feels bad. Many people will go to great lengths to avoid failing so they don’t have to feel painful emotions.
Knowing how to cope with failure in a healthy way takes some of the fear out of failing—and it might reduce the pain so you can bounce back better than before. Here are 10 healthy ways to cope with failure.
1. Embrace Your Emotions
Failure is accompanied by a variety of emotions; embarrassment, anxiety, anger, sadness, and shame to name a few. Those feelings are uncomfortable and many people will do anything they can to escape feeling emotional discomfort.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making says you shouldn’t try to sluff off feeling bad after failure. Researchers discovered that thinking about your emotions—rather than the failure itself—is most helpful.
Allowing yourself to feel bad is motivating. It can help you work harder to find better solutions so that you’ll improve next time.
So go ahead embrace your emotions. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and let yourself feel bad for a bit. Label your emotions and allow yourself to experience them.
2. Recognize Unhealthy Attempts to Reduce Pain
You might be tempted to say, “I didn’t actually want that job anyway,” but minimizing your pain won’t make it go away. Distracting yourself or filling the void you feel with food or alcohol won’t heal your pain either. Those things will only provide you with some temporary relief.
Recognize the unhealthy ways you try to avoid or minimize pain in your life. Turning to coping skills that do more harm than good will only make your situation worse
3. Practice Healthy Coping Skills
Calling a friend, practicing deep breathing, taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, or playing with your pet are just a few examples of healthy coping skills. Not every coping skill works for everyone, however, so it’s important to find coping skills that will work for you.
If you struggle with bad habits when you’re stressed out—like smoking or eating junk food—create a list of healthy coping skills and hang it in a prominent place. Then, use your list to remind you of the healthier strategies you can turn to when you’re feeling bad.
4. Acknowledge Irrational Beliefs About Failure
You may have developed some irrational beliefs about failure at some point in your life. Perhaps you think failure means you’re bad or that you’ll never succeed. Or maybe you think no one will like you if you fail.
Those types of beliefs are inaccurate. And they can prevent you from doing things where you might fail.
5. Develop Realistic Thoughts About Failure
A 2010 study published in Appetite found that people were more likely to sabotage themselves when they were convinced a mistake made them a total failure.
In one experiment, dieters who were fed pizza were told they’d completely blown their diets. Those who thought they were complete failures immediately ate 50 percent more cookies than individuals who weren’t dieting.
When you find yourself thinking that you’re a hopeless cause or that there’s no use in trying again, reframe your thoughts. Remind yourself of more realistic thoughts about failure such as:
I can handle failure.
I can learn from my failures.
Failure is a sign that I’m challenging myself to do something difficult
You may need to repeat a phrase or affirmation to yourself to ward off negative thoughts or to reinforce to yourself that you can bounce back.
6. Accept an Appropriate Level of Responsibility
It’s important to accept an accurate level of responsibility for your failure. Taking on too much responsibility may cause you to unnecessarily blame yourself. On the other hand, blaming other people or unfortunate circumstances on your failure will prevent you from learning from it.
When you think about your failure, look for explanations, not excuses. Identify the reasons you failed and acknowledge what you can do differently next time.
7. Research Famous Failures
From Thomas Edison to Walt Disney, there’s no shortage of famous failures. Spend some time researching famous people who have failed. You’ll likely find that they failed many times along the way.
Many successful people continue to fail regularly. Actors get rejected for roles, athletes get cut from the team, and business owners get turned down for deals.
Study what they did to bounce back from failure. You might learn skills that can help you in your own life.
8. Ask Yourself What You Can Learn
Failure can be a great teacher if you’re open to learning. Did you make a mistake? Did you make a whole series of mistakes?
Think about what you could do differently next time. Then, you will ensure your failure has become a life lesson that helped you learn something.
9. Create a Plan for Moving Forward
Replaying your failure in your mind over and over again won’t do you any good. Don’t allow yourself to ruminate on all the things that went wrong. Dwelling on your problems or rehashing your mistakes will keep you stuck.
Instead, think about what you’ll do differently next time. Create a plan that will help you put the information you gained from failing into practice.
10. Face Your Fears of Failure
If you’ve spent most of your life avoiding failure, it can feel really scary when it finally happens. Facing your fears, however, can be the key to reducing the discomfort.
Practice stepping outside of your comfort zone. Do things that might get you rejected or try new things where you could fail. Over time, you’ll learn that failure isn’t as bad as you might imagine.
Sometimes, failure becomes debilitating. If you’re struggling to function after you’ve failed at something, consider seeking professional help.
Whether you’ve experienced a failed marriage or you’ve failed in business, talking to a mental health professional can assist you in bouncing back.
By Amy Morin, LCSW
Nelson N, Malkoc SA, Shiv B. Emotions Know Best: The Advantage of Emotional versus Cognitive Responses to Failure. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 2017;31(1):40-51.
Polivy J, Herman CP, Deo R. Getting a bigger slice of the pie. Effects on eating and emotion in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Appetite. 2010;55(3):426-430.
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