Healthy Ways To Cope With Failure

Think Success by Jayaram V

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by Jayaram V

Source: This essay was originally published in the book “Think Success, Essays on Self-help” by Jayaram V under the title, “Coping With Failure," and reproduced with publisher's permission.

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Summary: Find here suggestions and techniques to deal with failure and the fear of failure and accepting it as a learning opportunity to achieve success and reach your goals.

Nothing hurts us more than failure and loss. The pain and fear associated with failure can be serious and crippling. It hurts even more those who suffer from poor self-esteem and low self-confidence. Repeated failure contributes to low morale and expectations, while fear of failure prevents many from using their skills and potentials fully to reach their goals.

Since we live in a competitive world, where your social status and public image depend upon your financial success, people from all wakes of life react negatively to failure and experience despair and unhappiness. Unless you have a tough mindset, it is difficult to recover from failure and refocus upon your goals and tasks; and unless you develop positive attitude, with each failure a part of your hopes and dreams begin to die. Since it is not possible to predict the outcome of our actions and we cannot be sure that we will always succeed in our actions, we must learn to cope with failure in healthy ways and learn to keep our morale and confidence high. The following suggestions are helpful in this regard.

Know that you can deal with failure

A friend mine started an Indian restaurant in a small town in the USA. He suffered heavy losses and had to sell his house to repay the debt when the chef and the manager whom he recruited to look after the business betrayed him and ruined his reputation. Yet, within two years he recovered from the failure and started another restaurant. He is now doing fine as his business picked up. He told me that he learned from his father never to give up. Human tenacity is such that you can deal with any failure or problem in your life.

For that you must have courage, confidence and belief in yourself. With determination and confidence in your skills, knowledge, and abilities, you can overcome any failure in your life and find solutions to every problem. A setback may temporarily upset your plans and halt your progress, but with determination, right effort and right state of mind, you can recover from even the worst failure. One effective way to deal with failure is to treat it like any other problem, and apply your knowledge and intelligence to find solutions.

Accept failure as normal

Society degrades failure, but you do not have to. If your car broke down while you were driving, it does not mean that it is worthless, but that it may need repairs and some maintenance work. The same is the case with failure. In any goal oriented action, success and failure are just two possibilities. You must be prepared for both. We stumble before we learn to walk. We fail before we succeed. We cannot guarantee the result, but we can always guarantee a sincere effort. Our success and failure in any situation depend upon many factors which are not entirely within our control. Therefore, however hard we may try, we cannot be sure how our actions will turn out. A failure is success in the making; a phase within a process; a problem within a solution; and a disturbance within a dream. Each failure has a message to deliver and a lesson to teach. The good thing about failure is that it is temporary, manageable, and solvable with further effort.

Accept failure as a learning opportunity

You can either learn from your failures, or feel depressed or dejected and nurse your wounds. The choice is yours. Whether you are aware of it or not, you always have this choice. Your life is largely shaped by what you choose. We fail in our actions because we make mistakes. It may be caused by a wrong decision, a defective process, a bad judgment, or an incorrect tool we use. Since we are not perfect, we are bound to make mistakes. What happens when your computer develops an unusual glitch? You do some research and try various options before you find the right solution. If you cannot solve it, you consult someone or hire a professional. You just do not give up. Once the problem is solved, you use the knowledge you gained to deal with a similar problem next time. You can bring the same attitude into your other actions also. The cost of finding solutions and resolving problems in each case may vary, but the approach is the same. You should learn from your failures and mistakes, and move on. Failure grounds you in the reality of life, puts things in proper perspective, lets you know where you stand on the path to success, and what skills and effort you still need to move forward. In short, it prepares you for success. If you consider failure with this attitude it paves the way for your improvement and increased awareness, without lowering your morale and spirits.

Anticipate problems to prepare for them

Optimism is good, but it is always better to assess the risks involved in any situation and prepare for them. You should anticipate failure by identifying possible causes. You have to do it as preventive measure, just as you lock your house and start the security alarm before you leave. It is a proactive approach. Have you ever wondered why auto manufactures equip every vehicle with two headlights instead of one? Having one light is technically a good option because it prolongs the battery life. However, with two lights you can continue to drive in the night if one fails or is damaged. Systems are designed in such a way that for every failure there will be a fallback option. For example, even though most passenger planes are put on autopilot in the midair, for the safety of passengers they are always flown by two or more pilots. If one loses consciousness, the other can safely land the plane. Before you initiate any goal oriented action, anticipate what problems, bottlenecks, and possible breakdowns you may face in future and prepare for them with suitable alternatives and backup plans. It may not guarantee a hundred percent fail-safe system, but it will reduce your chances of failure.

Monitor your actions

In science fiction movies, astronauts may travel to distant galaxies while they are asleep in frozen chambers, but in real life you have to be awake and pay attention to your actions, especially those that may affect your success. Negligence can prove very costly and time-consuming, besides distracting you from your main goals and tasks. When you drive a vehicle, you cannot fall asleep. The same degree of attentiveness is required when you perform any important action. Do you know what is common to many successful companies? They pay attention to quality and strive for excellence. They make sure that errors arising from human negligence or prevented or minimized. Even the most automated systems require human supervision to intervene and rectify errors and malfunctioning. If you have visited a factory or a manufacturing plant, you will notice how the machines are constantly monitored by qualified people so that the processes would run smoothly. Nothing works on its own, without human intervention. You cannot put your duties and responsibilities on autopilot. Successful small business owners know the importance of monitoring. They do not take anything for granted. They go to great lengths to keep their customers happy and settle their grievances. You can do the same to increase your chances of success and minimize the possibility of failures and setbacks.

Accept responsibility for your failure

You might have seen people routinely blaming others when things go wrong, even if they have nothing to do with it. It frequently happens in politics. It happens in personal, and family matters also if there are people with questionable integrity. When you lose your way in the middle of a desert, you will gain nothing by blaming the sun or the sand or fate. You have to accept responsibility for what happened, and try to survive. The first step in dealing with a setback or a failure is to own it. It is the right approach. There is no shame in forgiving yourself for your failures or faults. We all make mistakes and occasionally fail in our actions. In fact, our rate of failure depends upon the complexity of the tasks. If you are doing something which no one has done before, your chances of failure are even more. Hence, you must accept failure as the risk that comes with any action. If you are honest about your failures, you will increase the odds of finding better solutions, friends, and opportunities to resolve them. If you blame others, you may lose any support you may get from them. Even if they are at fault, you may have to forgive them because you may still need them to complete your tasks. Therefore, own your failures, keep an open mind, and move on with the task of fixing the problem rather than becoming stuck in fixing the blame.

Keep your emotions under control

Emotions are bound to flood your mind when you deal with problems, conflicts and failures. They do serve an important purpose in your life. They call your attention to the problems, flaws, and risks hidden in your plans, decisions, methods and approaches and alert you to situations that they might create. In every failure and setback there is a hidden message that wants to teach you something. You can decipher it using your emotions. There is an aspect of intelligence called emotional intelligence, which helps you to decipher situations and make sense of them. It is normal for people to feel depressed or dejected by failure. Fear of failure also prevents them from taking bold actions. Since each failure cuts into your self-esteem, with each failure you feel increased pressure and negativity to reignite your motivation. However, you can do it by increasing your enthusiasm for doing the task rather than for the results.

Do the task as excellently as you can and leave the results to God. You cannot control the outcome of your actions, but you can control your actions and approach. Have you seen how tight rope walkers manage to cross long distances on a thin rope without losing their balance? They focus on each step until they reach the other end. You can bring that kind of Zen attitude into your actions. If you focus on the processes, techniques and methods rather than the results, your actions will improve and you will be more balanced, peaceful, and less emotional. Therefore, keep your emotions under control and perform your tasks sincerely, without unduly worrying about the outcome of your actions.

Be persistent

Weak minds are disheartened by failure and give up after a few setbacks. When they face problems, they stop trying, or find excuses to blame others or circumstances for their failures. Several years ago my friend and I went to a remote place in India in the countryside to climb a hill. Since we could not drive the car all the way to the hill, we had to park it in a nearby village and walk a few miles to reach there. If you are familiar with Indian summers, you know how hot it can get. By the time, we reached there, it was midday, and we were already exhausted as we walked in the glare of the summer sun on an uneven ground that kept rising gradually. From the ground level, the hill looked very steep at the top, foreboding the trouble we might have once we reached there. I enjoyed climbing hills both for the physical and mental challenges it posed. From each climbing experience, I learned lessons about life, human behavior, and myself.

Halfway through the climb, we were exhausted by the heat from above and the heat from the rocks. My body refused to move as I felt no strength in my legs. My friend managed to reach the peak ahead of me when I was still struggling about twenty feet below. For a few minutes, I wondered whether I should continue. My friend kept encouraging me to join him and see the beautiful panorama from up there. Although I was extremely tired, I managed to reach the top and saw the beautiful valley spread below. I was able to do it because by observing people, who were tenacious and perseverant, I learned not to give up easily. Some of my teachers in this regard were poor farmers whom you might not consider successful. But they had that tenacity, which taught them to survive the worst of calamities. You may even mistake them for being stubborn, but it is the same quality, which fuels their purpose and enthusiasm and keeps them focused upon their goals.

Sometimes you may not have friends or family members to encourage you when you think that you have reached the end of the road. It does not mean it is the end of all. You have to step back, weight your options, and move forward again in another direction. The end of a cliff is not the end of the world. In any discouraging situation, the strength and motivation to continue must come from within. In the face of failure, strong-willed people continue their effort, by keeping their hopes alive and their minds firmly set upon their goals. They respond to failure with actionable solutions. For them persistence means more than doing the same task again. They improve with each repetition, as they learn, adapt and try again, until they reach their goals.

Seek help from others

Successful people respond to failure positively. If they conclude that their failure was caused by a deficiency or defect in their methods, skills, or techniques, they either try to work on that area or seek other people's help. Prudence dictates that you should seek the help of those who are known for their integrity and reputation. Everyone is endowed with certain skills, strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths are your resources, which help you to reach your goals. Since your weaknesses may interfere with your strengths or success, you need to find people who can compensate for them, especially if they are going to interfere with your work. You can deal with your weaknesses by learning and training, which may require time and effort, or by seeking the help of those who are strong in those areas. When you seek help from them, you have to consider the risks and costs involved. For example, when you hire others you may have to share proprietary information, which may be used against you or shared with your competitors.

Be creative

We learn from history that under pressure people manage to find creative and inspiring ideas to overcome their problems. They survive under the most pressing situations by learning to use their minds creatively. It is true that some of the world's best ideas and solutions were discovered during difficult times when there were wars, natural calamities, or epidemics. Businesses routinely use adverse situations to improve their productivity or restructure their operations through innovation and creative solutions. You can follow the same approach and view your problems and setbacks as opportunities to think creatively and improve your methods and techniques. Psychologists recognize three phases in creativity, getting to know the problem, letting your mind rest and think of other things, and illumination when your mind suddenly becomes aware of the solution. You can follow the same approach to let your mind find creative solutions to your problems.

Think positively

Every significant failure brings out the worst in us before it brings out the best. In many situations when there are problems people experience negative emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, and low self-esteem. They may even begin to wonder whether their lives will ever be normal again. In the face of failure, you may become your own worst enemy and feel too critical of your abilities and actions. Out of frustration or anger, you may turn against your own friends and refuse to accept their help or advice. As we have seen before, people internalize success and externalize failures to protect themselves against their own fears and negativity. Even it does not guarantee peace because of the subconscious fears that people experience habitually about their own future. It is very difficult to live with failure when one has lost hope of resolving it. To overcome these habitual reactions, you have to train your mind to remain calm under pressure, focus on the possibilities and opportunities, and act rationally in the face of fear and dejection. You have to learn to dispute you negative self-talk, irrational beliefs and assumptions, and internalize positive affirmations. By staying focused on your goals and strengths, working around your weaknesses, increasing your knowledge and expertise, and improving your efficiency and effectiveness, you can keep your hopes alive and your chances of success.

Be systematic

If you organize your life and actions, you will greatly reduce the chances of failure. Being organized means keeping things in an orderly and verifiable fashion, having a place for everything and ensuring that everything is in its place. It means planning and performing your tasks with precision, imparting a method and structure to what you do and what you have, and keeping your work environment clean and manageable. It also means having rules, following discipline, enforcing order, prioritizing things, keeping task lists, following well laid out action plans, removing unnecessary clutter, and focusing only on essential tasks. If you are organized and systematic, you stay focused, conserve your resources and improve your performance. It helps you to remain in control of your environment, and maximize your effectiveness. With an organized and systematic approach, you will recover swiftly from your problems and failures, as you can identify the causes, locate and organize your resources and implement your solutions. It will also help you to plan and control your actions, conserve your resources, measure your progress, and stay on course.

Use the power of failure

Failure is not an option in a competitive world, where you are constantly challenged by people and circumstances to prove your ability and talents, and stay on top. When you are unable to reach your goals, you have to consider the options that are available to you and take right decisions, so that your failures will not hurt you or make you feel small and defeated. You have to use defensive pessimism to anticipate problems and stay prepared. To avoid repeating the same mistakes, you should improve your methods and processes constantly and minimize their occurrence. You can turn your fear of failure into a motivating factor to safeguard yourself from the risks that are inherent in your plans and actions. You must learn to face your failure with courage and accept the challenges they pose, without taking them personally. Each failure is like a storm in the long voyage of your life. In most cases, you can anticipate its coming by noticing the changes in your environment and take precautions to sail through it safely. You may consider each failure a part of achieving success, which demands timely and skillful action, planned effort, positive mental attitude, confidence and conviction. It is part of the learning and perfecting process and a means to self-improvement. You have to face your failures with courage and right attitude to make them propel you towards success.

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