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5 ways to bounce back from failure

Words by Delicia Smith

We all make mistakes – it’s part of being human. Maybe you mess up in a job interview or fail to get a promotion at work. You might not make it onto the team or win the match.

It’s inevitable that there will be times in life when you fail. Once you accept that things will sometimes go pear-shaped – and that’s OK – you can pursue your goals without being paralysed by the prospect of things not turning out exactly as planned.

So don’t let failures demoralise you. Instead, use these five ways to flex a failure to your advantage.

1. Look at what went well

Forget the negatives for a hot minute, and look at what you actually got right.

“After any perceived failure, get into the habit of asking yourself: ‘What went well?’,” says Alex Kingsmill, life and career coach at Upstairs Coaching.

“This simple question draws your attention to the positive, it encourages you to consider what you learnt from the experience and then it asks you to think how you can apply those ideas in the future,” she says. 

Writing a list of things that you did right will help you reflect positively.

“List three things you did right in the situation you’re facing, that you’re proud of. This gives you a mental ego boost,” says Lana Hall, psychologist and founder at The Slow Life Project.

2. Focus on your values

“Instead of focusing on what went wrong, think about how you will respond in a way that aligns with what really matters to you,” says Alex.  

Doing this can help you to regain a lost sense of control and power.

Then choose one thing to do differently next time, based on what you’ve learnt from going through the experience.

“Choosing just one thing you’d like to change prevents overwhelm, and also ensures that you keep confident enough to have a chance of successfully implementing the change,” Lana says.

Make sure you take the time to discover the underlying value behind the action you’d like to take. For example, do you need to focus on learning, confidence, compassion, discipline, friendliness, courage? What character trait would’ve helped you navigate the situation better?

“It’s important to choose a way to act on this value now,” advises Lana.

So find an activity you can begin in the next thirty minutes that will give you the opportunity to display this value.

“Research something for learning, take a confident action like putting your hand up for a new project, build a connection with a colleague. This gets you out of your head and back into the present, and is a strong signal to your brain that you are already taking action to prevent hurt in the future, which reduces the brain’s need to keep replaying the event looking for answers,” says Lana.

3. Share the experience

It’s tempting to crawl under a blanket and hide! But resist the urge to isolate.

“Hiding away can encourage a sense of shame, which is confidence-destroying and life-diminishing,” Alex says.

“It can be more helpful to share your experiences with people who you trust. Doing this will allow you to see the experience for what it was, acknowledge your role, and then move on,” she adds.  

4. Go on the offence

Most people are so scared of failure they do everything they can to avoid it. As a result, they tend to take minimal risks and stay relatively small.  

“It can be empowering to flip this – to actively embrace failure and welcome the opportunity to extend yourself. You can try a new activity that you know you’ll be terrible at, volunteer at work for a project that you know you’ll need help with, take some training in a skill that really challenges you,” says Alex.

Every time you fail you can then celebrate the fact that you were extending yourself and challenging yourself to grow and learn.

5. Remember, failure leads to success

Failure is a stepping-stone towards success. It is only through failing that we often learn what we need to about life, love, and our careers. It’s good to know that even though you may be going through the tough part of a failure right now, you will come out stronger.

“Really successful people are not those who have generally sailed through life without ever having failed,” says Alex.

Remember, a failure today doesn’t mean you won’t be successful tomorrow.