≡ Menu

What to Do When You Fail: 4 Simple Steps

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Samuel Beckett

Things don’t always go swimmingly.

Sometimes I fail. It is not fun. At least not when it has just happened.

But over the years I have learned a few steps that help me to deal with this in a smarter and healthier way than just feeling sorry for myself for weeks or letting the failure hold me back from taking action again for months.

In this article I’ll explore what I usually do.

1. Just be with what you are feeling.

When you fail it will most often hurt. Oftentimes a bit, sometimes quite a bit.

And that is OK. Don’t try to paint it over with a smile. I have at least found in my life that it works better to just be with what I am thinking and feeling. To try to accept it, to let it in and to hurt for a while instead of trying to reject it all and to keep it away.

Because when you let it in and accept it will go faster and in the long run less be painful to process what has happened.

If you reject how you really feel then those emotions will pop up at unexpected times later on and can make you moody, pessimistic, angry or sad.

Just being with your feelings and accepting them is however not a license to start feeling sorry for yourself or going deep into the victim role for the next two weeks or months though.

It is one of the steps forward from what has happened.

2. Remind yourself that failure is a temporary thing.

When you have failed it is very easy to start thinking that you will always keep failing in this area of your life. It is easy to start thinking that you are indeed a failure.

Don’t fall for such a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, remind yourself that just because you failed today or yesterday does not mean that you will fail the next time.

The truth is that this won’t last for the rest of your life if you keep taking action and it does not label you as some kind of failure.

Seeing what is negative as a temporary thing instead of something permanent is an essential key to an optimistic attitude and to living a life of fully exploring your own potential.

3. Remind yourself that you will not be able to do things perfectly or do them 100% of the time.

Don’t set perfectionist ideals because then it will feel like you are always failing in some way or that you are not good enough.

Instead, focus on improvement.

Focus for example on eating healthy or staying optimistic 80% of the time at first. Then, later on, aim at doing it 90% of the time.

This is healthier for you and your optimism and self-esteem. And it is a more realistic approach because failure is a natural part of life (especially if you go beyond your comfort zone).

4. Find the constructive path forward.

The previous steps help me to move from the initial hurt to rekindling my optimism. In this final step more fuel is added the fire of optimism and action is taken to start moving forward again.

What I have found to work really well to do that is to ask myself a few questions like these:

  • What is one thing I can learn from what has happened?
  • What is one thing I want to do differently the next time?
  • What is one small step I can take to more forward today?

You may find more than one thing that you can learn, that you want to do differently or steps you can take to move forward.

But focus one just finding one for each question at first so you don’t get stuck in procrastination because you may feel that answering with a whole list of things for each question becomes too hard.

Image by Maks Karochkin (license).

Print Friendly
If You Enjoyed This Article, Get Email Updates (it’s Free)

Join over 59,426 awesome subscribers today and get practical happiness tips and personal development advice in your inbox.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Vincent July 17, 2013, 4:28 pm

    The mindset is very important when it comes to failing. I’ve got pretty much the same thought process as you, Jamie! At a certain point, it becomes automatic and you find that failure doesn’t faze you nearly as often after a while. You still feel disappointed, but you don’t linger.

    • Henrik Edberg July 22, 2013, 11:25 am

      Thank you for sharing your process and experience, Vincent!

  • Bryan Thompson July 17, 2013, 10:31 pm

    The feeling of failure can be a paralyzing force if we let it. For some people, it keeps them bogged down for a long time, making it very hard to move on. But coming to grips with it and learning from the experience can change our lives and make us that much more destined to succeed.

    • Henrik Edberg July 22, 2013, 11:25 am

      Very true, thank you for adding your thoughts, Bryan!

  • John Ward July 20, 2013, 11:08 am

    Great post. I used to talk failure so much to heart until I realized that it was part of the journey of life. As you point out from the quotes of Michael Jordan and Samuel Beckett, it’s those that make the most mistakes learn the most.

    My life changed when I started making goals. Daily, weekly and yearly ones. I found that I felt I was in control of my life, not drifting not most.

    Also I started to avoid the negative people in my life as my attitude became more positive


    • Henrik Edberg July 22, 2013, 11:26 am

      Thank you for the kind words and for sharing how you have learned to handle failure in a more helpful way, John!

  • Dems July 21, 2013, 6:37 am

    It’s true – the key to enjoying failure is remembering that it’s temporary and that with the right attitude it leads to success!

  • Ben July 21, 2013, 9:17 am

    I know exactly what you mean about wanting to reject the feelings. We’ve been told we’re not allowed to feel angry, needy, upset or whatever so try to pretend we’re not. But allowing yourself to feel it clears it pretty quickly.

    Like today something I thought was a sure thing didn’t work out and I got upset.. but I just felt it and it didn’t last for long and now i’m feeling fine. Trying to ignore that feeling wouldn’t have helped.

    • Henrik Edberg July 22, 2013, 11:29 am

      Yeah, allowing instead of ignoring tends to be much more effective to live a happier and more successful life. Glad to hear that it has helped you too!

  • Dan Munro July 22, 2013, 5:43 am

    Agree, it’s all about mindset. Failing is simply learning what not to do

    • Henrik Edberg July 22, 2013, 11:30 am

      Thank you for adding your perspective, Dan!

  • Barbara July 22, 2013, 10:29 am

    I try to think that what I did failed, not that I failed. It might sound like semantics but by separating your actions from yourself it helps stop the negative self talk kicking it.

    • Henrik Edberg July 22, 2013, 11:31 am

      That is a smart difference in thinking, thank you for adding that, Barbara!

  • Henri K.J. July 24, 2013, 3:17 pm

    Just be with what you’re feeling is the biggest takeaway for me. As the years have passed, I’ve realized that it is not by running away from fear that I grow the most, but by diving into it, and welcoming it in.

    Good stuff, Henrik ;)

  • Jeniffer Cooper July 25, 2013, 7:56 am

    I consider failure as the key to success. Thanks for sharing this excellent blog.

  • Rob Leonardo July 25, 2013, 3:03 pm

    Being in touch with my feeling is the most difficult part of this. And without admission to what I feel, there’s no way I could move on. Hence remembering always to be grounded on my feeling is important or I will continue to resent.

  • Wendy July 26, 2013, 4:26 am

    I really enjoyed your post. I think sometimes we set ourselves up to fail trying for that 100% perfection. There’s always a lesson to be learned and we should strive for that positive attitude.

  • Ravi July 31, 2013, 1:44 pm

    You learn when you fail. And this learning is better than the learning you get in success. You never forget these lessons, because you learned them the hard way. So start celebrating the failures.

  • steve werner September 9, 2013, 1:50 pm

    failing is not for the faint of heart

    I have had some monumental failures and seem to be on the brink of another.

    the only way I can rationalize is that I try so hard and often.

    Good things are on their way!! Then another failure I’m certain!!