How to Overcome Failure: 9 Powerful Habits

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
C. S. Lewis

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
Michael Jordan

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

Oftentimes things go OK or even better than that.

But on some days they don’t.

You make a mistake, have setback or you simply fail. It’s no fun. But you can’t avoid it either unless you avoid doing anything at all.

So what’s needed is a smart and self-kind way to handle such situations instead of letting them lead to vicious self-beatings and to them dragging you down into negativity for the day or month.

This week I’d like to share 9 habits that have helped me with that. I hope they will be useful for you too.

Bonus: Download a free step-by-step checklist that will show you how to overcome failure (it’s easy to save as a PDF or print out for whenever you need it during your day or week).

1. First, just accept how you feel.

How to Overcome Failure

When you’ve just failed it will most likely hurt. Sometimes a bit. Sometimes a lot.

That’s OK.

Don’t try to push it away by distracting yourself or by trying to push the responsibility onto the rest of the world (if you deep down know that this one’s on you partly or fully).

And don’t try to paint it over with a smile.

I’ve found that it works better to not let yourself be lead away by those options or impulses.

But to just be with what I’m 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 then it will go faster and in the long run be less 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.

2. Remember: you’re not a failure just because you had a setback.

How to Overcome Failure 5

When you’ve had a setback it’s very easy to start thinking that you will always keep failing in this area of your life. It’s easy to start thinking that YOU are indeed a failure.

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

Instead, remind yourself that:

  • Just because you failed today or yesterday doesn’t mean that you’ll fail the next time.
  • The truth is that this won’t last for the rest of your life if you keep moving forward, if you take action and you keep learning and it doesn’t label you as some kind of failure (except if you decide to create that label in your own head).

Seeing what’s negative as a temporary thing instead of something permanent is an essential key to an optimistic attitude and to keep going forward in life.

3. Be constructive and learn from this situation.

How to Overcome Failure 2

See it more as valuable feedback and something you can use to improve rather than only a big blow and setback.

I’ve found that the simplest and most helpful way to do that is to ask myself better questions (instead of the common ones that send you off into a negative spiral).

Questions like:

  • What’s one thing I can learn from this?
  • How can I adjust my course to avoid this trap/making the same mistake and likely do better next time?
  • What’s one thing I can differently the next time?

Take some time with these questions and be honest with yourself as you answer them.

There’s no rush and while some of the answers may be immediate others might take an hour, day or even a week to pop up.

The important thing is to start thinking about the situation from this perspective and to be constructive about things instead of getting stuck in denial or negativity and apathy.

4. Remind yourself: anyone who wants to do things of value in life will fail.

We often mostly just hear about people’s successes.

But the path to those milestones tends to have many setbacks. The story of someone’s success may seem only bright and fast-moving in what’s told in the media or we see in our minds.

But the reality – and the useful way to approach setbacks – is most often more like this quote by Michael Jordan:

“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.”

5. Let it out into the light.

How to Overcome Failure 3

Another powerful way to handle the emotional fallout and the thoughts that come from a failure is to not keep it all bottled up inside.

But to let it out into the light by talking it over with someone close to you.

By venting about it while the other person just listens you can sort things out for yourself, help yourself to accept what happened instead of pushing it away and release that inner pressure.

By having a conversation about the situation you can see it from another perspective and through someone else’s eyes.

This person can help you to ground yourself in reality again, to encourage and to perhaps even to find a way forward.

6. Find inspiration and support from your world.

A conversation with someone close to you can be very helpful.

Another thing you can do is to learn from those who’ve gone where you want to go.

Read about how they handled setbacks and low-points before or during their success in books, on websites or online forums.

Or you can simply tap into the enthusiasm or motivation of someone else by listening to a podcast or audio book for maybe 30-60 minutes.

This may not be specifically about your current challenge but can help you to shift your mood and mindset back towards optimism again.

7. Move forward again, don’t get stuck in mulling this situation over for too long.

How to Overcome Failure 4

Processing the situation and accepting it is essential.

But I know from experience that it’s also easy to get stuck in the same thoughts going around and around for week or a month.

The habit that has helped me with this trap is to take what I learn from questions like the ones I shared in tip #3 and to make a small rough plan for how I want to move forward from here.

So I take some time to sit down and write that one out.

8. Take action on that plan right away after you’ve drawn it up.

The plan you come up with will just be a start. You can course-correct later on, along the way.

So you don’t have to make it perfect.

Trying to do that can sometimes just be a way to procrastinate because you fear failing again or because it is hard to start moving after this rough and disorienting thing that happened to you.

Split your start of a plan up into small steps and then take action on just one of them.

If you still have a hard time to get going then go for a very small step, just 1-5 minutes of action forward. The important thing is to get started and moving forward again so make that easy on yourself.

9. Improve your self-esteem.

A last thing that has helped me in general to handle setbacks is to improve my self-esteem.

By doing so failures don’t become something that so easily drags me down and I recover more quickly from them.

It also makes it easier to see what happened with more clarity and to take responsibility when I am responsible but also to see when someone else is partly responsible or when I just had bad luck that I could honestly not have predicted.

And that helps me to not think that everything that goes wrong in my life is 100% my fault.

But how do you improve your self-esteem?

A good start would be to use much of what you find in this article.

Like remembering that YOU are not a failure, that everyone have setbacks, to be constructive in the face of adversity and so on.

By doing these things over and over and making them habits your self-esteem improves.

And over time a smaller setback may just bounce off of you and a larger one will not be the same blow as it used to and the shock and climb back up from what happened becomes easier and not something that is as paralyzing anymore.

Here’s the next step…

Now, you may think to yourself:

“This is really helpful information. But what’s the easiest way to put this into practice and actually make a real change with how I handle setbacks?”

Well, I’ve got something special for you…

A free step-by-step checklist that includes all the steps in this article… save it or print it out so you have it for your daily life and for the next time when you stumble, make a mistake or fail.

Download it now by entering your email below.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John B

    Very inspirational. I’m glad I read this. Henrik, you do a great job of being motivational and uplifting without sounding condescending. Keep up the great work! Looking forward to reading more of your articles.

  • Life is never, always a comedy. At times, it is tragedy. Both failure and success are mostly the creation of behaviour inside each person. I am having a rough time right now because of my failure. This is a big help for what I am feeling at this moment. I can now say that failure is not a bad thing but a good experience in my life.
    everybody in my class passed their final exams except me now I have to write it again next year, feel like this is just a obstacle in my life to surpass it.

    • Hi Ethan,

      I read your comment and felt obliged to reply because myself years ago I when through the same situation. It’s difficult to accept not passing your exams. But from my experience, once you have accepted it, you will feel better and ready for your next move. What I mean is setbacks are reminders that we need to pause and think about our next direction or rethink our present situation. Are you enjoying that course you have been doing? Is it what you have always wanted to do? Would you have been prepared enough for the next step if you had passed? Are you ready for next year when you pass the exams? Maybe there is something bigger and better waiting for you. Maybe next year is Your Year. You might pass it with distinction or more, you might be offered a place, a position something that you wouldn’t have if you have passed it this year. Whatever the reason, believe that there is one and it will be given to you at some point.
      One day you will know and you will be so grateful because during that extra year resitting your exam, you learn something far more greater about yourself. Set yourself a great plan like Henrik Edberg mentions in the article, define your goals and why you want to achieve them, then set yourself little rewards for achieving them. Focus on you and you will see yourself progressing. You will enjoy the journey more than waiting for the end result. Because next year you will pass. All the Best! Rolie

  • I can get so frustrated if I can’t get whatever I’m doing right the first time, it’s so silly! Yet time and time again I still get angry and beat myself up if I make mistakes. I like the fact that you mention accepting how you feel and to admit to yourself it’s okay to have setbacks, I really need to start doing this and not take everything to heart! This has also made me feel not so alone, and to realise that we all make mistakes. Thank you.

  • This is a great post Henrik and full of useful tips. I have found it to be really useful to listen to the self talk and notice my limiting beliefs and feelings, knowing that this is not the reality. The thoughts we have, especially the negative ones, are often linked to the painful experiences we have early on in life. It’s important to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings in order to heal those parts which have remained hidden and can cause so much pain throughout our lives. Great read.

  • these are nice advice, thank for sharing. Keep it up ! :)

  • Biju john

    Effective advices

  • Biju john

    All the advices in every step is really
    Helping for a person of less confidence

  • Trizha Sabaupan

    These are nice advice because many of us will be inspired to try in what we failed to do some says : try and try until you commit your success in the end