How to Handle Failure

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Failure can make you feel awful. But it is an inevitable part of life; everyone fails sometimes. By communicating about the failure to those around you, boosting self-worth, seeing it as a learning experience and replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, you can handle failure and go on to try again.

Communicate

  • In order to handle failure, you need to identify your negative thoughts and behaviors and embrace new strategies, according to organizational psychologist Ben Dattner and University of Tulsa professor Robert Hogan in “Managing Yourself: Can You Handle Failure?” in the Harvard Business Review. If you get angry or upset at the prospect of failure, take a step back and figure out whether it is something that you can change by communicating with those around you. Dattner and Hogan suggest approaching failure with an open mind and finding ways to be calm and constructive. If a project didn’t go as planned, talk to your boss or your clients about how it can be improved. By maintaining calm persistence in the face of failure, those around you are more likely to see you as a go-getter as opposed to someone who can’t hack it.

Boost Self-Worth — and Don’t Give Up

  • Poeple with low self-esteem respond with still lower self-worth in response to failure, according to University of Buffalo professor and researcher Lora Park, et al., in "Contingencies of Self-Worth, Academic Failure, and Goal Pursuit" in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. This research also found that those who had higher self-esteem responded to failure with motivation and a desire to work harder to be seen as competent. This suggests that boosting your self-worth -- both ahead of time and in response to failure -- can help you to handle these issues more effectively. Find things that make you feel good about yourself, such as getting a haircut or going for a run. Try a mantra every morning, such as, “I am worth it, and I accept me for me." Surround yourself with people who believe in you and take their words to heart. Before long you’ll be ready to give things another try.

See It As Learning

  • College students who see failure as a learning experience are less likely to respond strongly when they fail, according to University of Michigan psychologist Yu Niiya in “Do Mastery Goals Buffer Self-Esteem From the Threat of Failure?” published in The Japanese Journal of Psychology. Try to see failure as a step toward eventual mastery. If you fail a class, you are more likely to master the material next time with repetition. If you lose a job, you will have learned what not to do and be less likely to repeat the same mistakes later. Failure is not always the end of the road. Sometimes it is just another learning experience.

Thought Replacement

  • Many people have negative thoughts in response to failure, but changing your thoughts can help, according to psychologist Robert Leahy in "Fifth Week: Overcome Your Worry by Overcoming Your Fear of Failure" on Psychology Today. If you have thoughts such as, “I’m a failure,” or “Why even bother trying,” replace them with something more positive. Instead of “I’ll never be good enough,” try “I’m good enough now, I just have to try again.” Leahy also recommends statements such as "I'm not a failure; my behavior failed," to reduce your connection to the failure itself. Do this exercise every time the thoughts come up and over time your thoughts of failure will be more positive thoughts of hope for the future.

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