Failure sucks. But if your planning on doing anything important you are going to have to get used to it. Embarrassment, frustration and even bad situations you can’t control are going to be part of life. What can you actually do about them instead of just having a “positive attitude?”
I definitely haven’t reached the pinnacle of human enlightenment. So I can’t boast that harsh criticisms, the accidental blunder or bad experience never get to me. But I’d like to offer the practical steps I take to move past it.
1) Find a Meaning
Ask yourself how you can use the bad experience. Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, found meaning in his suffering while in a Nazi concentration camp. Here are some ways you can find a meaning in your situation to move past it:
- What has it taught you?
- Has it made you stronger/kinder/wiser?
- Even simply enduring a bad moment has meaning in making your happy moments better.
2) Keep a Failure Log
Keep track of any failures, embarrassments or blunders. Using a failure log you can give yourself a little checkmark of accomplishment. It may seem odd to reward failures in this way, but rewarding your failures serves two main purposes:
- It makes you more willing to take chances when the only risk is to your pride.
- It causes you to focus more on learning and growth than external recognition.
I’ve even heard from other people that if they don’t have at least a few major failures each year, they don’t believe they were trying hard enough.
3) Find a New Goal
Don’t dwell in the past. The best way to get out of a rut is to start building momentum again. Get a new goal or pursuit. A new challenge will get you to stop thinking about your failure and get you to focus on something positive. A new goal will also give the opportunity for future successes instead of dwelling on a current stumble.
4) Remove Chronic Sources of Stress
You ability to handle big stresses depends on how well you handle the little ones. If your life is constantly driving you crazy, you need to reconstruct it to better handle stress. There are already many resources on handling stress, but here are a few quick tips:
- Keep your energy high by staying in shape.
- Fire people from your life who are a source of chronic negativity.
- Find outlets for your stress that help you recover instead of intensifying the frustration.
5) Build a Support Base
Building a support base of colleagues and mentors will help you when times are rough. This is definitely a situation where you need to prepare in advance. Even if you aren’t having to deal with a particularly difficult situation right now, you might need some reinforcement in the future.
Have the right peers and mentors who will encourage you past your mistakes. Here are some tips for attracting the right people into your life:
- You give what you get. Be extra attuned to the needs of your friends and they will do the same.
- Join Toastmasters. I’m a Toastmaster and I can’t say enough about the great people I’ve met there. No large group will be consistently good, so you might need to try one or two clubs. But overwhelmingly, I’ve found Toastmasters to be a great place to make positive connections.
- Spend less time on negative people. If you can’t eliminate them entirely, reduce your interactions so you can focus more on better relationships.
6) Be Humble
A sense of humility and humor can keep you moving forward when things are tough. I’m not a follower that says overwhelming confidence is the approach to success. Being humble in your abilities but confident in your chances to grow will let you shrug off failures. I never would have stuck to blogging unless I had cultivated the humility that told me it would be a lot of hard work.
Humility doesn’t necessarily mean you have low self-esteem. It just means you are focused more on doing things without expecting immediate success.
Many Eastern philosophies emphasize goalless action. This doesn’t mean that you should not strive for anything, but that you should detach yourself from the outcome. If you win, great. If you lose, then you are one step closer.
7) Stop Analyzing and Start Doing Something New
There is a maximum limit to how much you can learn from an experience. That limit is actually fairly small with an isolated incident. If you give one speech and it fails, you might be able to learn one or two points of improvement. That’s it. Anything you “learn” after this threshold is just speculation which is often incorrect.
I’ve seen people in failed relationships, goals that went sour or broken commitments, try to learn everything from just one failure. Unfortunately, the only way you can learn isn’t just to fail once but to fail dozens of times. Trying to scoop up too much information on a bad situation just leaves you feeling miserable with the false sensation that you are accomplishing something useful.
After you’ve gathered a couple learning points, stop. Start doing something new. Pick out a new goal and move forward. After all, isn’t that what failures are for? To give you a small learning point and direct you towards bigger and better things?
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