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4 Science-backed Strategies to Deal With Failure (With Examples)


Do you know what the secret to success is? Failure! Seriously, the most successful people are those who have failed the most. They don’t let failure cripple them. They treat failure as a small insignificant obstacle to limbo under or leap over. 

Yes, we can interpret the term failure as a negative thing. We can continue to treat a perceived failure as an indefinite ending. We can allow what we believe to be our failures to suppress and weaken us. Or we can control the dialogue. We hold the power to reframe the meaning of failure. We can use a momentary failure to propel us to success. 

If we don’t experience failure we don’t experience learning and therefore we don’t grow. Yes, when something doesn’t work out as we intend it to, it can feel crushing. It can sap our energy and kill our motivation. Leaving us feeling worthless and inadequate. But what if we reframe failure. What if we take the opportunity and lessons it provides, and build upon it? That’s when the real magic happens. Let’s discuss how to change our perception of failure to redirect our life. 

1. Learn to redefine failure 

Where do we focus our attention? Do we look through a negative lens or a positive lens? 

I set up a passion project business. A real labor of love. I put my heart and soul into it. When I finally pulled the plug on it after 5 years, I felt such a failure. Embarrassed and ashamed that I hadn’t reached the great pinnacles of business success. I saw myself as a failure. 

But you know what would have made me a bigger failure? To have had a dream and a burning desire in the pit of my stomach to create this business, and done nothing. We fail when we are too scared to take action. Just starting this business and taking and experiencing the thousands of hours of growth makes this a success story. 

So instead of recounting my story of failure. I have curated a story of insight, creativity, and courage. I recognize the drive, tenacity, and vision required to launch my business in the first place. 

Think of a past situation that you have always viewed as a failure. Look at this through a different lens, what other dimensions can you see? 

2. Don’t be stopped by failure 

The basketball legend Michael Jordan once said:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six 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

Read that again and think of your own life. Have you allowed failure to stop you? 

A lesser athlete would have taken the lost shots and quit. I’m sure many athletes around the world have given up when the going gets tough. But this is exactly when we need to persevere. This is the golden hour of growth. Bear this in mind in the future.

Instead of quitting, ask yourself what you can do differently. Where do you need to invest in training? Do you need any experts on board? 

When you come face to face with a “road closed” sign, don’t just go home and give up on your journey. Find another way. This is what being resilient is all about.

Sure, you may not pass your driving test the first time. You may fail an entrance exam for a college. Instead of ruminating on this, figure out what you need to do to flip the result. Do not take failure as an ultimate stop sign. 

3. Realize how our locus of control effects our failures

Are you aware if you have an internal or external locus of control? If you have an internal locus of control you believe you have power and control over your behaviors and the consequences of your behaviors. You take responsibility for your own actions. You attribute what happens in your life, good or bad, to your own actions or inactions. 

Conversely, if you have an external locus of control you believe you have no influence over what happens to you. 

For instance, someone with an internal locus of control may take full credit and responsibility for good exam results. They may account for their results by saying they worked hard and dedicated time and effort to their preparation.

Whereas someone with an external locus of control may attribute a good exam result to an easy exam. 

If you believe you have no influence over the results of your actions, you may not persevere. If Michael Jordan held an external locus of control, he may have swapped basketball for something else in a heartbeat. But he didn’t. He took ownership and responsibility. He failed and he owned this. This meant he would do everything in his power to improve. 

When we attribute an external influence as the reason why we haven’t achieved our goals, we minimize our potential, and maybe even set the tone of expecting failures. If we believe a driving test examiner doesn’t like us, we may not put ourselves in the position to take our driving test again. 

If we already expect a promotion to go to one of our colleagues, we may not put ourselves forward for success. 

Have you sabotaged yourself in the past? You deserve success as much as everyone else. But you need to line yourself up. Remember, you will never win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. 

4. Don’t let society define failure 

Do you know what grips my [insert rude word here] more than anything? It’s society prescribing what is or isn’t a cause for celebration. 

According to Hallmark, engagements, weddings, births, new jobs, new homes and anniversaries are cause for celebration. These are signs of “success”. On the flip side, separations and divorce, losing a job or not having children for any reason are “failures”. 

My friend carries the burden of failure following her divorce. No matter what angle I come in at, she still sees herself as a failure for being unable to make her marriage work. 

Where are those damn “Woo hoo you are getting divorced” cards from Hallmark? The deep shame my friend feels is insidious. And shame is at the core of the fear of failure

She is impervious to any twist I try to put on things. The fact is that she displayed immense courage in leaving an unhappy relationship. She has succeeded in being true to herself. 

She is my absolute hero. A beacon of strength and a model for self-awareness. And yet, thanks to the deep-rooted societal messaging she feels like a failure. 

So, if you have separated or divorced or are simply living a more unconventional life, keep holding your course of self-knowing. If, like one of my friends, you are following your dreams in a societally judged “lesser” job, you rock! 

We experience happiness when we define our own successes and do not allow society to twist our strongest personal successes into failures. 

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Wrapping up 

In the past, I’ve been guilty of allowing my fear of failure to quash my dreams. 

I am determined to listen to the wise words by Erin Hanson:

What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

Look back on your life and consider what you categorize as failures. Can you redefine them? Are you able to look at the successes behind the failure facade? 

Don’t allow failure to take control of your life. If failure shows up, use it to light a fire beneath you. Up the ante, consult with experts and be open to change and growth. 

Try to harbor an internal locus of control. Take responsibility for your actions and the consequences of your actions. This is an empowering position to be in. 

Above all, do not allow society to dictate what is or isn’t a success or a failure. Sometimes success and failure can be subjective. 

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Ali Hall

Writer

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.

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