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How to deal with failure: 4 tips on how to recover from a setback


by Colette Sexton
23rd Feb 2020

Failure is inevitable in life, but while many of us know this deep down, we don’t tend to deal with it in the healthiest ways. Colette Sexton gives her top four tips on how to deal with failure.


Everyone wants to be perfect. They want their appearance to be perfect, their home to be perfect, their relationships to be perfect, their home-cooked roast dinner to be perfect, and their work to be perfect.

But no matter what you do, no matter how much pressure you put on yourself to achieve perfection, you will fail at some point in life. The big deal will fall through. You won’t get the promotion. Your child will scream that they hate you in public. You’ll post something stupid to social media. The roast will burn. 

Perfection is impossible. Of course, when you are in the middle of a particularly devastating failure, it can be hard to convince yourself of that. Here are some ways to help yourself to move on. 

Stop abusing yourself

Your thoughts are probably going wild in your head — thinking about what you could, should or would have done. You are lying awake at night beating yourself up about it. You could be saying horrible things to yourself that you would never, ever say to anyone else.

While you should allow yourself to feel your feelings — be sad, be angry, be ashamed — you shouldn’t dwell on them. To do this, set some time aside to properly focus on what has happened and truthfully assess if there was anything you could have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. Then take that learning forward with you, and leave the self-abuse behind.

Remind yourself that failure is normal

Now more than ever, we are surrounded by examples of the “perfect” lives of others, thanks to social media. But social media itself is artificial and you cannot compare your whole life, warts and all, to what someone carefully chooses to broadcast.

You might feel that by failing, you are now a failure forever. That is not true. What is true is that you can handle failure, you can learn from failure and you can move on from failure.

Avoid unhealthy attempts to lessen the pain

While the first point was about avoiding mentally abusing yourself, this one is about why you should not physically abuse yourself. Alcohol or drugs are not going to solve the problem, and if anything, they are likely to make it worse. Trying to use them as a coping mechanism will completely backfire, so do your best to resist the temptation.

Try to reduce your anxiety

You might find that you feel very anxious following the failure. There are several things you can do to help to reduce this anxiety. Try the 4-7-8 deep breathing technique. This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 8 seconds.

Alternatively, you could try doing your favourite exercise or distracting yourself by meeting your friends for a cup of tea and a chat. If you are feeling anxious in work, you could try the 54321 technique: look for five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This helps to shift your focus and relax.

Above all, it is important to keep telling yourself that just because you did not succeed, it does not mean that you are not a success.


Read more: Estrangement, grief and the holidays: ‘Not everyone has that big around-the-table-together family Christmas’

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