Dealing With The Aftermath of Failure
We have all heard people say this a zillion times that failure is nothing but an opportunity to grow, and it truly is, but, in that moment, when you realize or you hear that your entire world has come crashing down because you failed an exam, failed at multiple businesses that you thought you could make billions out of, failed at living up to your family’s expectations, failed at losing weight, failed at keeping a marriage or a relationship together, and probably a never ending list of other things, this statement seems light years away from the truth. With the new-age world that we live in that includes immense use of technology, even the inability to catch up has led to a sense of failure of one’s own self-worth.
According to a study at the University of California by Professor Martin Covington. the fear of failure is directly linked to our sense of self-worth. He believed that one of the ways we protect our self-worth is by believing that we are competent and trying to convince others of it too. In ability to adhere to this essentially means that we are unworthy and crippled for an entire lifetime, and we may never be able to do anything good again. Convington further found that if repeated failures diminish the belief to succeed, people would engage in practices that seek to preserve their self-worth. Usually, these practices take the form of excuses or defense mechanisms.
The debilitating after effects of consistent failure, often leads to a chain of other mental and physical problems- right from depression, anxiety, and lack of trust sometimes even on one’s own self, to an extreme of having stomach upsets, headaches etc. Reason being, the emotions generated by the attachment to the event/s, leave somatic charges on our body- a wonderful defense mechanism our body develops, to escape or retaliate in case history gets repeated.
Failure can be excruciatingly painful, demoralizing, and almost life sucking for some. But, in addition to the obvious bruises, failure can impact us on an unconscious level as well, leaving deep wounds that are far more psychologically devastating. It hence becomes imperative to recognize the scars that inflict failure in the first place, and then work on recovering from them, increasing your chances of succeeding in the future. Below are a few suggestions that you can not only help you recognize your wounds inflicted by failure, but also help you build new and better associations so that you don’t fall back down again.
Feeling Helpless- This goes without saying. Everyone has experienced this at some point in their lives. It is like an automated response that just comes out the moment we know we have failed at something.
Generalizing things and people– This practice is often damaging to us emotionally and mentally. We draw incorrect and unnecessary conclusions about our intelligence, abilities, capacities, calling ourselves unlucky, etc.
Imagining Worse Case Scenarios– A very common pattern that sets in after consecutive failures. We end up internalizing failure so much that it becomes one with us. We just know we will and many a times, we end up rejecting even an external thought coming from another person, about the possibility of success. We refuse to want to believe that it could be any other way because it has been like this for so long.
Limiting Our Ability to Think More Creatively– Creation of anything new- whether art, craft, dance etc comes from our unconscious mind. Failure based though patterns significantly impact our creative abilities and we usually end up believing that we have run out of new ideas or approaches.
Damaged Motivation- Studies have shown that our belief in success or failure directly impacts how much effort we put into achieving our goals. Most of the times, we end up becoming complacent in our approaches towards things, and invest less effort in pursuing or getting back up to reach our goals, thereby reducing chances of attaining them. This would be like studying for an exam, but not expecting to pass.
Averse to Change- Since our confidence is at its lowest, we are less likely to be open to change and mentally fight to resist it under any circumstances. It then becomes a viscous circle of being unable to be open to change, us putting less efforts into changing or being open to it, and consequently reducing chances of attaining our goals or seeing any change-in and around us.
Cognitive Dissonance– This is something that I have seen in many clients, and loved ones. On tracing back to the root cause of this kind of a behavior, almost all of them had internalized failure and on an unconscious level, they were petrified of it. In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts his personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts them. (Definition borrowed from Wikipedia)
Recognizing Wounds- The wounds that failure could have inflicted upon you could be beyond the list above. Recognizing what failure has done to you, how you behave, how you feel about it is very important to bring to the surface- not to make you feel worse about it or remind you that you failed, but in order for you to embrace it. One of the best ways to do this is grab a piece of paper, and draw 3 columns. In one column, make a note of the date of the event that brought into light that there was a failure. In the next column, note down the event, eg. Exam, job interview, etc. In the 3rd column, make a note of your wound/s.
Catharsis- This is a much forgotten about process which cannot be ignored. Failure sees no gender, caste, race. Once your wounds have been recognized, be with yourself for while, and cry out. If you feel you cannot do this alone, speak to a non-judgmental friend or a professional (who may charge for this), and ventilate. I encourage doing this alone only because many a times, even though someone’s intention might only be to help, not only will their opinions make you feel worse, giving yourself this ‘me-time’ will help you connect with those emotions that you have suppressed deep down within yourself. Make sure you have at least 3 liters of water in a day while doing this, because we are detoxing emotionally here, and you will feel drained or dehydrated by the end of it. It would also be a good idea to have some nourishing food by your side like dry-fruits, fruits etc, that will energize you slowly and steadily. Make sure you also tell your family and friends that you want to spend some time with yourself and that they should let you sleep in if need be. Get enough rest and sleep post this process, because the body will surely demand it.
Reviving Self-Worth – This process will not begin unless catharsis is done properly, hence make sure before coming to this stage, you have emptied yourself well. Grab a paper and pen again, and every day, for 21 days, make a list of 5 things you are good at, or 5 things you have succeeded in doing on that particular day. On days when you feel you are down in the dumps, even noting down the fact that you made it through the day without much pain and hassle in itself is a success. These strengths and successes could be small things like having your favorite meal, enjoying a fruits, having access to water 24/7 etc. Smart small, it shall eventually grow bigger. If you have trouble coming up with a list, ask a friend or someone who knows you well to remind you of your strengths. Read your list and reconnect to your potential, every single morning.
Reconnect With Your Why- Why did you want to pursue what you set out to in the first place? Reconsider now, with your new found strength and reasons, how you would feel if you would succeed? What all will be able to do if you succeed? How would your loved ones react to this? How will your body feel? Once you start amplifying these emotions daily, your failures and the fear of them will slowly and steadily impact you less than it did earlier.
Take Small Baby Steps Towards Your Goal- This could about focusing or changing your business idea, or just feeling better and stronger about yourself post a massive heart break. Remember it is natural and human to feel anxious when doing something new, but it is essential to do it nevertheless in order for us to get the results we want. Create a list of all the various approaches you can think of, rank them according to the risks they carry and then make informed choices, with a calm mind. Then, shortlist them even further by asking yourself or analyzing how realistic/doable they seem at this point in time. This will tremendously help you in gaining back your self-confidence, which you might have lost in the midst of making an impulsive decision.
- Factors of Control- Many a times, we forget that the only thing we have control over is ourselves, and almost close to nothing over someone else’s behavior, emotions or decisions. Accepting this fact is one of the best ways to not just over come failure, but also save yourself from more hurt in the future.
- Forgive Yourself & Others- Easier said than done, and almost everyone knows about this as well, yet, there is struggle. More often than not, we are unable to forgive our own selves to the extent that we shut ourselves completely and inflict more pain- not just on ourselves but others too. Many a times, people go to the extent of going numb and not wanting to feel any emotions, with an unconscious fear of being attached again, and building a wall around themselves that only oozes out more pain and grief from the broken crevices. Forgiveness of self and others only becomes possible once there is acceptance of a particular event or a situation, and is a process which cannot be forced or rushed. Remember, it is completely alright to fail, and there is really nothing to be ashamed of.
Most of the times, people are unable to forgive themselves because they feel they are not worthy of being forgiven, and this completely sucks them into a black hole. According to who? Did your Creator say this? It would be a good idea in this case to write 108 times a day, ”I am worthy of forgiveness & I am good enough.” Yes, you heard that right. 108 times a day! Once this is done and you start gaining back control over your own emotions, you are now ready to forgive any body else you feel caused you any sort of pain. Forgiveness does not condone a wrong doing, but just helps you release the grip over the pain that you have held on to that is damaging nothing but yourself. Failure and success are part truly two sides of the same coin- one cannot be separated from the other The only thing that we control is our response towards it, and others who have failed. Be a little less critical about them, and avoid making them feel worse than they already do. If you have nothing of value to add to them, you might as well not say anything that may deepen their scars further.
Find people who can handle your darkest truths, and those who don’t change the subject when you share your pain, or try to make you feel bad for feeling bad. Find people who understand that we ALL struggle, some more than the others, and there is no weakness in admitting it. Find people who want to be real, no matter how it looks or feels, and those who want you to be real too. Find people who understand that life can get hard at times and those who also believe that it is equally beautiful, and those who are not afraid to honor and accept both these realities. Find people who help you feel more at home, in your heart mind and body, and those who take joy in your joy.