How to Overcome Failure

Overcoming Failure

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Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.
— Coco Chanel

This is the second of a two part series about failure:


Take Immediate Action

Having just failed at something, it’s important that you don’t get down on yourself by dwelling mindlessly at the guilt or disappointment you are now feeling as a result of this outcome. The best way to take your mind off the failure is to immediately take action.

First of all you must commit yourself to doing something that will help you to resolve things and potentially overcome this failed attempt. You must commit yourself to taking some kind of action despite the obstacles or problems you are now facing. However, before jumping into things, it’s important to reflect upon these obstacles and take time to draw up a plan of action to overcome them. Ask yourself:

What obstacles are preventing me from moving forward?

How could I potentially overcome them?

Having gained some clarity about what specifically is standing in your way, you must now pinpoint exactly how you will move forward.

At this time, it’s important to remind yourself about the objective you are wanting to attain. This is the end goal that you want to substitute for the failed attempt. However, this can’t just be any goal. It must be a passionate goal — something that moves you, and something that gives you ample reason to get up in the morning and follow your passions. If there is no passion behind your actions, then you will simply lack the motivation you need to get through the obstacles you face. Ask yourself:

What do I want to achieve?

When do I want to achieve it by?

It’s critical that you lay down an incremental plan of action with flexible time frames for completing specific tasks. Think in small steps instead of giant leaps. Overcoming a failed attempt can be difficult. This is why it’s important to take small progressive steps forward that will help build your confidence as you pick up momentum.

Having clarified what it is you want, you must now take positive action in the direction of your goal. Ask yourself:

What positive action could I take right now?

What one small action could move me forward?

Now begin immediately with that first step, without looking back. This is your moment to begin building the momentum you need to get through this setback.


Suggestions to Help Build Momentum

There are a number of things you can do that will help you to build up your confidence and momentum as you move forward past this failed attempt:

Seek Out Support

Be open to the idea of seeking support from other people. Other people might have been where you are right now. Their experience could be of great value to help you move forward. And even if they haven’t gone through what you’re trying to work through, they can still be there to help support you and potentially provide you with some guidance and/or fresh perspectives that will help you along your journey. This could give you the momentum you need to break through this temporary setback.

Burn Your Bridges

It’s difficult to create momentum when you are still stuck in the past — unable to let go of better days or “what if” scenarios. This is no time to mourn for better days. You must decide that you will burn those bridges and never look back. Instead you will look forward to the future and do the things that are necessary to ensure you get through this failed attempt successfully the next time around.

Clear Your Head

Often right after a failure, it’s important to take some time to clear your head in order to identify what just happened and what you need to do to get through this setback. On the surface this might seem as though it might impede your momentum. However, by taking the time to ponder what just happened, can provide you with the clarity you need to make the right decisions moving forward that will consequently help you to build the momentum you need to get things right the next time around.

The best way to gain some clarity is through the use of visualization techniques. Simply take the time to ponder what just happened, and then visualize the path you will take moving forward. While visualizing ask yourself:

What steps do I need to take?

How will I take these steps?

As you are answering these questions, use your imagination to visualize exactly what you are doing step-by-step that will help you to get through this moment of your life. The clarity you gain here will certainly help boost your confidence while also allowing you to make better decisions as you move through this process.


Be Realistic Moving Forward

It’s absolutely paramount that you keep your feet firmly grounded at this time. The outcomes you seek will come about as a result of hard work and dedication on your part.

Please don’t expect or rely on miracles. For you to get through this moment of your life successfully requires that you do things thoughtfully and carefully. It also requires that you are proactive and focused on moving forward without hesitation. The results you seek most likely won’t happen over night, however they will happen over time with consistent effort on your part.

Finally, it’s important you understand that life rewards those who take massive action. In fact, the more positive action you take the more progress you are likely to make. And even if you get stuck at times, you are likely to learn from this experience and adjust your course accordingly. This will likewise help keep you motivated and focused on exactly what needs to get done to help you side-step this temporary failure.


Reminders for Your Journey Beyond Failure

As you work on building momentum along your journey beyond this failed attempt, it’s important that you keep a few things in mind that will help you gain further clarity along this journey:

Seek Alternate Perspectives

It’s easy to get bogged down in one way of looking or thinking about a situation. This is especially evident when you repeatedly fail at something.

Repeated failed attempts should indicate to you that you’re not approaching the situation in the most effective way. You must therefore begin shifting your perspective about the approach you are taking. The best way to do this is to simply ask or reflect upon what others would potentially do in your situation. Ask yourself:

What would others do differently?

What would Richard Branson do in my situation?

What would Albert Einstein do in my situation?

What would Bugs Bunny do in my situation?

What would an artist do in my situation?

What would a child do in my situation?

If you cannot think about the answers to these questions by yourself, then ask other people for their answers to these questions, or simply ask them for their own perspective and ideas to help you move forward.

Focus on Solutions

After a failed attempt it’s always tempting to focus on the failure and get bogged down in the mistakes that you just made. However, this is no time to begin regretting what just happened. If you want to get out of this mess, you must begin focusing on solutions that can help you to adjust your approach the next time around.

Focusing on solutions is easiest when you stay mindful of the present moment. Solutions are found in this very moment, and not in the past or the future. Yes, of course learn from the past and plan into the future, but look for solutions in the present moment.

Be Mindful of the True Meaning of Failure

It’s important throughout this journey beyond failure that you keep at the forefront of your mind what failure actually signifies.

For starters, temporary failure is nothing more but a problem. You did something, and things didn’t work out as you wanted or expected, and now you have a problem on your hands. Taking time to work through this problem will provide you with the answers you need to get through this failed attempt successfully. It’s nothing more than a process of trial and error — an experiment of sorts, and you are the Nutty Professor. You are learning, growing and overcoming temporary hiccups along the way. You are in fact playing the game of life and learning the rules as you move along this journey.

Failure can also be a new beginning. Often you might need to go back to the drawing board and start over again. At other times it could simply be a new beginning in terms of the way you look at things and approach the events and circumstances of your life. Either way, it all comes back to the essential process of learning and growing from your life’s experiences. The more you learn and grow, the better you will become at playing the game of life — effectively side-stepping temporary setbacks and failed attempts.

Adapt Your Approach

If something is not working, then it’s possible you are not doing it right, or simply don’t have the necessary skills, support, tools, knowledge or resources at your disposal to get through this successfully. You must immediately become aware of this and adapt your approach accordingly. Ask yourself:

How else could this be done?

The more flexible you are in thought and action, the better decisions you will make when things appear to be going nowhere.

Cultivate a Solution-Oriented Creative Mindset

As you make progress along this journey, it’s absolutely critical that you keep your mind at peak condition. Your mindset must be primed and ready to think creatively and to take advantage of opportunities that may come your way.

A solution-oriented creative mindset is courageous, patient, determined, optimistic and grateful. However, probably most importantly, it’s playful — willing to play, be silly and laugh at itself. Yes, you’re dealing with a serious problem, but often the best way to overcome problems is to learn to be playful. This will help you relax while opening up your imagination to endless possibilities.

Keep Things Simple

The moment you begin complicating things, is the moment you will get lost in all the details. And it is these details that will dishearten you and destroy any motivation you had. Just keep things simple and straightforward. Even if you have a complicated problem, it’s often a simple solution that will provide you with the answers you seek.

Re-evaluate Outcomes and Decisions

As you move along your journey beyond this failure, it’s important that you consistently re-evaluate your outcomes and decisions. By taking time to contemplate how you’re doing and where you’re going, will help you to better clarify the path moving forward.


Prepare for Failure in Advance

Life is very much unpredictable and full of unexpected events and circumstances. Things often may not go your way. In fact, the bigger ambitions you have, the more failure you are likely to confront in your lifetime. This is okay. Failure is a part of life. However, failure doesn’t feel good, and so you want to try and minimize the negative impact of failure wherever possible. Here are some suggestions:

Prepare Contingency Plans

Things will not always go to plan. And in such instances — when confronted with potential failure — you will need to put in place contingency plans that will help you to adjust your course at a moment’s notice.

Create contingency plans for worst-case scenarios. Ask yourself:

What’s the worst that could happen?

How will I respond to this potential scenario?

What other courses of action could I potentially take?

Leave Room for Mistakes

Failure is often a result of a mistake that was made on your part. Like failure, mistakes are a critical component of your growth and development. Mistakes will provide you with the clarity you need to adjust your course of action accordingly.

Expect that you will make mistakes along your journey, especially if you’re doing something for the very first time. It’s important to leave room for these mistakes as you are formulating your plan of action. In fact, take time to consider what mistakes you are likely to make, and then build contingency plans around them. Ask yourself:

What mistakes am I likely to make?

What impact could these mistakes have on my desired outcome?

How must I adapt my approach when one of these mistakes are made?

Yes, mistakes can be costly. However, if you allow room for them, they will be nothing more than a learning experience that will help you to build momentum for the future.

Find Your Joy

Failure, making mistakes and experiencing setbacks doesn’t seem very joyful on the surface. However, it’s within the actions behind these outcomes that joy can be found.

Find joy not so much in your failures and mistakes, but rather within the act of trying and attempting new things, and within the process of doing things poorly at first. You are after all only human. You learned to walk by stumbling many times, and you will likewise learn to achieve your desired outcomes by falling on your backside many times.

While learning to walk a child stumbles and falls. However, we don’t often see them crying about it. Yes, they might cry the first time. However, later they laugh about it. They are joyful and happy that they tried and failed, because every time they try and fail they are actually making more progress. Then they get up and do it all over again, until one day they get it right and are able to walk without needing support or encouragement from others. Isn’t that how life should be? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could approach your challenges with the same joy children experience while learning to walk?

Put Yourself Out There

The best way to prepare for potential future failure, is to put yourself out there and fail as often as possible. Try new things, attempt something different and step outside your comfort zone as often as possible. Do this with insignificant things that aren’t tied to the big goals you set yourself. Here you will learn valuable lessons that you can eventually bring forth and apply to the big and significant future problems that you are likely to face.

Better yet, go out there and fail on purpose. Actually do something that’s completely out of your comfort zone and fail miserably at the task. Then learn from the experience, and use these lessons to help you better prepare for the problems that matter most.

Recognize Everyday Successes

To keep your levels of motivation high, it’s important to reflect on your past triumphs as well as your everyday successes. Within your successes lie the keys that will help you to get through the temporary failures and setbacks you will experience in the future. Take time to ponder how you overcame failure in the past, and bring these lessons forth into the present moment. Ask yourself:

What can I potentially learn from my past triumphs?

How did I overcome failure and setbacks?

How can I now use and apply this to my present circumstances?

Adopt a Beginner’s Perspective

No matter what it is you are doing — whether you’ve done it a hundred times or it’s your very first time — approach it with a beginner’s mindset.

When you approach something from a beginner’s perspective you are more alert, focused, curious and ask better questions. Conversely, when you are competent and overly confident about something, you will naturally tend to ignore and filter-out a lot of what’s going on around you. This closes you off from learning new things or from considering alternate approaches to getting a task done.

Develop Your Problem Solving Skills

One way to improve your chances of overcome future failure is to develop your problems solving and creative thinking skills. These critical skills will allow you to think more flexibly about your circumstances and will likewise open you up to perspectives and opportunities that you normally would not have been aware of.

Ask Better Questions

Asking the right kinds of questions will help you to gain greater clarity about the circumstances you are dealing with, while also helping you to stay focused on what needs to get done to attain the outcome you are after.

Take time to consider the kinds of questions you will ask yourself when confronted with failure. These questions must keep you focused, alert and motivated:

What if I keep moving forward?

What if I persist a little longer?

What if I do this differently?

Questions are especially important during moments of greatest uncertainty. They will provide you with the direction you need to keep moving forward in a positive and proactive way.


When to Quit

There will be moments in your life when it just doesn’t seem to make any sense to continue. Of course you may not want to quit, however quitting may in fact be the best option moving forward — it may be exactly what you need that will help provide you with the clarity you need to make better choices about the events and circumstances of your life.

When confronted with failure always ask yourself:

Is this right for me?

Is this right for me right now?

Is this worth pursuing? Why? Why not?

If your answer to the above three questions is a resounding “no”, then it’s very possible that the best decision moving forward is to simply pack up your bags and move in another direction. However, before you make any hasty decisions, here are several major reasons why quitting might be the best option for you moving forward:

  • Quit only if it will help you move forward in life in a better direction.
  • Quit only if it can help you unlock other opportunities that bring greater long-term benefits than those available on your current path.
  • Quit only if through the act of quitting you can begin to focus on your true passions and personal legend.
  • Quit only if it makes sense for health reasons.
  • Quit only if you want to burn all your bridges and gain a fresh new start doing something completely different.
  • Quit only if you’re on a sinking ship (metaphorically speaking). Going down with it could potentially bring you more problems than the problems you might face if you quit while it’s still afloat.
  • Quit only if you want to try something that seems more worthwhile in the long-term.

Quitting is never easy, especially if you’ve invested a significant amount of time, emotion and energy into an endeavor. However, at times quitting may very well be your best option moving forward.

It is however important that you never rush into your decision to quit on something, because you will often find that the greatest of successes come only after the greatest of failures. Therefore don’t quit because things are hard or because you feel overwhelmed, or just because you don’t have all the answers right now. Quitting for these reasons will only bring about a life of regrets and self-pity. As long as you’re following your passions and approach every temporary failure with a playful creative spark, then you’re on the right track, and sooner or later you are likely to succeed and make your dreams a reality.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Overcoming Failure

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4 Responses to “How to Overcome Failure”

  1. Angela Artemis|Powered by Intuition May 10, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Adam,
    You’ve packed a lot of great advice into this article. I especially like “burn your bridges.” I think it’s so important to move forward. Sometimes all it takes is making a forward looking decision to shake things up and move past mistakes into a better future.
    Thanks so much for linking to my post Adam too.
    Best,
    Angela

    • Adam Sicinski May 10, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      It’s my pleasure Angela.

      I absolutely agree with you. Sometimes we get so hung up holding onto our mistakes and trying to right the wrongs, that we never realize that these are the primary things that are actually holding us back.

      Thank you for your comment. :)

  2. Pluto May 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Ok,I’m sorry that I’m writing this comment before actually reading your post.
    But I’m on the verge of crying.
    Till 12th grade,I had almost A1s on all subjects and even occasionally I came first in my class too.
    Now I’ve moved to another country and got in medical school.This is my first year ans I place 9th on our entry test.
    I’m really passionate about my career,almost trying to give my best.
    I had a 50 marks test in Feb and I scored 33,The highest were 40.I really tried my best,overcame my failure and thought positively about what mistakes I made and where everything went wrong.
    I had another test of another sub,I really gave all my effort but scored 30 something,I can’t believe myself.
    Yet I still thought about my failure positively that I’ll again do my best on another one.
    And in April we had another physio test in which in the first one I scored 33,this time I really tried to utilize my time the best way,I was confident that this time I’ll get a good score but I didn’t go to school today as I’m extremely sick today and some one told me that I scored 34 or 35 on the test.I’m feeling very devastated.I know this is not the end but you know a person who used to have positions,it very hard to swallow results like that.My parents are also disappointed in me.They live in another country and they spent a lot of money on me in pursuing my dream.
    I’m very disappointed in myself too as I want to maintain my reputation from the past.I really don’t want to be just another person who scored this.For once again I really want to be in top three.I want to maintain my top grades from the past.Please please help me.
    My midterms are coming up in mid of June.
    I really can’t live my life having such average marks
    Later if it’s ok can I tell you about how I study schedule things like how I study,so you can tell me where I’m going wrong.I’ve read almost every post on your academic success.
    And please can you do a post on how to answer questions like what,why,enumerate,explain,these types of words used in questions.I used to have a page on it about how to answer such questions but it’s been years I lost it/

    Again I’m telling you that I really learned from my past mistakes and did my very best on that test,answering questions very accordingly and still I met with such results.
    Please help me.
    Thank you

    • Adam Sicinski May 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

      Hi Pluto,

      The predicament you find yourself in is very common. Many people make mistakes and experience failure over and over again. Then eventually comes a day when they give up, and then they no longer experience failure or make mistakes. However, for those who persist through these difficult moments of their lives — for those who learn and grow from the experience, a whole new world of possibilities opens up. You have to keep persisting through this. You have to keep learning and growing from your mistakes, and then adapting your strategy as you move along. You might not get it right today, or tomorrow, or next week or month. What matters is that you keep learning and moving forward.

      It’s also possible that the path you’re on isn’t the path you’ll ultimately take in the end. I don’t want you to get discouraged about this, but it’s possible that you might not get the results you are after. Your expectations are very high. And not everyone can be in the top three. You might not get into the top three, but it really doesn’t matter. Use every experience as a stepping stone to move yourself forward.

      Steve Jobs once said:

      “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

      I hope you can use the following videos and articles for inspiration about failure:

      - Famous Failures
      - 26 Successful People Who Failed at First
      - Nine Reasons Why Failure Is Not Fatal
      - 50 Famous People Who Failed at their First Attempt at Career Success
      - 5 Famous People Who Succeeded Long After They Should’ve Quit

      For your studies, please have a read of How to Develop Smart Study Habits. This article will hopefully provide you with some good ideas.

      I hope this helps.

      Adam

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