Whether you’re building a new business, nurturing a complex relationship, half way through a degree or at the start of a new health regimen - ‘screw this’ would have passed your mind at least
once 300 times.
Indeed, giving up is incredibly enticing, especially when the task is novel and/or challenging.
But this brings up an important point, what does it take to succeed?
It has been suggested that success depends on four variables (1):
- Your skill level
- How hard you try
- The strategies you use (including both how you think and your choice of actions) and
- Luck (yes, luck!)
But here’s the interesting part:
- When we succeed, many of us say “oh, we just got lucky”
- And when we fail, we tell ourselves “we’re just not good at this, what’s the point of even trying”.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?!
While failure is never fun, we wouldn’t be able to learn without it. The problem is, when we’re in the psychological storm of failure, this is the last thing we’re thinking.
To help you navigate the minefield of mental failure, here’s three ways to help you bounce back like a boss:
1. Are you worried about what people will think?
Failure is rarely a one-person show, and will likely affect others. Often when our goals haven’t gone the way we wanted, our first thought is:
“I’ve let people down”.
And there is beauty in that! It shows that you are caring and cognisant of the expectations and feelings of others.
However, when our attention is too focused on what people think of us, it can have negative motivational consequences (2), leading us to “fix things” for others rather than empowering ourselves through the challenge.
Put it into practice:
The next time things don’t go to plan, make an effort to talk to someone who is involved or close to you. What do they think? If they are disappointed, find out why. Go in with a mindset of curiosity, not judgement.
2. Self-care is smart.
If I hear “get out of your comfort zone” one more time I will officially lose the plot - so let’s not go there. However, I DO want to talk about the actual feeling of discomfort.
Try this: think of the last time you failed as something:
- Does an uncomfortable feeling come up?
- Do you get an uncomfortable feeling in your tummy?
- Do you feel anxious?
- What about your thoughts - are they bouncing around like a ping pong ball?
While these reactions are (mostly) normal, it’s important to recognise that our ability to think straight and make effective decisions may be reduced during this time due to reduced blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the center that is responsible for our executive and logical thinking (3).
Translation: our thinking is less yoda, more hungry/tired toddler.
So while you may see taking a break as a waste of time, it creates the space and distance you need to form a plan for future success based on logic, not emotion.
Put it into practice:
Don’t think too hard about what you should do during your downtime. For me, it’s sewing and gardening - both things that I can lose myself in and feel more at peace than Gandhi.
If your workload doesn’t allow extended time off, give yourself 5 minutes out in the fresh air and chat with a friend or colleague on an enjoyable topic (such as Chris Hemsworth).
3. Cut out ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’
While we all love the movie “Back to the Future”, let’s get real: time travel is not yet a possibility. So living in the past via your negative emotions is a waste of precious time.
However, by momentarily putting our emotions on a shelf, we can shift the ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ into an effective tool to learn how to do things better then next time around.
Put it into practice:
Pretend you're Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the mystery of ‘what went wrong’. Ask yourself: why do you think it happened by referring back to the four keys of success:
- Does your skill level have anything to do with it? Were you trying things for the first time and expecting it to go perfectly?
- How hard did you try? Did you put in 50% effort and expect a 100% result?
- What were the strategies you used and could they be improved?
- And lastly… could it be simply due to bad luck? (i.e. Covid-19…)
At the end of the day, let’s just be honest here: failure sucks. But the most important thing to remember is that we don’t.
So fail, pout and move on like the boss you already are.
- Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relationships. New York: Wiley.
- Duval, S. & Wicklund, R. A. (1972). A theory of objective self-awareness. New York: Academic Press.
- Park, J., & Moghaddam, B. (2017). Impact of anxiety on prefrontal cortex encoding of cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience, 345, 193–202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.06.013