Failure is inevitable. It comes with the territory of developing habits and routines that cultivate health and wellness. More directly, failure means you tried something and now have an experience you can learn from, which is the foundation of personal growth and development.
Our mantra at Invigorate is to take it one step at a time. The idea is that not if but when we misstep, we can brush it off without a big deal and get back on track with our next step or the one after that if we need a beat. Taking sufficient time is key to processing setbacks in a healthy way.
Here are Five Steps to help you Cope with and Process Uncomfortable Emotions after a learning experience.
- Reframe How You Think About Failure
- Develop One or Two Anchor Thoughts to Help Ground Yourself
- Give Yourself Some Space to Decompress
- Reflect on the Experience
- 5-4-3-2-1 Go!
Step 1: Reframe How You Think About Failure – Shift to a Growth Mindset
Failure is an inevitable part of life, especially when making changes and taking risks. Thinking of failure as an opportunity to learn something new can help you keep an open mind to new ideas and ways of doing things.
When we try something new, of course, it will be a disaster. We’ll trip ourselves up and get in our own way, but we’ll get through it and come out the other side better for it.
By focusing on our efforts vs. the outcome, we focus on our journey vs. the destination.
Our experiences are the primary way we learn and grow. They challenge and stretch us. It’s a fact of life: we’ll make mistakes along the way. That makes life grueling at times but more rewarding than ever imagined.
We must push ourselves out of our comfort zone and be prepared to fall. The more things we try and fail at, the more we’ll learn and grow.
Even though we know failure is inevitable and critical for our development, it doesn’t change the fact that failure doesn’t feel good when it happens. However, we can tap into a couple of tools to help us cope with the difficult emotions that often come with setbacks.
Step 2: Develop One or Two Anchor Thoughts to Help Ground Yourself
After particularly rough falls, a reminder that failure is the key ingredient to growth and progress can be invaluable to getting you back on your feet.
Anchor thoughts or affirmations reinforce our values and why we continue to challenge ourselves. They’re an act of self-care as they help us process anxiety and other uncomfortable emotions to regain perspective.
But when our energy is low, finding a silver lining is often a heavier lift than we’re willing to carry.
Writing down inspirational quotes or encouraging notes ahead of time can increase your likelihood of referring to positive messages when you’re disappointed or frustrated.
Here are some Affirmation Examples:
- “I don’t know what will happen next, but I’ll learn something from this experience.”
- “I don’t keep a scorecard.”
- “I treat my body with love and respect.”
- “I am committed to my health.”
Spending a minute or two reading them out loud and internalizing their messages can help shift your mindset. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it should get easier with time.
Try different ones if they don’t or aren’t resonating with you. They should change with you and your experiences.
Steps to Grow Your Affirmation Stamina:
- Read your affirmations silently.
- Read them aloud.
- Read them allowed looking in a mirror.
- Memorize them and say them to yourself throughout your day.
By getting yourself to a more positive state, you set yourself up to reflect openly. That’s where vital learning and growth happen.
Step 3: Give Yourself Some Space to Decompress
You dropped the ball, royally embarrassed yourself, and want to bury your head in the sand for whatever reason. After experiencing a tough setback, giving yourself time and space to decompress is critical to process emotions.
Allow yourself some time for self-care and engage in activities that help you relax and take your mind off things healthily. You can refer to 10 Tools to Nurture You Through Autoimmune Disease Flares for ideas on how to unwind mentally.
Give yourself time and space to process your emotions without feeling pressured or rushed into doing something else right away. Our general rule is to give yourself space for at least 24 hours. A good night’s sleep can help bring logic and clarity to what previously seemed to be a dramatic situation.
If you feel stuck in a loop of negative emotions, try breathing deeply and focusing on your breath for a few minutes. This will help lower blood pressure and release tension, allowing you to shift into a more relaxed state.
Reference the Invigorate Mental Health Step for breathing and other mindfulness tools to help you decompress.
Step 4: Reflect on the Experience
It’s important not to do this step until you’ve had ample time to decompress. If we start the process too early, we don’t have the clarity, nor can we gain true insights from the experience.
After you have time to decompress, perhaps for a few hours or days, reflect on the experience. It might sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to overcome disappointment is to think about it.
Sitting with our uncomfortable emotions is uncomfortable, but when we do, we heal and grow.
This is especially helpful if you feel like your emotions are getting in the way of clear thinking. It’s OK to start, stop, and revisit. In fact, it’s great because your perspective will change, and your insights will deepen.
Writing down our thoughts helps us process the situation.
Like doing a complicated math problem, breaking it down on paper helps our brains organize and make sense of the information to solve it.
There’s no need to get hung up on the details. Let your thoughts flow without judgment; the insights will present themselves if you’re open and honest.
Reflecting on failure involves asking questions like:
- What happened?
- Why did this happen?
- What can I learn from this?
- What do I need to change to improve my chances of success next time?
- What can I do to best move forward?
Simply start writing in a journal or talking to a friend. Don’t get hung up on details. You may surprise yourself with what you uncover when you let your thoughts flow freely.
If reflection feels daunting, setting a timer for 5-10 minutes can be enough to get started and potentially through your process.
Reflection is a powerful tool for learning. It allows us to gain new insights, connect past and current experiences, and see things from different perspectives.
By reflecting on failure, we can learn from our mistakes and improve our chances of success in the future.
Step 5: 3-2-1-Go!
We shifted our perspective on failure, decompressed, and processed the situation, and now it’s time to get back on our feet and go again. But maybe you’d rather revisit the decompression state and throw on a couple more nostalgic shows…
As we stall, our motivation dwindles, and depression symptoms can creep in. It’s a continuous tug-of-war between temptation and doing the thing that will get you back on your feet.
That simple saying can help get you moving, and once you’re in motion, momentum builds rather quickly because taking action fuels motivation. The 5-second rule can be applied to anything, from getting out the door to starting a project.
When we’re in the moment, emotions influence our decisions. But when you take action, those emotions subside, leaving you with a clear mind to make better decisions.
Failure is a Requirement to Make Progress and Grow
Remember, failure is not the end but a stepping stone toward growth and personal development. When you have setbacks or missteps, a resilience plan can help you bounce back quicker by giving you a roadmap for handling setbacks.
By reframing how you think about failure, giving yourself space, developing anchor thoughts, reflecting on the experience, and taking action, you can put yourself back together to continue your journey more experienced and better off than before your “failure.”
Continuous failure is a vital part of a successful, fulfilling journey. We can make the most of our experiences by learning to navigate them with acceptance and curiosity. When we learn to accept failure, we can move forward with an open mind and heart, knowing it’s all part of the process.
Let’s give it a 3-2-1 -Go!
Keep Striving, Survivors,
- Mel Robbins, an expert on behavior change and motivation, a New York Times Bestselling author, Mel’s work includes The High 5 Habit, The 5 Second Rule, six #1 audiobooks on Audible, and the #1 ranking in The Mel Robbins Podcast.
- MindBodyGreen, Positive Affirmations blog post
- Al Switzler, cofounder of VitalSmarts, researches methods for driving sustainable, measurable behavior change. Switzler is coauthor of four NYT bestsellers, including Change Anything.