How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

By Rachel Simmons

Illustrations by Seiji Matsumoto

Learning to fail is a skill like any other — which means it takes practice. Learn how to thrive in spite of even your most epic mistakes.

Introduction

Earlier this year, I suffered an anxiety attack while giving a speech in front of 250 people. It was disorienting and embarrassing; I’m a professional public speaker, and this was an important client. After I stopped talking, someone brought me a chair and a glass of water. I sat in front of a sea of murmuring, concerned faces, wondering if my public speaking career was over.

Years ago, that would have been the end of the story: I would have slunk off the stage and returned the money. But instead, I put my hand over my heart and reminded myself I wasn’t alone. I spoke to myself the way I would talk to my closest friend. How did I know to do this? In part because I’ve spent the last decade teaching failure resilience to students.

As it turns out, learning to fail is a skill like any other. Which means it takes practice. Here’s how you can approach a setback so that — to paraphrase Cardi B — when you’re knocked down nine times, you can get up 10.

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What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

After I bombed that speech, my first instinct was to blame myself. How could I have let my nerves get the best of me? This is typical of women who face setbacks, research has found. When a woman screws up, she is likely to question her abilities or skills. But when a man screws up, he often points to outside factors that contributed to the mistake — such as a hot room, a phone ringing in the audience or a poor sound system.

Part of the reason this kind of self-blame is such a problem is it that it can inhibit women from taking risks in the future. If you’re going to be convinced you are fundamentally flawed every time you fall short, why wouldn’t you steer clear of uncertainty and play it safe?

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, calls this the “fixed mindset” — the belief that failure is a dead end instead of a stop on the road to improvement. What you want to have instead of a fixed mindset is a “growth mindset” — the ability to see failure as an opportunity to learn.

I advise my students to ask themselves the following questions when they’re hesitant to take a risk:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • Then, can you deal with that outcome? What resources do you have to handle it?
  • What are some possible benefits of your failure, even if the situation doesn’t work out?

For me, the worst outcome was that they wouldn’t invite me back to speak again, or that they would mention my debacle to someone else. Could I deal with that? I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I could manage. Meanwhile, I tried to focus on how this failure could make me a better person — perhaps more empathetic to my students, many of whom suffer from anxiety, makingme a more relatable and effective teacher. Being nervous about returning to the podium also pushed me to tighten up my lecture in ways I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

You Are More Than Your Mistake

I may have bombed that speech, but I have also aced a lot of other speeches. I know this, and yet it became hard for me to remember in the moment. Instead, I was laser-focused on what I’d done wrong, scanning the faces in the audience, imagining all of the ways they were judging me.

This kind of distorted thinking is common, but there are ways to stop yourself from engaging in it. In my case, I reminded myself that I’d given a speech earlier in the day to a different group of students, some of whom told me I was the best speaker they’d seen at the school. This was my third time speaking there, and I’d been invited back for a reason.

You’ve also had a series of successes or you wouldn’t be so upset by a setback. Try to remind yourself what those successes are to soothe yourself after a misstep. The point is not to pretend a mistake didn’t happen, it’s to remember you are more than your mistake.

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Practice Self-Compassion

So, you’ve bombed. Who’s being hard on you? It’s probably not your boss, colleagues or best friend — it’s you.

Now imagine it was your best friend who bombed. What would you say to her? Would you tell her she’s a failure and she’s never going to recover? Or would you tell her that she’s had plenty of successes, that she will overcome this, too, and that she might even learn from it?

Self-compassion is the practice of offering yourself the same grace you’d give to others — and it’s linked to reduced shame and anxiety in the aftermath of a setback. Women tend to have somewhat less self-compassion than men, meaning we’re more likely to use criticizing ourselves as a path to penance and motivation.

Just like failure, self-compassion can be learned. Here are three easy steps, developed by Kristin Neff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin:

  • Note how you feel without exaggerating or denying your feelings. After my panic attack, I tried to avoid inflating what happened (“My career is over”) or pretending it hadn’t (“Just keep going, you’re fine”). Instead, I tried to connect with the truth of the present moment: I felt embarrassed and scared.
  • Remind yourself you aren’t alone. I am certainly not the only person to panic in front of a crowd — and telling myself I was would have only exacerbated my shame. Instead, I reminded myself that I was a regular human being, and this happens. I even thought of Dan Harris, an ABC News anchor who famously suffered a panic attack on live television and now hosts the positive psychology podcast “10% Happier.”
  • Imagine what you’d say to a friend in the situation. Then direct those words at yourself. What I would have told my friend? “You can’t control what’s happening right now. You gave two other speeches today that your client loved. People will understand what happened tonight.”

In my case, I channeled this self-talk into the courage to continue. I asked the audience if I could start up again, this time from my chair. Eventually, I stood up behind the lectern and was able to finish.

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Think of failure as a road you have to travel to arrive at success. This isn’t meant to oversimplify failure or treat it lightly; knowing how to deal properly with failure can determine the course of your future and how you will achieve success.

Everyone reacts to failure in different ways and has their own coping mechanisms to handle failed efforts. But learning the mindset and strategies that bring success rather than failure can be a tremendous help!

Here are some time-tested tips for how to pick yourself up after you fail:

1. Learn the lessons from your failure. Every failure comes with a built-in lesson available that you can learn from. Identify this lesson and focus on its importance to you, then remember it as you strive for success. The danger of not learning from failure is that you’ll be likely to repeat your mistakes.

2. Don’t let failure hold you back. After a failure, it’s normal to think you should simply give up. But failure itself isn’t the main issue here, it’s what you do with it that matters most. It’s essential that you aim for greater self-confidence. It may turn out that your recent experience with failure has brought you to the doorstep of great success.

3. Surround yourself with enthusiastic, forward-thinking people. Spending time with positive people who think like you is important. This is never more true than when you’re going through a period of low self-confidence following a failure.

* The positive people in your live will encourage you to pick yourself up, try harder and reach further than you ever knew you could.

4. It’s important to set goals. It may be that you took on too large a task and failed at it, so think about setting smaller and more immediate goals that you can reach easily. Focus on the small steps required to complete a complex task, so that you aren’t overwhelmed at every point along the way. When you finally reach your goal, your achievement will amaze you!

5. Visualize your success. The best way to diffuse the negative thinking that can follow failure is to picture yourself successfully reaching your goal. Give yourself some visualization time to see yourself accomplishing every step along the way.

6. Enthusiasm is essential. It’s quite likely you were filled with enthusiasm when you started out on a big task or project. No matter how many times you encounter failure, it’s essential that you maintain your enthusiasm as it will continue to fuel the drive you need to reach your goal.

As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

7. Write things down. It may help you to keep a detailed written record of your thoughts and goals as well as your attempts at reaching them. This is an organizational strategy that can help keep you focused. Another good plan is to write out goals in a slip of paper and put it where you will see it often – this way you won’t forget to keep working toward what you truly want.

8. Don’t live in the past. What happened in the past does not automatically determine what will happen now or in the future. A setback is only temporary, and it doesn’t mean that’s the result you’ll get all the time going forward. Simply put, if you want to reach your goals, never give up.

9. Consider the worst-case scenario. If you try something and fail, what’s the worst that can happen? Some people who are obsessed with success have an equally deep fear of failure; these people are unable to see that the worst case scenario could turn out to be not that bad after all!

* If you can keep in mind that any failure you encounter is just a bump in the road to success, your fears will dissolve and your confidence will grow.

Never Give Up

Most of us know someone who has single-mindedly pursued a goal and wouldn’t let anything get in their way. There’s no reason why you couldn’t be that person, too! Understand what fuels this enthusiastic drive for success and adopt it for yourself.

Having a strong belief in your own abilities can give you the confidence you need to pursue your dreams.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

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How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Long before Arianna Huffington launched Huffington Post, 36 publishers rejected her second book. Before Walt Disney built Disneyland, he was told he lacked creativity. Bill Gates’ first company was a disaster, with a product that barely worked.

Nobody wants to fail, but even the brightest and most successful people have faced this challenge at some point in their careers. Life is a constant seesaw. Most of us teeter between our achievements and our mistakes.

Some mistakes are greater than others. Blowing an important presentation, missing a big sale or losing out on a business opportunity certainly stings, but you know you’ll be able to bounce back. Then, there are times you’ve missed something much bigger. Your failure threatens to crush everything you’ve worked so hard to build. Then what?

Whatever you do, don’t lock yourself into despair. Everyone falls short from time to time, so your ultimate test is how you deal with failure. Pity and self-loathing won’t fix anything. Neither will pretending as if nothing happened.

Here are six simple strategies to help you learn from mistakes and use the experience to set yourself back on the path to success.

1. Accept that failure is part of life.

Embrace your mistake. Don’t try to hide it. Failures don’t somehow work themselves out. They take work, so ignoring the problem only digs a deeper pit.

Remember that mistakes are fundamentally part of the human condition — the scenic route on your road map to a brighter future. Some degree of failure is inevitable every time we step outside our comfort zone.

Many of the most successful people throughout history had significant failures as well as great accomplishments — from Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein to Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs. What sets them apart is how they channeled that failure into something positive.

2. Realize it’s OK to get upset.

Whether you’ve hit rock bottom or are facing a series of obstacles, it’s hard not to get frustrated or upset. Let yourself feel those emotions. Instead of trying to push aside your anger, anxiety or resentment, find ways to release the tension. Scream, stomp your feet, or laugh hysterically. Go for a run, or take a walk around the block to clear your head.

Take some time and space to let loose those raw emotions, or they’ll never begin to dissipate. Then, move forward.

3. Reflect on the lessons.

You need to be brutally honest with yourself. What happened? Where did you go wrong and why? Learn from your failure in order to avoid an even bigger problem: repeating the same mistake.

Here are three powerful questions to ask in the wake of a failure:

  • What lessons did I learn from this situation?
  • What are three positive outcomes of this situation?
  • How has this experience allowed me to grow as a person?

This exercise will help you see new opportunities that will arise from this defeat.

4. Own your mistake.

If you’ve been honest about your misstep and learned from the experience, it’s still critically important to take ownership of the situation.

Taking responsibility for your mistake is key to showing others you are an accountable individual who lives with integrity. It might seem counter-intuitive, but putting your mistake front and center will help restore others’ confidence in you. In turn, this will enable you to regain support as you try again.

5. Redefine what failure means to you.

Reframe your failure and redefine your objectives. It could be this is a much-needed opportunity to shift your goals or consider aspirations you’ve too long put aside. You might find yourself on a new and more exciting trajectory.

Re-approach a negative outlook by considering how this failure is part of a bigger life lesson or a valuable experience you couldn’t have gained otherwise.

Robert Spadinger at Pick the Brain has a list of truths that can help you adjust your definition of failure. He believes:

  • Failure teaches you that a certain approach may not be ideal for a specific situation but there may be better approaches to consider.
  • Each time you fail, your fear of failure diminishes and this allows you to take on even bigger challenges.
  • No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up.

6. Take action and move on.

This next step is the biggest test to see if you can rebound from your failure. What solutions do you have to rectify the problem? How can you offset the situation to avoid (or lessen) harm to others? How do you get things back on track?

Deal with your mistake head on, and then advance to the next thing. Start your next project, look at new ventures or consider a new task at hand. Remember your hard-learned lessons as you keep moving forward, and you’ll emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

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Why does failure cause some people to give up on their dreams while others bounce back even better than before? It has to do with the way they think about failure. Failure can be part of the long road to success—but only if you think about it in a way that’s productive.

Beating yourself up for your lack of success or declaring yourself a hopeless cause leads to unhelpful feelings, like shame or resentment. And it can lead to unproductive behavior, like staying inside your comfort zone.

The key to recovering from failure is changing the way you think. When you think about failure differently, you’ll be able to turn your biggest setbacks into your best comebacks. Here are eight healthy ways to think about failure:

Watch on Forbes:

1. “Even though things didn’t work out the way I wanted, I’m still OK.”

Catastrophizing failure isn’t helpful. Keep failure in proper perspective and choose to be grateful for what you have. Whether you still have your health or you have a roof over your head, there are always things to be grateful for.

2. “Failure is proof I’m pushing myself to my limits.”

You could probably live a safe and boring life that is relatively free of failure if you wanted. But, if you want to become a better version of yourself, you’re going to need to do things that could cause you to fail. Falling down is evidence that you’re trying to do something hard.

3. “I will focus on the things I can control.”

Failure isn’t always personal. Just because you didn’t get that promotion doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. Instead, it might mean you were simply competing against someone more qualified. Focus on the things you can control—like doing your best—and focus less on the outcomes that you can’t control—like whether you’ll get hired.

4. “Failing feels uncomfortable, but I can handle it.”

Doubting your ability to handle embarrassment, shame, or regret makes the pain of failure last longer. Remind yourself that you can handle failure, and you’ll be more likely to deal with the discomfort in a productive manner.

5. “Failure is a verb, not a noun.”

Just because you fail doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Everyone succeeds at some things and not at others. Remind yourself of the success that you have had in other areas of your life.

6. “Failure is an opportunity to sharpen my skills.”

If everything came easy, you wouldn’t have an opportunity to learn new things. Each time you fail, you can learn something new. Whether you discover new solutions or you gain more insight, failure can help you do better next time.

7. “Recovering from failure can make me stronger.”

Each time you bounce back from problems and rise above obstacles, you can grow mentally stronger. Failure can show you that you’re stronger than you think and you can handle more than you imagine. Each time you fail, you can build mental muscle .

8. “I’ve overcome tough things before. I can do it again.”

Recalling on the times when you’ve rebounded before can help you feel equipped to deal with failure again. Draw upon the knowledge, tools, and talents you’ve used before and remind yourself that you can bounce back again.

Amy Morin is the author of the bestselling book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the international bestselling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do and 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. Her…

Let’s face it. We all make mistakes.

Most of us know that failure is a reality of life, and at some level, we understand that it actually helps us grow. Intellectually, we even acknowledge that the greatest achievers — past and present — also routinely experienced colossal failures.

But still, we hate to fail. We fear it, we dread it, and when it does happen, we hold onto it. We give it power over our emotions, and sometimes we allow it to dictate our way forward (or backward). Some of us go to great lengths to avoid failure because of all the pain and shame associated with it.

Why is it so hard to let go, forgive ourselves and move on? And how can we keep failure – or the fear of it — from derailing us?

Here are five strategies:

1. Don’t make it personal. Separate the failure from your identity. Just because you haven’t found a successful way of doing something (yet) doesn’t mean you are a failure. These are completely separate thoughts, yet many of us blur the lines between them. Personalizing failure can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and confidence.

There was a man who failed in business at age 21; was defeated in a legislative race at age 22; failed again in business at 24; overcome the death of his fiancée at 26; had a nervous breakdown at 27; lost a congressional race at 34; lost a senatorial race at age 45; failed to become Vice President at age 47; lost a senatorial race at 49; and was elected as the President of the United States at the age of 52. This man was Abraham Lincoln. He refused to let his failures define him and fought against significant odds to achieve greatness.

2. Take stock, learn and adapt. Look at the failure analytically — indeed, curiously — suspending feelings of anger, frustration, blame or regret. Why did you fail? What might have produced a better outcome? Was the failure completely beyond your control? After gathering the facts, step back and ask yourself, what did I learn from this? Think about how you will apply this newfound insight going forward.

Thomas Edison reportedly failed 10,000 times while he was inventing the light bulb. He was quoted as saying, “I have found 10,000 ways something won’t work. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” The Wright brothers spent years working on failed aircraft prototypes and incorporating their learnings until they finally got it right: a plane that could get airborne and stay there.

3. Stop dwelling on it. Obsessing over your failure will not change the outcome. In fact, it will only intensify the outcome, trapping you in an emotional doom-loop that disables you from moving on. You cannot change the past, but you can shape your future. The faster you take a positive step forward, the quicker you can leave these debilitating, monopolizing thoughts behind.

Don Shula is the winningest coach in the NFL, holding the record for most career wins (including two Super Bowl victories) and the only perfect season in NFL history.

Shula had a “24-hour rule,” a policy of looking forward instead of dwelling on the past. The coach allowed himself, his staff and his players 24 hours to celebrate a victory or brood over a defeat. During those 24 hours, Shula encouraged them to feel their emotions of success or failure as deeply as they could. The next day, it was time to put it behind them and focus their energy on preparing for their next challenge. His philosophy was that if you keep your failures and victories in perspective, you’ll do better in the long run.

4. Release the need for approval of others.Often our fear of failure is rooted in our fear of being judged and losing others’ respect and esteem. We easily get influenced (and spooked) by what people say about us. Remember, this is your life, not theirs. What one person considers to be true about you is not necessary the truth about you, and if you give too much power to others’ opinions, it could douse your passion and confidence, undermining your ability to ultimately succeed.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job because someone thought she was “unfit for TV.” Stephen King’s first book, Carrie, was rejected by 30 publishers. Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because he “lacked imagination and good ideas.” Winston Churchill failed sixth grade and was considered “a dolt” by his teacher. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage the first time he tried comedy. Soichiro Honda was rejected by an HR manager at Toyota Motor Corporation when he applied for an engineering job, leaving him jobless until he began making scooters in his garage and eventually founded Honda Motor Company. ‘Nuff said.

5. Try a new point of view. Our upbringing – as people and professionals – has given us an unhealthy attitude toward failure. One of the best things you can do is to shift your perspective and belief system away from the negative (“If I fail, it means I am stupid, weak, incapable, and am destined to fall short”) and embrace more positive associations (“If I fail, I am one step closer to succeeding; I am smarter and more savvy because the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience”).

Indeed, one can hardly find an historic or current-day success story that isn’t also a story of great failure. And if you ask those who have distinguished themselves through their achievements, they will tell you that failure was a critical enabler of their success. It was their motivator. Their teacher. A stepping stone along their path to greatness. The difference between them and the average person is that they didn’t give up.

Michael Jordan said it best: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Failure is the most important step to reaching success, but it can still feel like it’s crushing your soul. To make failure your friend and not your enemy, you must overcome it. Here are some strategies for moving on after a tough break.

What Is Failure?

Failure is defined as a lack of success, but its true definition is really up to you. Small things can be failures. Maybe you blew an easy sale today at work, or forgot to grab something important when you were at the store. We all make mistakes, and the mistakes we make that have some weight to them—big or small—make us feel like we’ve failed.

Normally, though, we reserve the word failure for the bigger things. The times when we’ve let others down, and, more importantly, ourselves. Trying your hardest to do something important and failing is when it really stings and shakes your confidence. Maybe your startup business idea failed, you lost the big game, or you let someone you care about down. Sometimes failure can leave a mark—but it doesn’t have to.

Feel What You Need to Feel

Failure can take a hefty emotional toll, and that’s okay. What’s important is getting the negative feelings you have out of your system so you can regroup and tackle what’s next. Don’t keep how you feel trapped inside of you like a shaken up soda. Bottling your emotions can lead to two things:

  • An emotional outburst: Eventually the pressure will build and it will be too much for you to contain. In a moment of weakness, everything you’ve kept inside could explode and set you back even further. This not only affects your mental state, but it can affect your relationships too. When you have an outburst, the people you care about often end up in the crossfire.
  • Creeping negativity: If you only loosen the cap, the negativity will slowly and persistently enter your mind. You need to openly confront the mistakes you made and give yourself the chance to feel it all. Otherwise, anxiety will start to linger in the back of your mind and the soft hiss of failure will continue. Constant anxiety is incredibly unhealthy and can lead to even more problems.

So, how do you let it all out? There are a few ways to get the bad, and—most importantly—retain the knowledge you gained:

  • Set aside some time: It’s okay to feel like you’ve hit rock bottom. Completely ignoring what happened isn’t helpful, so set aside a specific amount of time to wallow as much as you want . Take some time to be angry, upset, and frustrated so you can get it all out. If it’s something small, all you may need is an hour to pace around or cry in a pillow. For something larger, give yourself a full 24 hours to let it all out and wake up the next day with a clean slate. If you need more than a day, that’s okay, but make sure it’s an amount of time set by you and that you stick to it. You get that time to be as mopey as you want, but when it’s over, move on.
  • Talk about it: Talk to somebody you know about how you’re feeling. It’s well known that just talking about something can make you feel better. Take a load off and express yourself. Chances are whoever you talk to will try to make you feel better, but even if they don’t, saying how you feel out loud puts that information out somewhere besides your brain.
  • Don’t let it become a part of your identity: Failure is something that happens, not something you are. Susan Tardanico at Forbes explains that just because you haven’t found a successful way to do something doesn’t mean you are a failure . Be careful not to blur the lines between making mistakes and being someone who only makes mistakes. Our actions may define us, but our failures do not. The actions you take to move past failure and reach success will define you in the end.

Failure can leave an open wound and it’s unwise to ignore it. Without acknowledging it, your wound will continue to hurt, take longer to heal, and possibly get infected.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Rejection is rough, no matter how you slice it. But it’s also an inescapable fact of life, and our ability to deal with failure and rejection has a hand in determining how successful and happy we are.

Happiness isn’t the opposite of depression — resilience is, according to psychologist Peter Kramer. Think of the people you most admire — many of them didn’t get where they are just by sailing through life without any negative experiences or failures. Most of them distinguished themselves by their ability to get right back up every time they fall, a truism reflected in countless inspirational quotations on the power of perseverance (In the words of Winston Churchill, “It is the courage to continue that counts.”).

So how do resilient people differ from those who become paralyzed by every failure and setback?

Here are seven habits of highly resilient people — and ways that you can improve your own ability to cope with challenges.

They fully experience both positive and negative emotions.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Building resilience isn’t about blind optimism. Rather than looking only on the bright side and pushing away negative emotions, resilient people let themselves experience what they’re feeling in any given situation, whether it’s good or bad, according to Positivity author Barbara Fredrickson.

“The resilient person isn’t papering over the negative emotions, but instead letting them sit side by side with other feelings,” Fredrickson told Experience Life. “So at the same time they’re feeling ‘I’m sad about that,’ they’re also prone to thinking, ‘but I’m grateful about this.’”

They’re realistically optimistic.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

A recent Taiwan National University study found that adopting an attitude of “realistic optimism,” which combines the positive outlook of optimists with the critical thinking of pessimists, can boost happiness and resilience.

“Every time [realistic optimists] face an issue or a challenge or a problem, they won’t say ‘I have no choice and this is the only thing I can do,'” researcher Sophia Chou told LiveScience. “They will be creative, they will have a plan A, plan B and plan C.”

They “reject rejection.”

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Rejection chips away at our self-esteem and confidence, making us fall harder with each subsequent setback or failure, Elaine Dundon, founder of the innovation group, said in her TED Talk on the subject, adding, “Rejection also steals our joy.”

But rejection is inevitable, and coping with it effectively is essential to becoming resilient. As HuffPost blogger Alex Pattakos puts it, choosing to reject rejection can ensure that “you don’t become a prisoner of your own thoughts.”

“It’s important to understand that everyone is in a different ‘space’ and, in some cases, no matter what you say or do, they will always reject you or your ideas,” says Pattakos, explaining that taking this mindset helps you to not take the rejection personally.

They build strong support systems.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

When you get knocked down hard, it’s important to have the resources to help you get back up again, which includes having people to lean on. A 2007 study found that social support can actually boost resilience to stress.

They notice (and appreciate) the little, positive things.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Resilient people are good at tapping into their “positivity ratio,” according to Fredrickson. This means that they notice and appreciate the little joys and victories — which keeps them from feeling like “everything” is going wrong. Her research has shown that a three-to-one ratio of positive to negative experiences is ideal for building resilience and boosting happiness.

They seek out opportunities for growth and learning.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Resilient people seek out growth experiences that boost self-reliance and individual decision-making skills, which gives them confidence in their ability to bounce back from failure.

“As a sense of competence increases, individuals are better able to respond effectively in unfamiliar or challenging situations and persevere in the face of failures and challenges,” Kathleen M. Sutcliffe and Timothy J. Vogus write in Organizing for Resilience.

Those who have mastered the art of resilience know that setbacks and challenges can be our most powerful learning opportunities. Some of the world’s most successful people have been fired from their jobs, and used the experience to learn something about themselves.

“I worked for American Harper’s Bazaar. I got fired,” Anna Wintour once said. “I recommend that you all get fired, it’s a great learning experience.”

They’re endlessly grateful.

How to deal with failure and pick yourself back up

Gratitude is known to boost health and well-being — and those who are thankful may enjoy better physical health and mood than those who focus on hassles and complaints.

Krawcheck says that gratitude not only helped her deal with being fired, but it also helps her keep life’s everyday stresses in their proper perspective.

“How do I get through it all?” said Krawcheck. “I’m endlessly grateful.”

You’ve probably had at least one time when you know you could’ve done better. Whether you wanted to keep a resolution, reach a goal, or do better on a project, it’s important to get back on track so you set the tone for all areas of your life .

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Figure Out Why You’re Really Disappointed

You probably know what you’ve done to disappoint yourself, but take a moment to consider why. Is it because you disappointed someone else? Is it because you didn’t reach a goal you set for yourself? Are you putting too much weight on the things you’re trying to accomplish? Were your expectations poorly managed?

If you notice a negative shift in your normal attitude, get in touch with your emotions by asking yourself why you feel the way you do. Maybe you’re feeling stressed out by a project because you think you can do better—not because of the project itself. Try to zero in on the real issue rather than continuing to feel emotionally distressed.

Failure can take a hefty emotional toll, and that’s okay. What’s important is getting the negative feelings you have out of your system so you can regroup and tackle what’s next. Don’t keep how you feel trapped inside of you like a shaken up soda.

If you know why you’re disappointed, you’ve got a head start on being able to make an action plan.

Forgive Yourself

You might feel you shouldn’t try to move forward after disappointing yourself or others, but try to avoid using your disappointment as ammunition to keep yourself down. Instead, focus on the fact that you can learn from where you fell short and do better in the future.

Dr. Julia Breines, who studies how social experience influence the way people treat themselves, explains how you can use your feelings of guilt and disappointment to move forward :

Research suggests that criminal offenders who recognize that doing bad things does not make them bad people are less likely to continue engaging in criminal activity. And remorse , rather than self-condemnation, has been shown to encourage prosocial behavior. Healthy self-forgiveness therefore seems to involve releasing destructive feelings of shame and self-condemnation but maintaining appropriate levels of guilt and remorse—to the extent that these emotions help fuel positive change.

Her example of criminal offenders may be a bit extreme, but realize that just because you’ve disappointed yourself this time you’re not helpless to avoid it in the future. Use the emotions you’re feeling to motivate you to improve.

Review Your Past Actions and Adjust for the Future

Go over what happened so you can learn from the situation. Determine what your barriers to success were and how they contributed to you falling short of your standards. Some common behaviors and tendencies that lead to disappointment are:

  • You had poor time management and organization. How you organize your time can be challenging to change, but there are many tips on how to manage your schedule better . One example is to block out the parts of your week that rarely change and build out how you’ll spend the rest of your time around those static time slots. If you’ve never even taken a look at your time to see how you spend it or what you commitments you know you have to meet, then that’s a great starting point.
  • You didn’t have a plan. There are a ton of great productivity techniques that can help you prepare for any goal or project. Find the right one for your work style and schedule by giving several a try and see which one works best. You may even decide to combine elements from different methods to make your own custom technique.
  • You overcommitted yourself. If you’ve promised more than you can deliver—even to yourself— learn to say no . You may feel awkward or guilty doing this at first, but remind yourself that this is better for both parties in the end.
  • You had unrealistic expectations of yourself or others. You can manage feelings of self-doubt by creating clear expectations. Set realistic expectations to help both yourself and others know what results are ahead—and to make sure you reach your goals.

The best way to prevent the same situation—and resulting disappointment—is to make a plan of action. Now that you have a list of your roadblocks, figure out how you can overcome each one. This won’t be easy, so start with the simplest one and go from there. You may not be able to get through this list quickly, but tackle even just one or two roadblocks ASAP to make some progress.

In order to defeat those roadblocks, you may need something you don’t currently have. You could need more knowledge, training, or tools, for example—and acquiring those will have to go into your action plan. As you formulate that plan, determine milestones to measure your progress, too. Whatever you do, do something . You’ll feel much better about your previous disappointment if you feel like you’re working to get better instead of staying stagnant.

Let’s face it. We all make mistakes.

Most of us know that failure is a reality of life, and at some level, we understand that it actually helps us grow. Intellectually, we even acknowledge that the greatest achievers — past and present — also routinely experienced colossal failures.

But still, we hate to fail. We fear it, we dread it, and when it does happen, we hold onto it. We give it power over our emotions, and sometimes we allow it to dictate our way forward (or backward). Some of us go to great lengths to avoid failure because of all the pain and shame associated with it.

Why is it so hard to let go, forgive ourselves and move on? And how can we keep failure – or the fear of it — from derailing us?

Here are five strategies:

1. Don’t make it personal. Separate the failure from your identity. Just because you haven’t found a successful way of doing something (yet) doesn’t mean you are a failure. These are completely separate thoughts, yet many of us blur the lines between them. Personalizing failure can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and confidence.

There was a man who failed in business at age 21; was defeated in a legislative race at age 22; failed again in business at 24; overcome the death of his fiancée at 26; had a nervous breakdown at 27; lost a congressional race at 34; lost a senatorial race at age 45; failed to become Vice President at age 47; lost a senatorial race at 49; and was elected as the President of the United States at the age of 52. This man was Abraham Lincoln. He refused to let his failures define him and fought against significant odds to achieve greatness.

2. Take stock, learn and adapt. Look at the failure analytically — indeed, curiously — suspending feelings of anger, frustration, blame or regret. Why did you fail? What might have produced a better outcome? Was the failure completely beyond your control? After gathering the facts, step back and ask yourself, what did I learn from this? Think about how you will apply this newfound insight going forward.

Thomas Edison reportedly failed 10,000 times while he was inventing the light bulb. He was quoted as saying, “I have found 10,000 ways something won’t work. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” The Wright brothers spent years working on failed aircraft prototypes and incorporating their learnings until they finally got it right: a plane that could get airborne and stay there.

3. Stop dwelling on it. Obsessing over your failure will not change the outcome. In fact, it will only intensify the outcome, trapping you in an emotional doom-loop that disables you from moving on. You cannot change the past, but you can shape your future. The faster you take a positive step forward, the quicker you can leave these debilitating, monopolizing thoughts behind.

Don Shula is the winningest coach in the NFL, holding the record for most career wins (including two Super Bowl victories) and the only perfect season in NFL history.

Shula had a “24-hour rule,” a policy of looking forward instead of dwelling on the past. The coach allowed himself, his staff and his players 24 hours to celebrate a victory or brood over a defeat. During those 24 hours, Shula encouraged them to feel their emotions of success or failure as deeply as they could. The next day, it was time to put it behind them and focus their energy on preparing for their next challenge. His philosophy was that if you keep your failures and victories in perspective, you’ll do better in the long run.

4. Release the need for approval of others.Often our fear of failure is rooted in our fear of being judged and losing others’ respect and esteem. We easily get influenced (and spooked) by what people say about us. Remember, this is your life, not theirs. What one person considers to be true about you is not necessary the truth about you, and if you give too much power to others’ opinions, it could douse your passion and confidence, undermining your ability to ultimately succeed.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job because someone thought she was “unfit for TV.” Stephen King’s first book, Carrie, was rejected by 30 publishers. Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because he “lacked imagination and good ideas.” Winston Churchill failed sixth grade and was considered “a dolt” by his teacher. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage the first time he tried comedy. Soichiro Honda was rejected by an HR manager at Toyota Motor Corporation when he applied for an engineering job, leaving him jobless until he began making scooters in his garage and eventually founded Honda Motor Company. ‘Nuff said.

5. Try a new point of view. Our upbringing – as people and professionals – has given us an unhealthy attitude toward failure. One of the best things you can do is to shift your perspective and belief system away from the negative (“If I fail, it means I am stupid, weak, incapable, and am destined to fall short”) and embrace more positive associations (“If I fail, I am one step closer to succeeding; I am smarter and more savvy because the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience”).

Indeed, one can hardly find an historic or current-day success story that isn’t also a story of great failure. And if you ask those who have distinguished themselves through their achievements, they will tell you that failure was a critical enabler of their success. It was their motivator. Their teacher. A stepping stone along their path to greatness. The difference between them and the average person is that they didn’t give up.

Michael Jordan said it best: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”