At some point in our life, every single one of us will experience failure. Whether it be trying a new skill and completely sucking, missing out on that dream job, ending that long-term relationship, missing out on that grant, botching that important presentation, forgetting something important, anything. Failure often puts us in a negative emotional state, which can often be exacerbated by self-criticism and negative self-talk. This can look like “I’m so stupid”, “It’s all my fault”, “I suck”, “I don’t deserve to be here”, “I’m a terrible person”, “I’m unloveable” or anything along those lines. What’s more, when we fail in some big way, oftentimes we feel strong feelings of shame, and even our sense of self can begin to crumble. With all these factors considered, failure can really hurt and affect your long-term mental well-being without self-compassion.
Imagine you were out to lunch with your best friend, and they tell you about how they missed out on landing that promotion they were really hoping to get, and you responded with those same criticisms; “Well clearly you’re just stupid and you should give up on your dreams because clearly, everyone thinks you don’t deserve to be there.” Do you think they would still be friends with you after that interaction? After all, you were making a lot of black-and-white assumptions about the situation, negating the effort they put into working for that promotion, and it feels a bit like bullying. Many of us do this to ourselves and as we can see, negative self-talk is pretty mean and unhelpful.
So what can you do instead? Instead of self-criticism, approach yourself with some self-compassion. Practising self-compassion is consistently linked to higher levels of optimism, life satisfaction, autonomy, and better emotional well-being, and reduced depression, anxiety, shame and stress.
First, be mindful of how you are feeling. It’s completely natural to feel upset after failure, so spend some quiet time with yourself to put a name to the emotion (whether it be sadness, grief, anger, disappointment or something else) and where you are physically feeling that tension in your body. A useful tool for this if you struggle to put a name to emotions is the Emotion Wheel. Mindfulness practices help keep us grounded and present, and sometimes that means sitting down and giving attention to those uncomfortable emotions. While this is sometimes the harder route than trying to suppress how you feel, studies show many benefits of practising mindfulness in the long run, including higher resilience, improved emotional well-being, reduced stress and burnout, and lowered depression and anxiety. Mindfulness can help you physically rewire your brain’s response to stress which can have long-term benefits of increased adaptability and emotional security during life’s inevitable challenges.
Secondly, accept that failure is part of the human experience. No one is perfect, we all go through it, and it’s just one of those things that feels bad. That’s okay! Just know that you’re not alone in this experience, and if you reach out to others, they may have some great advice or support for you.
Finally, actively practice kindness towards yourself. This can take many forms, such as saying kind affirmations to yourself in the mirror, treating yourself to some time off to practice self-care, doing some breathing exercises to relax your body and mind, or even catching intrusive thoughts as they pop into your head, and telling yourself something encouraging instead. I think a lot of us grew up to fear failure, likely due to things such as schooling or parental/social expectations, but it is our responsibility as adults to reframe how we view setbacks if we want to bounce back from them. Failure is part of a greater learning process, and can even be helpful in teaching many lessons so that you may approach your next attempt differently, or may even make you reconsider your priorities. And that is okay, that is how we improve and grow over time!
So next time you’re feeling about one of life’s setbacks, take a moment to yourself and remind yourself of how far you’ve come and what amazing things you offer. One affirmation I personally like to use when I’m doubting myself or how others will perceive me is from the movie ‘The Help’, which is:
“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
So that regardless of how anything goes, inherently these attributes will never be affected.
As always, stay magical!