From Falling to Flying: How to recover from setbacks and failure

happy woman with glitter, take the credit, 2020, emotional intelligenceOur negative relationship with failure is instilled at a young age.

Usually at school where, up until that point, any of the positive encouragement we received when we constantly ‘failed’ as we were learning to walk, talk, etc. seems to be replaced by the fear of standing out for all the wrong reasons. Instead, we learn that what matters are results – successful ones – rather than recognition for our labours, whether successful or not.

This fear of failure is perpetuated throughout our lives, especially in the workplace, where our individual endeavours – for all that may get espoused about teamwork in businesses across the globe – are the basis of reward, remuneration and advancement mechanisms.

It is no wonder, then, that we view failure as something to be avoided at all costs, in all areas of our lives.

However, we can change our relationship with failure. We do this by breaking our habit of seeing it unilaterally as ‘bad’ and, instead, reframing our failures. That is, by finding the good in the bad and making failure a positive event.

There is a lesson in every failure. Those are the results that we need to focus on and which will take away the inevitable ‘sting’ of the failure itself. When you shift your mindset to the positive aspects of the failure, you move on from the pain more quickly and find other things to focus on – action you can take, an experience you can use again, a better version of you for the future.

Try this exercise:

Write down something that you failed at recently. Something where, when you think about it, you cringe inside at the memory.

Now, answer the following questions:

  • Why does this incident cause you to feel that way?
  • What things has the experience taught you?
  • What are all the positives that could come from it happening?
  • How would you approach the same situation differently in the future, based on what you’ve learnt?
  • What is one action you could take immediately that would make you see this situation as a positive step forward?
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When we reframe failure to the positive, a number of things happen:

  • You get back on the wagon more quickly

That is, you cease to see this one incident as a reason to abandon whatever goal you were aiming for. One donut doesn’t make you give up the entire diet, a missed spin class doesn’t mean you give up your new exercise regime, etc. Instead, you learn from it by assessing what led to that ‘minor detour’ in your plan and use it to prevent them in future.

  • Stop needlessly apologising

Find yourself being the champion of ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’? Then looking immediately to the plus points of what went wrong will help you to move on from endlessly apologising – to yourself and others – to thinking and doing something differently. Apologise if need be, but the greatest apology is a change in behaviour.

  • Happiness increases

A positive mindset will make you happier. So when you stop beating yourself up about failure and instead ask, ‘Why was this a good thing?’, then your brain starts to associate the incident with good emotions. These become cumulative over time and you’ll find yourself being more upbeat.

  • Leave a legacy

We teach others through our actions. This means that those around you – family, friends and colleagues – will observe how you handle failure and setbacks. When you make a concerted effort to bounce back and look for the upside, you teach others that failure is a natural part of life and learning, which in turn makes them feel better. If you cannot do it for you, do it to be a role-model for someone else.

  • Change their power

Our failures do not define our day/our lives/us. They can only do so if we give them disproportionate power over how we feel. It’s time to give that up. After all, who wants to actively do things that make them feel bad?! Make a conscious decision to not let your failures dictate who you are. Be defined by how you handle them in a positive way.

Failure isn’t necessarily fun, but it doesn’t have to be feared either. It’s all about choice:

  • Choose your attitude to your mistakes.
  • Choose how you move on from failure.
  • Choose to lay your imperfections in any day to rest at night.
  • Choose to get up the next day without them weighing you down.

About the author

Carolyn Hobdey featuredCarolyn Hobdey is the author of ‘All The Twats I Met Along The Way’ and founder of the Redefining SELFISH community. She lived a life of shame and blame so is now passionate about pioneering new ways of thinking to ensure we live without guilt and regrets. As CEO of MayDey Ltd, Carolyn is a regular speaker and media commentator on issues of toxic relationships, self-esteem, women’s health (including the menopause), selfishness, narcissism and many other imperative, topical women’s issues.

With over 20 years spent as an award-winning Human Resources professional in some of the world’s largest employers, Carolyn earned a seat at the boardroom table leading internationally recognisable brands. En route, she gained a Masters in Lean Operations at Cardiff University where she was the first HR specialist to undertake the course and became the winner of the inaugural Sir Julian Hodge Prize for Logistics, Operations & Manufacturing.

Carolyn lives in Harrogate and enjoys boxing, dancing and socialising with friends.

Redefining SELFISH: No guilt, no regrets is out now.

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