How to Reframe Failure

When things don’t go as planned or turn out less magnificent than you expected, you may be tempted to beat yourself up. But wait: Does that serve your greater purpose? Here’s what you can consider instead.

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the fallen nest of a song thrush
the fallen nest of a song thrush

Sometimes you have to start all over again. Like the song thrush who built this nest. I had been observing her for days during my Corona walks and was expecting her to start incubating her eggs soon. But yesterday I noticed that the nest was gone. I made a path through the hedges and found the nest on the ground. Had the storm been so heavy the night before? Or was this song thrush just “inexperienced”?!

Many of us can relate to this: Sometimes an unexpected event will destroy our plans. Or we will find out that our business had brittle foundations. Countless reason will force us to a new beginning, but we can learn something new, start again, and make better-informed decisions.

How we frame failure and deal with it determines how we will recover from small and big setbacks. Here are a few tips to bounce back on track:

  1. Grieve, but don’t get stuck: It is legitimate to take time to lick your wounds. Yes, failure hurts, it can crush your self-confidence and your very identity, so let’s not try to paint it as an enjoyable experience. It is ok to retreat into your cave and purge your anger for a while. The most important thing here is to grieve in a non-self-destructive way, i.e. in a way that honors your feelings and efforts. 
  2. Keep looking for the right “combination” of things that work: After yet another failed attempt we might be tempted to say: “Why? I’ve already tried everything!”. I find myself in that place time and again, be it with business or health-related matters. And I’ve found out that every time I try again, there’s always something new I can take into account that I had previously overlooked. Failed attempts are explorations of things that don’t work: Ruling out things that don’t work brings you closer to the ones that will, eventually, work.
  3. Celebrate yourself for being courageous: Seriously, overanalyzing, and beating yourself up will only keep you stuck in a downward spiral of shame, guilt, grumpiness, self-contempt, and paralysis. (This bad?! Yes!) Be your own fan club and give yourself shout-outs for dusting yourself off and trying again. You have the power to choose a motivating thought over a self-defeating one. 

Failure is frustrating, but it’s not a permanent condition, just as success is never final. What counts, is how you choose to impress yourself by giving things a go, by always finding something else to strive for.

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