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10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure

Posted on February 18, 2023

10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure

According to the Cambridge dictionary, failure is defined as ‘the fact of someone or something not succeeding’. We experience failure when we set a goal for ourselves, and we do not manage to achieve it.

Failure is subjective, so what some people class as failure is not the same for everyone.

For example, someone may believe they have failed because they are not married with children, whereas other people feel very successful with an established career and no children in sight.

What are Some Common Failures We May Experience in Life?

When we think about failure, one of the first areas of life that may come to mind is work.

Due to the pressure for people to succeed at work, and to establish a stable career, many people feel that they have failed when their job is not well-paid, they are not getting frequent promotions, or they are not enjoying their work.

School is another common area that many people experience failure in. This is perhaps the first time we are introduced to the language of failure, with the idea that you can either pass or fail exams.

Children who fail exams may feel ashamed and inferior, as they compare themselves to students who always seem to succeed.

Another example of a common ‘failure’ in society is divorce. Many people who get divorced feel as though they have failed to uphold a healthy marriage, and we even discuss it in these terms: ‘a failed marriage’.

Even people who have been mistreated in their marriage may feel as though they have failed when they file for divorce.

Friendships, as well as romantic relationships, can involve failures. People may view a friendship as a failure when it ends poorly after many years, when they are no longer in contact with good friends, or when the friendship is one-sided, I.e. only one person is putting the effort in.

Some people view their poor health as a failure, as they feel like their body has betrayed them by not functioning in the same way as the average person’s.

When they cannot live life in the same way as the average person, they may feel as though they are a failure. For example, if they struggle to live independently, feelings of disappointment and shame may develop, as they see independent living as a marker of success.

Another example of failure could be someone who never makes an attempt to do anything new, as they are scared they aren’t going to succeed. More and more people are viewing this as a form of failure, as when you try, there is a chance of success, but when you don’t, failure is inevitable.

Why is Failure So Difficult to Deal With?

A man in pain, rubbing his eyes

Failure is difficult to deal with for a wide range of reasons. Though it is commonly an uncomfortable experience, some people struggle with failure more than others.

Here are just some of the reasons that we don’t enjoy failing:

1. We find it disappointing

When you set your sights on success, and you don’t manage to achieve it, it can be very disappointing. Most people find it difficult to move on from this feeling, as they have spent so long imagining the consequences of success, but they unexpectedly need to allow time to dwell on the consequences of failure.

This is particularly difficult for people who have high expectations of themselves, as they are more likely to set ambitious goals and berate themselves when they do not achieve them.

Others may assume they are going to fail anyway, and while this has its own issues, it means they will be less shocked when the failure occurs.

2. We hate wasting time and money

Most attempts at success involve lots of time, and sometimes lots of money. This means that when we do not succeed, we have to deal with the fact that we have wasted time and money on something that will not come to pass.

For instance, if a long-term relationship ends, we may dwell on the fact that we have dedicated so much time to this relationship, and this can be extremely disheartening.

Another example is if we have invested time and money into a sport, hoping that we can make it as a professional, and we fail to do so.

However, this requires a mindset shift, as neither of these situations are a waste of time or money. Both have provided learning opportunities, and they are often a stepping stone to success (I.e., a toxic relationship leading to a healthy one, or years of playing sport leading to a healthy mind and body).

3. We don’t want people to judge us

Even if we do not have a personal problem with failure, we may worry about how others are going to perceive our lack of success.

It is true that people may look down on people who have failed, perceiving them as less talented, less ambitious, or even less worthy.

We can worry about being judged by total strangers, who do not know us well enough to be gracious about our failures, or by our family, who we do not want to disappoint.

Unfortunately, people tend to see the end result of our actions and not much more, so they do not see all the effort we have put in before we fail, and this means they may jump to conclusions about our capability or our drive.


4. We compare ourselves to others

Just as other people do not tend to see the background of our failure, we do not see the background of other people’s success. This means that we may compare ourselves to successful people, believing they are inherently better than us because they always manage to succeed with little effort.

However, we do not know how much effort they have put in behind the scenes. Something else we are not aware of is how many times they have failed, as we only see their highlight reel.

This comparison is worse than ever, as not only do we compare ourselves to friends, family and colleagues, but we also compare ourselves to people on social media.

Even if they lead a completely different life to us, and they are from another part of the world, we cannot help but compare ourselves when they share their successes online.

5. We want stability

Often, when we aim for success, we are aiming for stability. A successful relationship provides us with emotional security, and a successful job offers financial security. This means that when we fail to achieve these things, we may worry about losing stability.

A key part of this is the fear that success will never be possible.

When we fail, we may catastrophise and develop the negative belief that success is not for us, and therefore stability is not for us.

It is natural to feel worried about not having stability, as it calls into question our life’s purpose, and it triggers a fear of the unknown, which is what comes with being uncertain about the future.

Yet, everyone has a different idea of what stability means for them, so a long-term relationship and a great career are not necessary for stability, and some people who have these things do not feel stable.

6. We are perfectionists

It goes without saying that perfectionists struggle the most with failure, as they not only strive to do things well but to do them perfectly. Perfectionists are doomed to failure, as they are determined to achieve something that is not possible.

To give an example, where the average person may view divorce as a failure, a perfectionist may view any small issues in a healthy relationship as failures.

Though it is normal for couples to argue and to go through challenging times together, perfectionists may try to prevent this from happening, and when it inevitably does, they can feel incredibly disappointed and depressed that they have ‘failed’.

It is also difficult for perfectionists to have hobbies without trying to be the best at them.

While some people may go to the gym a few times a week and feel content with their progress, a perfectionist may label themselves a failure unless they are reaching unrealistic fitness goals and going to the gym every day.

7. It makes us think we are a failure

For many of us, it is difficult to separate the concept of failing from the concept of being a failure. This is called personalisation.

While it is an understandable feeling, it is not logical to believe you are a failure simply because you have failed.

If that was the case we would all be failures, as we all make mistakes on a regular basis.

What’s more, successful people are more likely to have failed more often in their life, but we wouldn’t tend to think of them as failures. The more times you put yourself out there and try new things, the more times you are going to fail, but this is part and parcel of being a successful person.

Why Do Some People Handle Failure Better than Others?

Mental health

All of us struggle with failure at some point, but not everyone has a chronic fear of failure, so what makes them capable of accepting failure without punishing themselves?

Firstly, people with a strong sense of self may struggle less with failure. One of the things that make failing so difficult is that it can make us worry about the impact on our identity – going from someone with a successful career to someone who is unemployed, or from married to divorced.

If you are confident about who you are regardless of your position in life, it will be easier to accept failure, as you know that whether you are employed or unemployed, married or divorced, you are still you.

Secondly, people with high self-esteem will cope better with failure, as they do not personalise their flaws. Instead of thinking ‘I forgot to give my friend a gift, and therefore I am a failure’, they may think ‘everyone forgets things sometimes, and I am not defined by my forgetfulness’.

They are also more likely to imagine a happy future, so when they do fail, it does not seem like the end of the world.

If their relationship has ended, they know that there will be someone else out there for them, or that they will thrive being single, so they do not catastrophise in the same way that people with low self-esteem do.

Finally, we must acknowledge that failure is sometimes easier for people in positions of privilege. If a very wealthy person tries out a new career path and it doesn’t work out, they do not have to worry about facing poverty, and this means it is much easier for them to accept defeat.

On the other hand, less privileged people often have more to lose when they try new things and risk failure. As we mentioned earlier, failure is subjective, so one person’s failure could be giving a poor presentation, but another person’s failure may be losing their job and becoming homeless.

Though both can bring about negative feelings, it would generally be harder for the person in the second example, as their failure represents a threat to their safety, and potentially their life.

What are the Negative Consequences Of Failure & the Fear of Failure?

Person holding his head

One negative consequence of failure is developing low self-esteem. Some people are very confident until they experience a big failure, and then they feel as though they are worthless.

This can lead to all sorts of problems, but in particular, it can be the start of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Another negative outcome of failure is refusing to try again.

When people do not succeed in something they have tried very hard at, they may be less likely to try again in the future as they develop an intense fear of failure.

One example of this is women who have difficult births and are scared of having another child in case the birth does not go well.

Failure can also lead to problems with connection in relationships. If one person is focusing on everything that could go wrong, it may make the other person very insecure about what they are bringing to the relationship, causing them to try to prove that they are worthy of love.

Alternatively, they could walk away from the relationship if they cannot handle that sort of pressure.

Failure can change the path of our life, as it may close doors to us. For example, failing our exams can result in being unqualified for certain careers.

However, there is often a chance for us to try again after we have failed. In this case, it is usually possible to retake exams and become qualified for our desired job.

It is also important to remember that failure can open doors that are not necessarily good for us. Let’s take the example of someone who has failed to stay away from drugs, and has gone to prison for dealing.

Where they may have previously avoided a life of crime, this door has now opened to them, and it can be difficult to shut.

What are the Positive Consequences Of Failure & the Fear of Failure?

There are not many positive consequences of having a fear of failure, as it tends to hold people back from experiencing new opportunities.

The only possible advantage would be that it makes people more cautious, and this may be useful in certain situations e.g. they may avoid toxic relationships or friends who are a bad influence.

However, overall, we would argue that a fear of failure is something that people should look to treat, as embracing failure is much more likely to lead to success and happiness than shying away from it.

When it comes to failure itself, there are a few positives. One positive outcome of failure is that it teaches us valuable lessons, such as humility, empathy, resilience, and emotional intelligence.

We do not emerge from failure as the same person we were, and this can be essential for our growth as a person.

For example, if we go to ten different job interviews and none of them are successful, we may first think that there has been no positive outcome.

However, you could look at it as ten different opportunities to practice interview techniques, to learn about the kind of company you would like to work for, and to become more confident under pressure.

Another advantage of failure is that it humbles us, and forces us to accept that we have not yet reached our full potential. If we succeeded at everything we did, we would most likely lose ambition and stop working towards our goals.

On the other hand, failure can motivate us to keep working harder, as it teaches us that we can always be better and do better. We may be more inclined to listen to people who are more established than us, which is a lesson in humility and respect.

Finally, when we fail, we develop resilience.

If you have always been successful in life and you suddenly experience a massive failure, it can be very detrimental as you have not developed the coping mechanisms you need to deal with it.

However, if you have made mistakes along the way and learnt from them, you are in a better position to deal with significant failures in a healthy way, and you will be aware that failure does not represent the end of the road for you.

For example, if someone marries the first person they have dated, and they end up divorcing years down the line, this may be much more difficult to deal with than it would be if they had experienced several long-term relationships and learnt how to cope with a relationship ending.

10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure

Two people drinking coffee

Below, we outline the 10 best ways to cope with failure:

1. Accept that it is inevitable

Until you accept that failure is inevitable, you will always have a hard time when you do not achieve your goals. Aiming to never fail is incredibly damaging, as you will have a very hard time when you inevitably mess up.

More than that, it is counterproductive as you need to prepare for future failures in order to reduce the likelihood of them occurring.

If you are a runner who believes they are never going to be injured, you will not take the necessary precautions (such as warming up and having rest days), which means you are more likely to get injured, and therefore you are more likely to fail, than someone who acknowledges that failure is a part of life.

2. Use your failure as motivation to succeed

Some of the most successful people have experienced more failure than most, but they used this failure as motivation to try again. Try to look at failure as one step closer to success, as that is often what it is.

Even if you never end up achieving your goal, if you allow failure to be a lesson each and every time, you will be a happier person in the end than if you are worn down by your defeats.

This does not mean you have to immediately pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start again. Most of us need some time to cope with our loss and to work through the negative feelings, but make sure this is only temporary, and get back to it once you have had time to grieve.

3. Learn about other people who have failed and then succeeded

Plenty of successful people have experienced failure. In fact, it is virtually impossible to succeed without first failing, as when you strive to be exceptional, you need to learn what doesn’t work before you learn what does.

By researching people who have experienced lots of failure before succeeding, you are reminding yourself that failure is a normal part of life, and a standard experience when you are striving for success.

Some examples of successful people that have had their fair share of failure are: Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Vincent Van Gogh, and Charles Darwin.

4. Accept responsibility for your actions

We have put an emphasis on accepting that you are not a failure just because you have experienced defeat, and this is certainly the healthiest way to cope with failure. However, this does not mean that you can give up responsibility for your defeat.

You need to accept that you may have been partially responsible for your failure, as this is the only way that you can improve next time.

If a job interview didn’t go well, think about whether you were as time and money as you could have been, whether you appeared passionate enough, and whether your experience was adequate for the role.

Though there are likely to have been many factors you couldn’t control in terms of the employer not selecting you, focus on what you can control, and think about how you could make it better next time.

Could you work with a coach to improve your interview skills, or only apply to companies you have researched well?

Successful people are always considering where they went wrong, and how they can avoid this in the future.

5. Make changes that are conducive to success

If you keep failing and you are not making any changes, you cannot expect to suddenly succeed. You need to think of ways to implement changes in your life, to make success more likely for you. This is a great way to cope with failure, as it puts the focus on improvement, leaving less room to dwell on the defeat.

For example, if you are trying to get a promotion by working longer hours at work, but it never seems to happen for you, you need to make a change.

You would need to speak to your manager about what they need from you, observe what the most successful people in your workplace are doing, and improve your performance aside from simply working more i.e. take on more responsibility, research important concepts in your spare time, and meet with other people in your industry for coffee and a chat about how to progress.

Another example is that if you keep getting into relationships that end badly, instead of blindly heading towards your next relationship, stop and think about the pattern of failure, and how you can increase your chances of succeeding next time.

Perhaps you struggle with jealousy and you need to communicate more with the person you love, or maybe you have a fear of commitment and you need to go to therapy before you try another relationship.

Whatever it is, find what’s going wrong and how you can control it. The healthier changes you make in your life after observing how you have failed, the more chance you will eventually succeed.

Two women looking at an ipad, smiling

6. Change your daily routine

We have already discussed the idea of making changes in your life, and this tip follows on from this, as it is another practical way to cope with failure. As well as considering the big changes you need to make, think about your everyday habits and how some of these may be setting you up for failure.

It is often said that the most successful people wake up early, hit the gym, do some meditation, and then start their day. This would be an improvement for many people, but there are plenty of other routines that are not quite as intense, and yet are still conducive to success.

Generally, we would recommend implementing some self-care into every day, whether that means journalling, going for long walks, or sitting quietly with your thoughts for half an hour. We would also encourage some time connecting with others, which could be a date with your spouse, a call with a friend, or a coffee with a colleague.

It is best to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, but this doesn’t have to mean an intense session at the gym every day.

You could simply find ways to walk when you would usually drive, or you could start a new hobby that keeps you active, e.g. playing tennis once a week.

The idea of changing your daily routine is that if something is not working currently, you need to shift how you are handling each day so that your daily routine is in line with your goals.

7. Be kind to yourself

It may be tempting to become very critical of yourself when you have failed, but it is not productive. You are more likely to succeed if you are kind to yourself, which means accepting that you have tried your best, and not setting unrealistically high goals for yourself.

If it helps, you could pretend you are speaking to a friend when you speak to yourself. If your friend had messed up, you would most likely reassure them that there will be more opportunities to succeed, and that it is not a poor reflection on them, so do that for yourself.

You may need to open up to your loved ones about your difficulties so that they can provide you with this reassurance first, and this can be the push you need to start being kinder to yourself.

8. Create realistic goals

There is no way you are going to succeed if your goals are impossible. Remove any unachievable goals you have set yourself, and start afresh.

The best way to do this is to set small, achievable goals that still require effort to be achieved. For example, if you want to learn a new language, do not set a goal of being fluent within a year. This will lead to disappointment when the goal is not achieved.

Instead, commit to 10 minutes of Duolingo a day. This is very manageable, and it will make you feel better about yourself when you can tick it off your daily to-do list. Most people find that when they set small goals, they end up exceeding them.

In the language example, you may end up doing half an hour of Duolingo a day. This is great as it is extremely motivating, as opposed to setting high standards for yourself and feeling like you are failing every day.

9. Surround yourself with ambitious people

This may sound counterintuitive, as it will be more uncomfortable to deal with failure when the people around you are succeeding. However, if you continue to mix with people who are not ambitious, you may be more likely to wallow in your misery, rather than find the motivation to improve yourself.

10. Go to therapy

Our final suggestion for coping with failure is to go to therapy. Often, our issues with failure are deep-rooted, and they started in childhood. This means that no matter how many small changes we make in adulthood until we address what occurred in our childhood, we are unlikely to make significant progress.

Some examples of childhood situations that can cause a fear of failure are:

  • Having very strict parents
  • Having competitive siblings
  • Having anxiety
  • Having parents who also have a fear of failure

When you go to therapy, you will be able to learn about how you may have developed a fear of failure, and how you can fight against it. This will involve trying new things and failing, which can seem scary, but it will get less scary the more you do it.

You may choose to get exposure therapy, which would involve jumping into the deep end and facing your fear of failure head-on. However, some people benefit more from discussing their childhood and their general trauma before putting in effort to reduce their fear of failure.

When you experience specific failures in life, if you already have a therapist you know and trust, you would be able to offload to them and process the failure with them.

This can prevent you from spiralling and blaming yourself for the failure.

Coping With Addiction Failure

Two women talking one-to-one at a table

Failure is a big part of addiction, as it is very likely that people with addiction will relapse at least once in their life, and this can be perceived as a failure.

To cope with addiction failure, one tip is to remember that relapse is very common, so you are not the only individual struggling to stay sober.

Also remember that there are many factors that influence the development of addiction, so though you cannot refuse responsibility for any of it, you can take comfort in the fact that it is not your fault.

Many people give up on sobriety after relapsing, as they believe it is inevitable that they will continue to relapse throughout their life. However, it is better to see relapse as a small setback that can easily be conquered by a swift return to sobriety.

Even if you do relapse again, the fact that you are remaining sober for most of your life means that your physical and mental health will be in a much better position.

If you keep relapsing and you do not see a way out, you should try to find a drug and alcohol clinic near you, as this will provide you with the best chance of staying sober. Even if you have a behavioural addiction, you can attend rehab for therapy.

By contacting Rehab Recovery, you get to leave all of the hard work to us, as we will take control of all of the stressful administration that comes with organising inpatient treatment.

We arrange everything, from looking for local rehabs that will suit you, to providing you with a referral (usually in the space of a few days).

If you try to do this yourself, it would most likely be a longer process, as we are trained in researching rehab centres in an efficient manner. We already have contacts with treatment facilities across the UK, so it is much quicker and easier for us to reach out to them and see if they have a space for you.

Furthermore, we know that looking for a place at a rehab centre can be very stressful, and you are more prone to making unwise decisions when you are suffering from the symptoms of addiction.

When you use a referral service like Rehab Recovery, you are removed from this stress, which allows you to cope better with your addiction until you manage to enter rehab.

Start your journey towards sobriety at a drug and alcohol rehab near you – call our expert team today on 0800 088 66 86

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