Failure can be dealt with in a healthy way — and can even lead to personal growth.
An opportunity missed. A job lost. Falling just short of a goal or a dream.
Failure happens to everyone, but what about the moments when the failure is too much to deal with?
According to Jesse Radloff, a licensed mental health counselor and care coordinator at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital, there are several ways to pull yourself back up by your bootstraps and cope with failure.
Radloff said it all starts with someone’s emotional capacity for dealing with frustration, which underlies how they’ll react to failure. It’ll be more difficult for someone to deal with failure if they already struggle with smaller frustrations or things not going their way, he said.
As far as strategies for coping with failure, it’s helpful to first deal with the immediate emotional and physical reactions.
“(It’s) using something to center yourself, whether it’s deep breathing or walking away for a second and going where it’s quiet,” Radloff said. “For some people it’s go exercise or hit a punching bag or something like that just to manage your initial physical reaction. (When) you get told bad news, you might get a sinking stomach or your adrenaline might shoot up and you start worrying about ‘Oh my God, how am I going to pay bills?’ … That can kind of spiral going forward, so getting yourself centered as close to the time of something going wrong as possible can be very helpful.”
Whatever method you use, breathing is a key aspect of centering yourself, Radloff said.
“That’s taught in domains as different as meditation retreats and Army ranger school,” he said. “It starts with your breath. If your breath is erratic and uncontrolled, then there’s a good chance that the rest of you may be as well. There’s nothing else that someone can do when they’re faced with an overwhelming, difficult situation. Notice that you’re still breathing — you are still alive — take a deep breath, hold it for a moment and slow exhale. Be mindful of your breath and the rest will follow.”
With some failures, there is almost a grieving process, Radloff said. Someone might start off being angry or in denial, soon questioning their own sense of self-worth. Being aware that those feelings might come up is also important, Radloff said.
Once someone has centered themselves and they’re past that initial shock, thinking about what led to the failure or lost opportunity can bring healing and help that person come back from it, Radloff said.
“Taking an after-action assessment — OK, what went wrong?” he said. “What are the things and what might have been warning signs that this was going to go wrong, if it was something that was predictable. Getting the advice of people that you trust. How could this have been avoided or what can I learn from this? Turning a failure into a learning opportunity can be huge.”
Radloff emphasized that when dealing with stress, depression or anything involving mental health, there is no shame in reaching out for help.
“There is a stigma about reaching out when you’re having difficulty — in the context of failure, that can be amplified, because you’re already feeling down on yourself,” Radloff said. “Someone or something in some way has rejected you and so that’s painful in and of itself as well, further amplifying the potential stigma. It is OK to reach out when you have a problem, whether it’s to friends, family, a mentor, a mental-health professional, because if you can’t get past that feeling of failure and not being able to pick yourself up, that can lead to depression or anxiety or substance abuse. Avoid the downward spiral.”