We’ve all made New Year’s resolutions that we haven’t kept. It doesn’t exactly feel good to fall short of these goals, and it can make you feel like maybe you shouldn’t have even bothered trying. That’s the thing about failure—it has a tendency to shut you down. But it’s also something each one of us is bound to face over and over in our lives. If we want to succeed we must inevitably face, and overcome, failure.
So what do we do when faced with the inevitable setbacks?
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
In this blog we’ll explore how to reframe failure so your mental health doesn’t take a beating every time you aim a little too high. Here are 5 ways to cope with setbacks to your New Year’s resolutions!
5. Don’t Give Up
Ok, everyone’s heard this before. Only quitters fail. But it bears repeating.
It may take 10 tries. It may take 100 tries. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s next summer’s beach bod or the next Great American Novel, it’s likely not going to happen on the first try. Don’t let that stop you. Persevere. Every failure is one step closer to success. And…
4. Every Failure Can Be A Learning Experience
This is a simple but powerful reframe. Imagine being able to change a bad day into a good day with just a thought. Or being able to change a failure into a victory.
It may be hard to get the hang of at first, but try looking at every failure or setback in your life as an opportunity to learn. If you genuinely try to adopt this viewpoint you may find you are a lot happier and engaged with life in general. Oftentimes people want to find someone to blame when bad things happen. Whether it’s you or someone else at the wrong end of the finger, playing the blame game can lead to feelings of bitterness and powerlessness.
Looking for the lesson in your losses will shift the focus of your internal dialogue from negativity to positivity. Try asking these questions: What did I get out of this? What could I do differently next time? Knowing this, what will I do next?
3. Manage Your Expectations
Setting goals is valuable. A well-set goal will help you stay motivated and focused, and feel like a genuine achievement when accomplished. Goals necessarily involve process, and the outcome of a goal tends to be more flexible in our minds.
When expectations are introduced, that flexibility becomes more rigid and stiff. You expect something to happen a certain way. When it doesn’t, you suffer. Expectations are the real source of disappointment in our lives. So how do we set goals that propel us forward in life without suffering for our expectations?
First we have to understand the difference between the two. Let’s look at an example.
If I create a goal of getting a promotion at work next month, I am likely to begin looking for a pathway towards that goal. To achieve my goal I may take an extra training course, take on additional responsibilities, or plan a meeting with my boss to make my case for the promotion. If I miss my goal I may change my timeline. After all I’m already working towards it, what’s another month or two?
If I set an expectation that I will be getting a promotion at work next month, I’m not likely to do any of that. I expect that promotion will come, and if it doesn’t I’ll be bitter and disappointed. I’ll probably start to feel underappreciated and it may reflect in my work. Maybe it will even cost my job.
Expectations tend to arise naturally in our minds, and unexamined they can play havoc with our lives. As an experiment, the next time you are at a grocery store examine your expectations about your experience there. Would you be upset if those expectations weren’t met? Would that be worth getting upset over?
Bonus: If you can remember to do so, the next time you are upset examine the expectations that got you there.
Strong goals with reasonably managed expectations can generate powerful shifts in your life. Stay flexible and keep moving forward!
If this resonates with you, you might want to learn more about managing expectations with mindfulness at Mindful.org.
2. Don’t Ruminate (Much)
Rumination is the process of going over something in the mind repeatedly. The word actually comes from latin ruminari, to chew over. Like a cow chewing cud.
When concerned with a recent failure, rumination can actually be OK for a short period of time. It may help you explore how you could do things differently in the future, or plan for your next attempt. If you find yourself ruminating, try to implement techniques from Tip #4. Finding a silver lining may help you release the thought. Try not to dwell here for long however—most commonly rumination tends to be negative, and it can result in a negative feedback loop.
If you find you are ruminating frequently, try developing a habit to override your thoughts. You could do 50 jumping jacks everytime you catch yourself ruminating. Or dance to your favorite song. Or just head outside for a walk. Our minds can be stubborn, so sometimes the best way to override them is with the body. If you still find yourself returning to unproductive and negative thoughts, it may be time to talk to a counselor.
If you are someone who struggles with rumination you may also find our blog about how to stay in the present moment helpful.
1. Talk about your failures
The first step to overcoming failure may simply be talking about it. Discussing the challenges you face in life with a friend, family member, or licensed professional therapist can be very beneficial. Many times our failures seem overwhelmingly large to us, and speaking to a trusted counselor can give a much needed perspective shift.
Of course not just anyone will do. If you are feeling vulnerable about sharing, be sure that whoever you speak with is someone with your best interests at heart. Ideally that person should be a good listener, someone who can allow you to explore your feelings without needing to have the answers for you.
If you’re having trouble finding the right person, or implementing any of the above tips, feel free to reach out to The Truism Center. Our counselors can help equip you with the tools you’ll need to process failure and grow towards success for years to come.