How do you deal with failure? We all have a habit of saying, “It’s OK,” or “It doesn’t matter.”
I’ve done the same whenever I’ve met with failure. Turns out, it’s not the best way to cope with failure. It’s a lie you tell yourself to let you feel that this failure didn’t get to you. In most cases, failures do get to you, and that’s why it hurts so much. In fact, failures hurt twice as much as successes feels great. Still, most of us haven’t really figured out the right way to deal with failure. What if we could find a way to grow stronger and get better through failure?
A good starting approach is to internalise a process-first approach by making your internal feedback system respond to efforts over results—praise a good day’s work, a lesson learnt, and not get prejudiced by the outcome bias.
On the other hand, it is okay for the child in you to enjoy a win. When you have worked hard to succeed at something, you are allowed to smell the roses. However, the key is to recognise that the beauty of those roses lies in their transience. It is drifting away as you inhale. Figuratively, you should enjoy the win fully while taking a deep breath, then while you exhale, note the lesson learnt, and move on to the next adventure.
All is easy when you win. But when you lose, things are different, and the stakes feel higher. You’ve put your heart on the line and have lost. How should you handle this moment? The world seems to be crashing down upon you at this moment.
For starters, don’t say that it doesn’t matter, because you know better than that. If it didn’t matter, then why should you try to win? Why go through all those hurdles, and put yourself to the test, all for nothing? It matters greatly. So self-empathy (not self-pity) is a good place to start. Try not to be alone. Share your story with somebody. Hug a loved one. Cry your heart out if you have to. It’s okay to be sad and vulnerable, in fact it’s very natural to be sad and vulnerable.
Most people would prefer not to have weaknesses, but since that can’t practically happen, they do the next best thing that can be done: they remain in denial of their weaknesses.
I don’t really blame them. Our upbringings and our experiences in the world have conditioned us to be embarrassed by our weaknesses and failures. Naturally we try to hide them. But people are happiest when they can be themselves. If you can be open with yourself and your close confidantes about everything—your success as well as your failures, your strengths as well as your weaknesses, your goals as well as your fears—it will make you freer and will help you deal with them better.
I urge you to not be embarrassed about your problems, recognising that everyone has them. Bringing them to the surface will help you break your bad habits and develop good ones, and you will acquire real strengths and justifiable optimism.
Disappointment is a part of the road to greatness. But if you can learn to reflect on the pain and disappointment, rather than run from it, it leads to rapid learning. It’s not the easiest thing to do, however. But once you make it into a habit, and you start seeing how much more effective you can be by facing painful realities, you most likely won’t want to operate in any other way.
What you have to understand is that there is no avoiding pain, especially if you’re going after ambitious goals. The pain is a signal that you need to find solutions so you can progress.
The human being is the only animal bestowed with the power of reflectiveness—which means that you can think deeply and weigh subtle things to come up with learning and wise choices. Ask yourself about the root causes of your pain. Asking other people is also very helpful—especially others who have opposing views but who share your interest in finding the truth.
The good thing is that if you can reflect deeply upon your problems, they almost always shrink or disappear, because you almost always find a better way of dealing with them than if you don’t face them head-on.
The challenges you face in life test you for your strength, resilience, wit, and wisdom. If you fail, it means you aren’t strong or witty enough. And if you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximising your potential. Like I said, failure and disappointment are essential in your road to greatness.
This process of pushing your limits—of sometimes failing and sometimes breaking through, and deriving benefits from both your failures and your successes—can actually be thrilling once you embrace it and play this game properly. It isn’t for everyone—especially for people with fixed mindset—but if it is for you, it can become fun and addictive. It’s like switching from ‘not exercising’ to ‘exercising’, and developing a habit of embracing the pain to help you grow.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
— Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
Nonetheless, at some point in your life you will eventually crash in a big way. You might fail at your job or with your family, loose a loved one, suffer a serious accident or illness, or discover the life you imagined is out of reach forever. There are a whole host of ways that something will get you. At such times, you will be in pain and might think that you don’t have the strength to go on. Let me tell you that you almost always do have the strength. However, your ultimate success will depend on you realising the fact that pain is your ally, not something to be feared and avoided, even though it might not seem that way at the moment.
So it’s better to prepare, and make it a habit of going to the pain rather than avoid it. If you don’t let up on yourself and instead become comfortable always operating with some level of pain, you will evolve at a faster pace.
Ask NNT says,
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure , risk, and uncertainty.”
Embracing the pain helps you become attain antifragility.