Your failure does not define you, your determination does. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, smarter than before.
It’s a feeling of heaviness deep within you. You try to ignore it, but you can’t. Dread and discouragement gradually seep into your thoughts. Sadness and guilt soon follow, until you are completely defeated.
I feel just like this when I fail.
It makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry. I feel lost and alone and I want to give up. I want to fall on my bed and bury my face in a pillow. But that doesn’t work, because the sinking feeling just follows me to sleep.
Failure is terribly painful on so many levels.
People get this idea about me, because I write and teach about success, happiness and mindful living, that I don’t ever slip up and fail miserably in these areas. But of course I’m human, so that’s not true. I fail at things much more than you might imagine, and certainly far more than I’d often like to admit.
At some point or another I fail at everything, just like you, and it feels just as horrible for me as it does for you or anyone else.
I feel letdown and guilty, and try to avoid thinking about it, and would rather hide it.
But deep down I know these negative reactions aren’t helpful. So I own up to what happened, learn a lesson or two, and then get back up and try again. The last part is the most important part – trying again…
- I fail at eating healthy meals sometimes, but I try again.
- I fail at making my scheduled workouts sometimes, but I make up for it by getting in the gym and working hard the next time.
- I fail at loving myself sometimes, but I don’t give up on myself either, and so I try again.
- I fail at being a great dad sometimes, especially when I get distracted with stressful business endeavors, but I keep trying, and oftentimes I invoke a fresh smile on my son’s face.
- I even failed at writing the article you’re reading now. I made an initial attempt and scrapped it because it didn’t feel right. But I started again, and I’m done now.
When I try over and over again, I often succeed, eventually.
If there’s only one thing you take away from this post, let it be that trying again is always worth it. You get just about as many chances in life as you’re willing to give yourself.
Once you’ve got your mind wrapped around that simple principle, here are four unique (and proven) strategies for giving yourself another chance, by letting go and growing beyond your failures:
1. Be the watcher of your thoughts and emotions.
Instead of trying to change our thoughts every moment – via gratitude or deliberate forgiveness, for example – sometimes we simply need to notice our thoughts without getting caught up in them.
You are ultimately the sole creator of your own feelings. When negative thoughts arise based on past experiences or future worries, as they sometimes will, realize that these are simply issues your mind (not you) is working through. Pause, be present and pay close attention. Think about these thoughts and emotions consciously, almost as if you were a bystander looking in. Separate yourself from your mind’s thinking.
Perhaps after you study your thoughts and emotions you will think to yourself, “Wow, am I really still working through that?” And guess what? Over time your negative feelings and emotions will lessen and genuine awareness, love and acceptance will grow in their place. You will begin to realize that your mind is just an instrument, and you are in control of your mind, not the other way around.
By not judging your thoughts or blaming them on yourself or anyone else, and merely watching them, there will be a big shift within you – your sense of self worth will bloom.
It’s not like you won’t fail, or get upset anymore, or never feel anxious, but knowing that your thoughts and emotions are just fleeting feelings that are independent of YOU will help ease your tension and increase your positive presence, allowing you to let go, learn, and begin again, smarter and stronger than before. (Read The Power of Now.)
2. Catch and correct your negative pattern-matching tendencies.
Every day, all day, you are subconsciously matching patterns from the past with the present. When an experience in your life has emotional significance, it gets tagged in your brain as being important. And when the emotional experience is tragic, it triggers your brain’s fear mechanism, which tells your brain to remain on the lookout for any future conditions that vaguely remind you of this tragic experience (it does this to protect you from future harm).
Your brain then tries to match new experiences with the original one. But depending on how emotionally attached you are to the original experience, it can lead to false pattern matches which inevitably lead you astray. This is especially true when it comes to personal failures, mistakes and misjudgments.
- Your relationship fell apart, so now you believe that all your future relationships will too.
- You got a low score on a written exam in high school, so now you doubt your ability to take any form of written exam.
- You didn’t get along with an old boss, so now you have trouble respecting a totally new boss or different authoritative figure.
Again, these false pattern matches occur whenever you respond negatively and over-emotionally to a particular past experience. And it all happens subconsciously too. Logically, you know that all relationships are completely different, but emotionally you respond as if they are one.
If you feel that you are stuck because you can’t move beyond a past failed experience, then your brain is relating to it as if it’s still happening right now, which means it’s matching patterns improperly in the present. Here’s a two-step solution that might help:
- Ask yourself: “What specific past failed experience and associated feelings do my current feelings remind me of?” Dig deep and be honest with yourself.
- Once you have determined the origin of your current feelings, list all the ways your current circumstances differ from the past (the original failed experience) – this should include the places, people, and details that caused you pain and discomfort. Review the differences over and over again until you have them completely memorized. This can help you realize and remember that circumstances have indeed changed.
3. Examine, and re-examine, your progress and how far you’ve come.
Even though you intellectually know you’re stronger than you were in the past, your subconscious mind often forgets that your capabilities have grown.
Let me give you a quick metaphorical example…
Zookeepers typically strap a thin metal chain to a grown elephant’s leg and then attach the other end to a small wooden peg that’s hammered into the ground. The 10-foot tall, 10,000-pound elephant could easily snap the chain, uproot the wooden peg and escape to freedom with minimal effort. But it doesn’t. In fact the elephant never even tries. The world’s most powerful land animal, which can uproot a tree as easily as you could break a toothpick, remains defeated by a small wooden peg and a flimsy chain.
Because when the elephant was a baby, its trainers used the exact same methods to domesticate it. A thin chain was strapped around its leg and the other end of the chain was tied to a wooden peg in the ground. At the time, the chain and peg were strong enough to restrain the baby elephant. When it tried to break away, the metal chain would pull it back. Sometimes, tempted by the world it could see in the distance, the elephant would pull harder. But the chain would not budge, and soon the baby elephant realized trying to escape was not possible. So it stopped trying.
And now that the elephant is all grown up, it sees the chain and the peg and it remembers what it learned as a baby – the chain and peg are impossible to escape. Of course this is no longer true, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the 200-pound baby is now a 10,000-pound powerhouse. The elephant’s self-limiting beliefs prevail.
If you think about it, we are all like elephants. We all have incredible power inside us. And of course, we have our own chains and pegs – the self-limiting beliefs that hold us back. Sometimes it’s a childhood experience or an early failure. Sometimes it’s something we were told when we were younger.
We need to learn from the past, but be ready to update what we learned based on how our circumstances have changed (as they constantly do).
Here are two things to consider:
- If you suspect you are currently living your life (or parts of it) through the conditioning of self-limiting beliefs you developed in the past, remind yourself of what is different now in terms of circumstances and your own capabilities. What has changed within you? What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
- Examine what you have learned from past failures and adversities that can actually help you now. Rather than just regretting stuff, question specifically how it has helped you grow. Has your past equipped you to be determined, self-reliant, perceptive, tough, aware, compassionate, etc.? Focus on what you have gained rather than lost from adverse past experiences. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. Learn to see the beauty of uncertainty.
Nothing can be expected and nothing is indefinitely certain in this world. That is the truth. And it’s a beautiful thing.
You need to understand that none of us are playing with marked cards; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Life always finds its balance. Don’t expect to get back everything you give. Don’t expect recognition for every effort you make. And don’t expect your genius to be instantly recognized or your love to be understood by everyone you encounter.
There are things you don’t want to happen but have to accept, things you don’t want to know but have to learn, and people and circumstances you can’t live without but have to let go. Some things come into your life just to strengthen you, so you can move on without them.
Some people call these experiences failures. I challenge you to see them as positive lessons.
As you live and experience things, you must recognize what belongs and what doesn’t, what works and what doesn’t, and then let things go when you know you should. Not out of pride, inability or arrogance, but simply because not everything is supposed to fit into your life. So close the door on the past, change the tune, clean your inner space, and get rid of the dust. Stop being who you once were so you can become who you are today.
It’s time to let go of what happened yesterday, and ignite the present potential of your life.
I hope you found value in the four strategies above. I’ve shared them with you because, honestly, I’ve witnessed them help thousands of our coaching/course students over the past decade.
Either way, please know we’re all in this together. I’m far from perfect, just like you. We all share the commonality of failing to live up to our better nature, and we also share the bond of being able to start again.
And that’s what we must do. Together.
Let’s start again. Today.
What failures have you struggled to overcome? What have you done, or what are you going to do, to let go and get on with your life? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Phil
Failure is something that’s hard for me to admit and speak about, but I wanted you to know that I really appreciate these strategies for getting over my failures and disappointments. The timelines of this post for me is quite remarkable, really! I just enrolled in your Getting Back to Happy course last week because I’ve been stuck in a rut with the shame of basally screwing up simultaneously in both my business and my family life. I’m going to combine this post with the process of daily rituals from the first course lesson — which has already been helpful to me — and I’m confident my situation will gradually shift for the better. Thank you.
Marc Chernoff says
I’m inspired to hear you’ve already found value in the course, Barbara. It honestly sounds like you’re on the right track — applying the right positive rituals to the life changes you want to make is a great recipe. As you progress, please don’t hesitate to email us at the course address if you have questions or if you’re ready to jump on a coaching call.
I agree with Barbara… incredible synchronicity to have this article arrive in my inbox right now! I made myself look like a fool last night in front of four people I respect and admire. I opened up your email and clicked out to this article, and it’s as though it was written just for me. Amazing… thank you!
Wendy Marsh says
These are great tips since we all make mistakes and often come down hard on ourselves up about them. I really liked #4. Putting a positive spin on our mistakes and failures allows us to see things from a different perspective, and that can make all the difference.
Somehow, it’s always a bit uplifting to hear that even successful people fail!
My personal strategy when feeling down about failing is to tell myself that I feel like that for a reason – it’s just my brain’s natural response mechanism to failure. Because these dreadful feelings are what keep us focused on how we screwed up, and make us less likely to do so again. They’re what allows us to learn from our mistakes.
Without these dreadful feelings, we would just shrug off any failures we make and get on with our day, without ever learning the lessons from them.
Marc Chernoff says
Excellent perspective, Mathias.
Failure is hard, but I generally try reminding myself that if I’m not failing at things, I’m probably not trying hard enough.
I think we actually need to make a concerted effort in our society, and in our education system specifically, to teach that failure is acceptable and that it’s actually a good thing to push ourselves to a point where failure is a real possibility. It seems, at least for me, that a big emphasis throughout school was on success, and that failure is something to be scared of and avoided at all costs. I wonder how many adults don’t realize their potential, just because of this fear and avoidance of failure.
Marc Chernoff says
You got it! Failure is an opportunity to learn, and ultimately succeed in the long run.
Nathalie | WantForWellness.com says
What an excellent and elaborate article! I’m definitely saving this for future reference. I for one am someone who can really dwell on the past, and it sounds like this article hands some really good tools to tackle moments like that!
In my time of need for practical and sound advice, all I have to do is come to your website. Instead of being stuck where I was for the past some years, I’m closing the door on a chapter in my life that has given me pain and pleasure, but caused me to become someone I didn’t even like. By walking out of my church I started the process, but now I’m going to disassociate myself from the church. so when I find something that I want to pursue then I can. and do so without anger, sadness, and resentment. leave on a good note. thank you. keep up the good work.
Justin Malik says
This is so true, and reminds me of the Bill Gates quote: “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
For me, the failures that I’ve struggled to overcome are embarrassing moments when dealing with performance-based, social anxiety. I don’t know how to get over that and move on, which only makes my anxiety worse.
But I love these tips and would love to read this post to my podcast audience. Can I get your permission, Marc? My audience has actually requested Marc & Angel specifically!
In either case, I’ll keep reading your wonderful work. Thank you for the amazing content!
Marc Chernoff says
Justin, yeah that sounds great. As long as you credit us and mention our blog and URL, you’re more than welcome to read this post to your listeners. And who knows, maybe we’ll join you as guests for an episode someday. 😉
Thank you for sharing such important insightful thoughts. Your message here really hits home with me. I too will keep this for future readings. I am SO glad I found you and Angel. You are truly making a difference in people’s lives. Thank you again.
I really look forward to reading your posts. I especially like this one as I find I am very hard on myself when I do make mistakes, so I like the way you have explained putting a positive spin on it. After all if we are not making mistakes along the way of our lives, then we are not really living …..are we? I like that mistakes or failures provide us with positive learning’s to take from …..it pushes us to keep trying and get better and better….
Thank you for the ongoing inspiration!! It helps me daily as I do suffer from depression, so I really look forward to reading your posts daily.
Thank you. Depression and regret have been stopping me for sometime…
I’m working to climb out of a very dark space. This article has helped.
I made a significant mistake a couple years back . I built a dream cottage and let it go when frustrations crept in. Just worked harder than I ever did before in my life and built something I always dreamed off, basically got frustrated for a few reasons and gave up on it, selling it way lower than it was worth. I lost all my time, effort and some money and have really struggled with the weight of it all. It was extremely hard initially and lasted (still does) surprisingly long. I found that I wasn’t used to failure and it hit me incredibly hard. I learned a lot about my vulnerabilities that I kept hidden from myself and others for years. It was an eye opening experience and epic failure that represented so much more than a cottage to me. Although I still struggle at times, I finally see some brighter days ahead. I have tried many techniques to get over the failure, from gratitude, to trying to change my thoughts, to keeping busy etc.. In the end for me, it was time that dulled the raw hurt and a delay trick. Instead of stopping in the middle of each day to let a thought percolate and hurt me, I gently dismiss and put them off to the evening when I journal about that particular point. Then I let it go… That is, the pain is still there, but I limit its effect on me by only dwelling at a certain time. Journaling also allows me to achieve more insight on the issue.
I enjoy your blog and found it as a result of this circumstance. thx
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for sharing a piece of your story, Bernieb. There’s no doubt that we all handle our failures and disappointments differently. I’m inspired to hear you found something that works for you. Truly, journaling is a truly powerful tool, and one Angel and I will likely cover in a blog post in the near future.
JT Simmons says
What I take away from your posts is affirmation. Right thinking makes right action. The thoughts I allow to flourish will determine the course of my life. My resources for guidance are the Bible and the positive voices in the world, one of them being you folks. I try to have a positive thought for each day. Today’s is this: Often mistaken for weakness, kindness is really a sign of great inner strength. It costs nothing but the results are priceless.
Thank you for your kind help.
David Rapp says
I think there is a subtle perspective we may have overlooked. Many of the post and the elements of Marc’s message are focused on the feelings, emotions, thought cycles, that occur AFTER a “failure.” But I know my biggest failures are NOT doing something.
Girls I probably should have asked out, but I was so convinced my bi-polar tendencies would ruin the fun. Opportunities to work on projects that would stretch my skills, but stayed where I was to be safe. Music, poetry, and even a movie script that I have worked on for years…but only in my head. Staying in the same job for 8 years because its very comfortable, but I never got a raise. Complaining about our house but doing very little to improve it.
These failures have matured into regrets, which I find harder to address as they feel more permanent. But now its finally dawned on me that I am into the second half of my life. So starting next Monday, on my 47th birthday, I am launching my Rebuild at 47 Project. All the tools I need have been acquired, so now its all about the passion, persistence, and plan to make it all happen.
And one of the tenets of my rebuild is the failing your way to success is the fastest path to get there.
Marc Chernoff says
As always, I appreciate and agree with your sentiment, David.
Cheers to failing forward! 🙂
Maganlal Maru says
Thank you for sharing an elaborate post that inspires me to surmount failure.
Hey Marc – Thanks for this wonderful article about letting go over our past failure and moving ahead. The points mentioned above are really inspiring and encourages us to move ahead. I hope to emulate same in my future tasks without thinking about past failures.
Once again Thanks!!!!
Laura J. Tong says
I’m captivated by your pattern-matching tendencies section not having ever thought about the way we look at failure in quite that way. The beauty is with such a clear explanation it can lead each of us to recognize when we’re negatively pattern-matching and halt those thoughts making space for a positive, self-compassionate thought which will see us getting up and trying again. Excellent post, had to share straight away. Thank you.
“When the past calls, hang up. It has nothing new to say.” (Author unknown – but very wise!).
Mary Flora says
Absolutely L O V E this saying!
Easier said than done but I’m working on it.
Hello Marc and Angel
When I fail, I smile, have a giggle and start all over again.
thank you. keep up the good work.
Great article! I have failed numerous times in my life but when I look back on those failures, I realize I would not be where I am now if I had never experienced them. I think any time we are brave enough to step out of our comfort zone we risk failure. If we allow it, each failure can just catapult us to the next level. My secret weapon is EFT (emotional freedom technique). Whenever I fail or even have the fear of failing, I use EFT which immediately calms that fight-flight part of my brain down, brings me back to the present moment and at that time I can look at things with a different perspective.