Practical tactics on how to overcome failure and use it to achieve success.
I never lose. I either win or learn.
– Nelson Mandela
A few years ago, I decided to start learning to invest in the stock market. High on motivation, I picked up all the top books Google suggested, like the Intelligent Investor, A Random Walk Down the Wall Street, Beating the Street, and many others.
The information was overwhelming and slowly killed my enthusiasm. I was eager to implement the techniques from the books, which I didn’t fully understand, to make money from the stock market.
Because I didn’t have a clear hint of investing, I started losing money in the next 6 months.
Blaming my failure on the books, I never read one page of them from then on and threw my investment plan out of the window. I failed in my endeavor and decided never to land a foot in the stock market again.
But could it be a different ending?
If I handled my temporary failure differently, would I have achieved success by now? If you are in the same situation, how can you positively process failure and bounce back? In this post, we discuss how might deal with failure the wrong way and how it should be done.
Table of content
- 4 ways we handle failure the wrong way
- Why we fail to overcome failure
- 5 ways to overcome failure and bounce back for success
- Final thoughts
How we respond to failure the wrong way
Before moving on to how to deal with failure and use it for success, let’s first take a look at the false perceptions we have when things don’t go the way we expected:
- Giving up
- Considering ourselves not good enough
- Blaming circumstances for failure
- Developing a fear of making an attempt
Some people exhibit one of these reactions, while others may show a combination of them.
Why people fail to overcome failure
No one likes to fail. While some of us can get back up from a failure almost instantly, most of us can’t.
Our brains are wired to avoid danger and discomfort. To understand how to fight against our instinct, let’s first take a look at why we are doing what we do encountering a failure.
1. Giving up
Achieving success requires overcoming obstacles. To do that, you need to put in hard work. And putting in hard work is uncomfortable.
Your brain likes to keep a distance from discomfort. Giving up is a way to put an end to annoying struggles. Once you give up, you can sit back on your chair with your arms behind your head and say to yourself, “I don’t have to deal with this anymore”.
We don’t give up not knowing how to make things right. We give up because it is an easy way out.
Targeting improvement in an area and taking baby steps towards mastery requires effort. You might have to wake up early, work longer than you normally do, or to stretch your limits.
To succeed and to become better in any area of life requires you to push yourself out of the comfort zone.
In rare cases, there are real limits to improving yourself. But more often than not, we can overcome failure through reflecting, learning or taking a new approach.
It’s the fear of stepping outside the comfort zone that is holding us back.
3. Blaming the circumstances
Try asking an average Joe the reasons behind any failure. You will hear how plans don’t work well, how people are not cooperating, how unlucky they are, so on and so forth.
It is always about something else – the circumstance, another person or market condition. People fail to look at the part where they could have done something better themselves.
Taking responsibility for one’s shortcomings takes courage. Admitting flaws and errors hurts one’s ego. To avoid making a dent in your self-esteem, we tend to put the blame elsewhere.
Blaming the circumstances is our secret way of sweeping our mistakes under the rug.
4. Fear of trying again
When you fail, there are consequences. It may be losing money, seeing your efforts in vain, facing embarrassment or being criticized.
“I have put my heart and soul in the new project, and I don’t deserve that.” You think.
You expected massive results in the form of money, fame, respect, and authority while you received the opposite.
Your mind builds a shield to protect you from future consequences. You have two options to prevent such terrible things from happening again: trying to succeed the next time or not trying at all.
Your mind operates as per the laws of physics in this case and chooses the path of least resistance. To avoid possible disappointments, you develop a fear of trying itself.
There are risks and costs to any action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.
– John F Kennedy
Here is how to overcome the fear of failure explained in detail.
5 way to overcome failure and make a successful comeback
Feeling disappointed after failure is natural. Anyone who says, “failure does not bother me,” is outright lying. We might not be able to change how you feel about it, but we can change how you react. So here are 5 ways not to let failure destroy your motivation.
1. Learn the lessons
Most successful people you hear about have a series of failures behind them. JK Rowling sent the manuscript of her book, Harry Potter, to 12 different publishers.
Every single one rejected her story. She could have taken the easy way out and give up, but she did not. Instead, she persisted. She taught herself how to approach publishers better and strike a deal. It took her a year, but the results were worth it.
When you take a step back, review the process from a third-person perspective, you are making failure a chance to learn.
Ask yourself questions like, “what could I do differently or better?” or “how can I be more prepared for this situation?”
By answering these questions, you are learning a valuable lesson, a lesson that only failure can teach.
2. Figure out what not to do
Edison made over 1000 unsuccessful attempts before inventing the light bulb. When asked about his failures, he replied with a smile saying, “I did not fail. I just found 1000 ways that won’t work.”
If you have the spirit of looking at your failure from a different lens, you can find things to avoid the next time.
I had many businesses that failed flat on the face. I might not have figured out the right way, but I know what not to do.
During my first venture, I went on a spree of hiring employees after the initial success. A few months later, the cash flow dried up and I had a bunch of employees but not enough money to pay them. The business failed eventually. But if I am to start a new business today, I would think ten times before expanding at a rapid pace.
Learn from your mistakes and teach yourself what not to do in the future is the first step of overcoming failure. These valuable guidelines might not be universal, but a lesson learned the hard way is a lesson learned forever.
3. Have a back-up plan
I am not saying you turn into a pessimist and expect yourself to fail. Instead, know that there’s a chance you may fail and be prepared for that.
Ask yourself, “If I fail, how could I keep my damage to the minimum?”.
Such mistakes are common among entrepreneurs who believe they have a brilliant idea. Blinded by the idea, they spend all their time and money trying to build the “perfect product” with many features.
However, when the products are launched and the market proves them wrong, they have no resources left to make improvements accordingly. Inevitably, the business fails.
Now let’s get back to the very beginning.
If the entrepreneur builds a simple version of the product and goes for a prelaunch instead, he would be able to test the market before going all-in. He would know whether or not to it’s a good investment of his time and money. Knowing what the user wants could have helped the founder build the right product.
Speed works in your way only if you move in the right direction. When you take a risk, neither should you be an optimist, nor a pessimist. The best balance is being a realist, knowing that both outcomes are possible. Be prepared and if you fall short, you’ll be able to overcome failure and bounce back.
4. Define the worst-case scenarios
Begin with the end in mind.
– Stephen Covey, author of 7 habits of highly effective people
When you embark on a new activity, you tend to look at the extreme side of success. The reason behind this is we like to feel good about the positive outcome we may have.
When I decided to learn the guitar, I had envisioned tremendous results before I even started. I saw myself performing like a rockstar going bonkers on the guitar in front of a packed crowd.
FYI, I was yet to learn how to play the basic chords and strum with a consistent rhythm. Well, I had my fun with the instrument, but I now prefer looking at it hanging on the wall covered with dust.
Determining the worst-case scenario helps you define a point where you hang your boots, learn your lessons and move on. If you only look at the brighter side, you might face early disappointment.
5. Don’t make excuses
As explained earlier, if you make up reasons for your failure, you only camouflage your flaws. To make that worse, you even believe that you tried your best, and the outcome was outside your control.
Take a page from Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motors. During his venture, he faced problems with the supply of gasoline and raw materials. During the world war, the planes bombed his factory twice. After the war, when things started calming down, an earthquake leveled the factory to the ground.
If there were one story where blaming the circumstances would have been acceptable, this was the one. But Soichiro chose not to.
No matter how convincing the reasons seem after every failure, have an honest peek into yourself and dig deep into your soul. Reasons and excuses do nothing to change your future. Every reason given is an opportunity lost to learn.
Failure is inevitable. You and I will fail sooner or later in big or small ways. When we do, we face a choice: we can sulk in the corner and go back to our old selves or suck it up gracefully and come back strong.
Failure can break you, and it can make you as well. Using these 5 ways to overcome failure, you are one step closer to success.
This is a guest post from our fellow blogger Maxim Dsouza. He focuses on self-improvement and helps others to achieve their goals with productivity tips and time management skills. Check out more of his work at Productive Club.