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3 steps to bouncing back from failure fast

failure to success

We all know (at least in theory) that success isn’t linear and that no matter what you set your mind to achieving in life, the wise approach is always to focus on progress over perfection, no matter how slow or tedious it may feel. But still we can’t help but feel disappointed and deflated when we hit a setback along the path to achieving a goal. Those feelings of disappointment and the perception that you’ve somehow ‘failed’ can send you into a negative spiral that will turn a momentary setback into a total unravelling, so that if you’re not careful, you could lose all the momentum you’ve been creating.

Achieving anything, whether it’s finishing a degree, writing a book, running a marathon or even your first 5km requires you to face those challenges head on and to persevere even when things don’t go to plan. Being able to manage your emotions and quickly take action to get yourself back on track is the key to moving forward and getting to where you’re going faster. 

If you’re someone who struggles to pick yourself up when you hit a hurdle, you might want to try some of these strategies for bouncing back from failure:

Be a realist, not an idealist

In an ideal world, you’d decide on a goal, set a course of action and stay completely committed and motivated throughout the entire process, only pausing to bask in the glory of your achievements as you check off each milestone on your unobstructed path to success.

What a completely (ridiculously!) unlikely scenario that is, so why is it that we’re so surprised and disappointed when we don’t achieve these perfect results first time, every time? The more you’re able to set realistic expectations about real life issues getting in the way, inevitable slumps in motivation and all of your human imperfections, the less likely you are to wallow in feelings of self-doubt and defeat when those issues crop up. Even the world’s most successful people will go off track and get back on track many, many times.

Be kind, not critical

We typically default to harsh self-criticism when we fail to live up to our own expectations (again, check those expectations!)

It might help to understand that this is part of the human condition so you’re not the only one who gets down on yourself. But ALSO understand that you can choose to not do it. Beating yourself up activates your own stress response. In other words, it makes you feel worse and will absolutely not motivate or inspire you to do better. Trust me, there’s plenty of research on this. People who acknowledge their struggles with kindness and who treat themselves with the same compassion they’d offer to a friend are far more likely to recover from disappointment and keep moving forward. So when you hear your inner critic slinging all the usual insults, tell it to pipe down and create a bit of inner cheerleader instead.

Remember the magic of micro-actions

Probably the most important thing you can do to get back on track fast is to take one, teeny tiny step back in the direction of what you want to achieve. The longer you stay stuck, the worse you feel and the more effort it takes to get going again. But when you take even the smallest action that reinforces your intention to keep going, your brain will reward you with all sorts of feel good hormones that will give you the boost you need to take one more micro step. The magic of micro-actions is that they are small enough to feel effortless, but they add up to a chain of actions that take you right back to where you want to be.

So… in the spirit of taking the theory and turning it into action – what’s one thing you can do today that will take you closer to achieving something that’s important to you?

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P.S. If you know you fall into the ‘All of Nothing’ trap, you might want to check out my YouTube video on how to overcome perfectionism!


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Cass Dun clinical psychologist
Hi, I’m Cass.

I'm here to help you find freedom from psychological struggles so that you can live your happiest, most meaningful and fulfilling life.

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