how to handle failure

The Smart Way To Handle Failure

When you fail, you have a choice – focus on facts or feelings.

If you emphasize your feelings after an instance of failure, you’ll succumb to the victim mindset.

The Victim Mindset

If you are a “victim” of failure, your focus becomes your misfortune. You’ll concentrate on how it feels to have failed (lousy). This is a bad idea for two reasons.

  1. You might not try again. Feeling bad and dealing with negative consequences are not the outcomes anyone hopes for when trying something new. Dwelling on these will associate them with your decision to start, and make you less likely to try again.
  2. This mindset puts all of the emphasis on the end result, and none on the journey. The journey is never worthless, and is often the greatest part of any project. In a journey that ends in success or failure, you will learn much.

Don’t accept the victim title if you fail. Victims are passive and helpless, and you are neither of those! Failure feels worse than it actually is, which is essential knowledge for handling failure correctly.

The Smart Way To Handle Failure

The best way to handle failure is in the form of a fill-in-the-blank sentence. This sentence puts the emphasis on the facts, and puts your mind in problem-solving mode.

Next time, I can ______ to avoid failure.

The sentence starts off by saying “next time,” which implies that you’re going to give it another shot! And why wouldn’t you try again? Weren’t you aiming for success all along? How many dart players quit after they throw the first dart and it isn’t a bulls-eye? None. They adjust and try again, and you should too.

The first important thing you can do when you fail is find out why you failed. The unknown blank in the sentence focuses your mind on finding answers; instead of sulking, now you’re problem-solving. When you find out why you failed this time, you can likely prevent it from happening next time.

But what about the emotions of failure? It’s not always easy or possible to brush those aside. Maybe you feel sad, defeated, and even angry.

The smart way to deal with negative emotions from failure is to transform them into a nothing-to-lose determination. If you already feel defeated, then the bar is low and you can give your next attempt everything you have, without fear. If you feel angry, that’s a great segue into determination and focused intensity.

Example: A Small Business Failure

John starts a small business called Musikal Pens – pens that play MP3 music files. It costs him $10,000 to get his first batch of music pens ready, and over the next 14 months, the business loses a total of $46,000 and he has to shut it down. Here’s an example of what he might come up with to handle his failure the smart way.

Next time, I can _______ to avoid failure.

  1. “Gauge market demand before I invest.” John found out too late that there wasn’t much of a market for his product. He invented a pen that is also an MP3 player, but people seemed to be happy enough to have those two things separate. If he had tested for market demand first, he might have been able to tweak the product to something people wanted or know to look for another idea.
  2. “Better estimate the cost of running the business.” John’s product, while not in demand initially, started to pick up and show promise, but by that point, he had run out of money. A better projection could have altered his strategy to give his product more of a chance to succeed. Alternately, getting outside investors on board could also solve this problem.
  3. “Outsource my weaknesses.” John is a great copywriter and marketer, but his art skills are poor. To save money, he drew his brand’s artwork, which he thinks hurt the brand. If he had outsourced the artwork to a professional, he could have spent his time leveraging his marketing skills to better promote a product with better artwork!

John would have learned even more than these three lessons in his experience, and if he started another business, he would have a better chance at success. Henry Ford had two failed attempts at building a successful car company before he founded the Ford Motor Company. Learning is the value in failure, but in order to gain this value, it’s important to analyze failure logically and transform your negative emotions into helpful ones like determination and fearlessness.

You can apply this same methodology to your failures. Just be careful not to let the feeling of failure dictate your response to it.

What is the smart way to handle failure? First ask why it happened, and then convert your negative emotions into determination. A bonus tip is to leverage your newfound knowledge to give you more confidence for your next try. As you fail, you’ll gain more experience, determination, and confidence, and success becomes more likely.

After seeking and failing to get great results in personal development for years, I finally wondered why. The answer was that I was soaking up knowledge, but couldn’t apply it. The solution to that problem was focusing, and now I teach people how to focus at Deep Existence. I combine behavioral science, psychology, intuition, and self-experimentation to help people get focused in our distracted world. To receive a gift of 40 custom-made focus wallpapers, click here, sign up for updates, and get focused!

Stephen Guise

15 Responses to The Smart Way To Handle Failure

  1. Don’t forget to celebrate that you had the guts to even try. Most people are to afraid or get stuck in their heads trying to predict everything that could go wrong. An idea is worthless without execution and at least took action. Now adjust course and keep going.
    I really like your framework here Stephen – focusing on facts instead of feelings. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ragnar says:

    While you look back it’s important to keep a ‘strictly business’ perspective. No “oh god I’m so dumb, how didn’t I see that.” Focus 100% on what you can take with you from the experience, what you learned from it, and then move on. Sometimes that’s hard for me, but I’m still learning!

    I actually wrote a post similar to this earlier today, but I chose to formulate it in a slightly different way. I called it the opportunity perspective, focusing on seeing opportunity, even in failure.

    The example really helped illustrate your viewpoints, good post. Made me feel a bit uncertain about mine though…haha.

  3. Celebrate indeed. Trying is everything!

    “An idea is worthless without action.”

    I love that. It’s a great way to view ideas. Thanks Patrik.

  4. I think it’s hard for almost everyone, except for people like Richard Branson, who is so persistent it’s scary (and inspiring).

    Our viewpoints are compatible, don’t you think? Opportunity is why we try in the first place, and identifying and addressing what made an attempt unsuccessful brings greater opportunity for the next try.

  5. Linda Morgan says:

    Boy, you really hit the nail on the head with this! Problem solving is a great skill! (I teach the Stanford method in my class.) The missing link for me was focusing! Thanks!

  6. Great article and something that I really needed to hear right now. I love your point about transforming negative emotion and using to do something positive.

  7. It’s true, problem solving is essential in life. Thanks Linda!

  8. The best part is that transforming emotions to more helpful ones is easier than many people assume.

  9. Ragnar says:

    I wonder if really successful people get fear of success. I mean, they feel it’s most likely they’re going to succeed, whereas we might feel it’s most likely we’re going to fail. So why not right? Haha.

    And yep, I definitely agree with what you wrote in the post, very compatible I would say.

  10. araun says:

    Good and inspiring, enjoyed reading it.

    But I think that the sentence “Next time, I can ______ to avoid failure.” should be changed to “Next time, I can ______ to SUCCEED.”

    There’s an important mental difference between playing to “not loose” and playing to win.

  11. That is a very good point.

    What I had in mind when I wrote it is that your goal is always to succeed, and the post-failure phase is when you would analyze what went wrong to avoid it from happening again. But when you try again, you’d of course focus on succeeding.

    I still lean toward my original wording for one reason. Something can fail for a several reasons, but success is binary – hit or miss. So saying “Next time, I can ______ to SUCCEED,” encourages you to pick ONE thing to do differently, when there might be several reasons you failed. In the example, there were three things to do differently, and only fixing one might not be enough.

    This is a really subtle difference though, and I agree with winning over “not losing.” I think this is a matter of semantics, but that can be important if it changes the way a person views the material.

    If I rewrote it, I’d keep the “____ to avoid failure” part and then add in a second step that says once you know the reasons you failed and how to avoid them, then you go for success and play to win.

  12. Usama Ghafoor says:

    Chance is why we try in the first position, and determining and dealing with what created an effort failed delivers higher chance of the next try.

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  13. Manu says:

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  14. DJ says:

    I could barely make it through that post; it seemed like nothing but rhetoric to me!

  15. Thank you for posting this, there are some point that I feel like helpless because I failed doing something. Have you written a book that tackles about this? I definitely want to have one.

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