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Productive Ways to Cope with Failure

Last updated by Utkarsh Sahu on Apr 01, 2024 at 01:09 PM | Reading time: 30 minutes

"Just because you fail once doesn't mean you're going to fail at everything." – Marilyn Monroe.

Depression, sadness, and the pain that comes with failure are feelings that not many can comprehend. While passing comments such as "Hopefully you can overcome this" or "I have been there, trust me, it gets better," are common, coping can be difficult. The mind manipulates you into thinking that your colleagues, friends, or family won't be able to comprehend the disaster that you are going through. All you are left with is confusion about what to do next.

Here is an instant solution for all those who want to know how to cope with failure.

Option A: Let your failure slowly eat up your confidence until it withers away all your potential to achieve.

Option B: Ask yourself this question – What can I do now?

You see, the human mind is equipped with a gift that is to derive a solution for every question. Great minds often encourage people to never stop questioning the things that go on around them. Something as common as failure cannot be the end of the world. While it can lead to minor setbacks and a little whining for a while, as time progresses, you must learn how to cope with failure.

Failures for many legends have paved the path to success; so don't let such common circumstances be the reason for your downfall. Here's what we'll cover:

- Is there anything positive about failure?

- Learn about the importance of success

- Our Brain on Failure and Success

- Benefits of facing failure

- Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure

- Tips for embracing failure

- Dealing with failure in interviews

- Dealing with failure in the workplace

Is there anything positive about failure?

Have you ever experienced failure? It can be anything, be it in your workplace, home, or anywhere else. At some point, you must have; so instead of letting this minor setback define your career choices, embrace it, and move on.

As the questions of positivity set in often, you must think why people are asking you to embrace birds and butterflies at a time when you wish to sink into a pit. The only reason is that while you can whine about certain downfalls, shedding a few tears never got anyone anywhere. So, instead, learn how to cope with failure and move on.  

The importance of success

When failure strikes you hard, you are forced to think of the good times, when life wasn't as complicated. The times when simply finishing your task and errands for the day was enough to feel accomplished!

As you reminisce, you fight harder to get back on top again. While there have been several situations where you were in that position, maybe in those times, your lack of comprehension of your capabilities made you unable to understand how lucky you were.

Legends such as Elon Musk or even Bill Gates will tell you that it is failure that makes you realize the importance of success. When you fail, if you are an unlucky soul, you will lose everything, and the success that follows this pitfall will seem breath-taking.

All things that exist around you are a result of a failure that transformed into something incomparable.    

  • Making avenues to reach a goal

Fine, you failed. But does that mean you will give up. As kids, there have been several lessons where you were taught how to cope with failure and to never give up. While these lessons now may seem too exaggerated and unrelated, they were taught to you, predicting such issues may arise. That is why you should do anything but lose hope.

Here is a solution that you can try. Instead of moping around, try analyzing. Count your steps and figure out the point which led to your failure. Why was it that you failed? And what could you have done differently to avoid a situation such as this one?

These questions will enable you to develop a proper understanding of the situation and even come up with certain follow-up solutions for what you could have done differently.

Your positivity enables you to figure out the several avenues that you might not have seen the first time and provides you with the zeal to try again.

  • Don't trust everyone

There are two kinds of failures that you encounter. One where, despite your downfall, the people you trust stay back, and the other, where they isolate you completely. As you weigh in reasons behind failure, at times, you will realize that there might be a certain individual responsible for this sudden downslide in your life.

Learn how to cope with failure instead of being vengeful.

"We never lose our demons; we only learn to live with them." – The Ancient One (Doctor Strange).

You do have the option of completely removing them from your life. Your failure makes your vision clearer and allows you to see those who stood by you when you needed them the most. When you realize who your friends are, you will also recognize those who hold no value.

  • Opportunity to revaluate

Recalculate, revaluate, and recount all the things that you did till now. Be it terrible or excellent, you must analyze every decision that you made towards your success. By analyzing, you will realize that there might have been certain decisions that are worth a repeat and others that are best left unvisited.

You see, it is through downfall that many realize the things of value they have lost. It teaches them life, people, career, and most of all, what's best for them.

While it is true that finding the answer to every question may be difficult, it makes you capable of doing so. Failure also offers you the time and will to sit down and think. Did you know that the best ideas always come up once you have encountered failure?

Keep reading to learn more about how to cope with failure.

Our Brain on Failure and Success

Why do you think people are scared of ghosts, demons, and anything supernatural? The existence of these things is practically unknown. There is close to no evidence that it exists; so why is this fear of the paranormal so omnipresent?

This phenomenon is known as FOTU or Fear Of The Unknown psychology. The horror genre utilizes this aspect of the human brain for creating intriguing movies.

It is for sure that until “Exorcism”, many people were unaware of the term demonic possession, or until “Omen”, people had no concept of demonic offspring!

Something quite similar happens when it comes to how to cope with failure. When your brain experiences failure, it goes through an array of emotions including, anxiety, stress, and mostly fear. Failure causes a person to lose track of their mental stability and makes the thought process chaotic.

But, there are some proven ways to convert such a negative emotion into something truly powerful and positive.

  • The science behind experiencing failure

The brain is like your high capacity programmer, responsible for regulating your emotions and body functions. Your failure and the reaction that comes with it is also a thing that only your brain is capable of generating.

You will notice that unlike failure, when you succeed at a particular task, no matter how big or small, you immediately feel like repeating it to attain more. While some may define this aspect as greed or attention-seeking, there is a scientific description available for the same.

When you succeed at something, the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens of your brain releases dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which leads to emotions such as happiness and pleasure. That is why when you succeed you immediately gain a smile on your face.

However, emotions see a complete 360 turn when it comes to failure. A man or woman who has failed at least once will tell you the chaos that goes inside their head. Feeling of doubt, fear, and pathological anxiety surface, causing you to pause all positive activities. At least, for a while.

The brain, in such circumstances, releases chemicals known as cortisol, which is your body's main stress hormone. This hormone is also responsible for mood fluctuations and fear. When in desperate and stressful situations, this hormone enables you with the fight–or–flight response (yes, adrenaline!)

So, how can failure help your brain develop?

The human brain is equipped with the unique ability to always derive solutions. That is why a suggestion that people of caliber will always give you is to never stop questioning. To derive solutions to complicated situations, instead of saying, "I can't do this," try saying something like, "Why can't I do this?"

Similarly, when faced with questions such as how to cope with failure, while the sudden shock of it paralyzes your thinking abilities, it also prepares you for the worst. Your brain has seen what can go wrong; so coming up with workable solutions now becomes as easy as walking on a straight lie, sober!

  • Learning from mistakes

"The unexpected failure of his application crushed John. He had invested his life savings into developing it only for it to fail. He knew that if he had to try again, he lacked the resources or mental stability. He had lost all hope and didn’t have the will to try again."

You may comment that John was pessimistic; however, this behavior is quite common among people who face trauma. They lose all hope or faith in trying again and don’t even try to understand how to cope with being a failure.

You will need to learn from the mistakes you made when you failed rather than concentrate on your loss. In life, we lose a lot of things, so instead of falling into a pit of depression, learn from what you did wrong, and overcome with ease.

  • Reward-based training

You are asked to compete in a marathon. If you complete the 1.5miles, you are presented with a cash price of 1000 dollars. The second situation is if you cover 1.5miles, you receive appreciation.

Which option will you incline towards? While appreciation is nice and helps you elevate your self-worth, monetary stability will always seem like the better option, right?

That is why, when figuring out the best way to deal with failure, try placing a reward before you. It is like the traditional motivational theory of a carrot and a stick. Place a reward before you to get the motivation required to attain the symbolical "carrot."

  • Recognize failure as a common aspect

"What if Walt Disney attempted to open another animation company instead of heading to Hollywood?"

"What would happen if Stephen King kept approaching the same publishers who rejected him?"

By now, you know what failure looks and feels like. You are aware what it does to your brain and the mental trauma it puts you through.

Hence, when you see yourself walking in the direction of failure, simply abort mission.

Take a complete 360-degree turn, even if that means abandoning all your hard work. Have you ever seen anyone deliberately walk into an endless pit of doom? Similarly, when it comes to mistakes, choose to avoid them and learn the best way to deal with failure. That is the only way that you can say no to failure and strive towards success.

Benefits of facing failure

  • Expeditious growth

Suppose you choose to skip down the stairs for the sake of it and end up falling on your face. Would you repeat it a second time?

The answer would probably be a no!

The human brain is programmed to learn from its mistakes.

This is why it will obviously not choose to fall for the same trap twice. It will instead look for the solution and things that could have been done differently. This will enable you as a person to develop a clearer perspective and make you realize the solution that you needed.

Hence, failure comes with the benefit of accelerated growth. It is because you are already aware of what you need to do and how to cope with failure. There is no figuring out or finding issues. All you need to do is simply persevere to succeed. After all, the harder the struggle, the more glorious will be the triumph.

  • The incomparable capability of taking risks

Do you know what happens when you fail at least once in life? You realize that you have no fear of losing.

This makes you capable of taking up a few risks and persevering even harder. As you recount your steps, you will realize there were many decisions that you skipped along the way, which ultimately led to your downfall. If you would have simply taken a few more risks, maybe you wouldn't have to start all over again. So, instead of mourning, you need to stand up and learn how to cope with failure.

Risk doesn't always mean that you will fail. View your risks as an opportunity that is undeniable. You will either make it or break it. If you fail, there is no harm in it as it is only through risks that you will be able to reach the position of your dream. Failure isn't a bother for you anymore at this point.

  • Capable of thinking straight

You know what you did wrong; you are aware of the mistakes that you made, so you must know by now how to avoid and overcome them. You see, when you fall down, you try to stand up again. No matter how difficult it is, you know how to continue along the path you have chosen; so you must make these decisions and learn how to cope with failure.

Often, you will find yourself face-to-face with a situation where you become incapable of thinking straight. The failure strikes your ability to take decisions, which is a major mistake pretty common due to the shock of the incident.

That is why, in a way, failure prepares you for the worst adversities. You know well what you are fighting against and how to overcome the storm that you got yourself into. This makes your decisions more valid and allows you to refrain from thinking too much.                                                              

  • Allows you to question every step along the way

"There was once a man who worked an average job at a newspaper company but was later fired at the age of 22. The company, before removing him, stated that he lacked the imaginative prowess required of men working at this job. As he took to creating animation and cartoons, he acquired his first animation studio, only for it to go bankrupt. With only 40-dollars in his pocket and heart filled with dreams, he set out in Hollywood to realize that they didn't own any animation studio back there. This man went on to create a company that is now worth over 200 billion dollars. The man was Walt Disney, and it was his failure that brought him to success."

The point behind this little story was to remind you that failure is just a part of life. You won't always succeed. However, you cannot stop asking questions like how to cope with failure. Your will to question is bound to move your subconscious mind to keep persevering until it reaches excellence.


What to do when the fear of failing overpowers you?

  • Try to relax and take deep breaths
  • Don't let your fear define you
  • Try to remember your primary reason for pursuing the particular goal or objective
  • Cultivate the mental strength to “try again”
  • And last but not least, always have faith in yourself

Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure

  • Embrace Your Emotions

It's okay! While you may need to cope and get stronger for the battle ahead, expressing your dissatisfaction and even shedding a few tears is fine. You need to comprehend that there will always be situations as complicated as this one. While expressing your emotions is fine, do not be overwhelmed by it.

You recently have undergone a massive change in your life where you are trying to process that despite playing safe or working hard, you are capable of failure. So, instead of suppressing, let your feelings run wild, but do not let them control you. Try figuring out how to cope with failure safely.

  • Separate failure from your identity

Your shortcomings, failure, and setbacks aren't what define you. You need to comprehend that it is easy to blame yourself for certain mistakes; however, it isn't a solution. Know that, like failure, your mind is also capable of excellence. You are only steps away from achieving it.

If you are failing to get to your destination, or if you lost the route, will you simply choose to sit down and give up? Won't you get back up and try anything in your capability to get where you need to?

So, your failure isn't your definition. It is a lesson that you need to take seriously. Learn that you will fail and you will feel bad, but it proves nothing about you. Instead, if you succeed after a failure, you will be able to become the hero you always looked up to. Find out the best way to deal with failure.

  • Learn from failure

There will always be hurdles. A software developer will always face some issue or the other with the programming interface. Sales managers will have a month when they fail to achieve the target. Your mother, once in a while, may be too busy to make time for you. However, does it mean that the software developer or sales manager is worthless, or do you presume that your mother loves you any less?

Trials, errors, setbacks, failure, losses, and downfalls are all common parameters in life. You will face them, but you cannot let them define you. That is why try learning from them. You must try to figure out why you're failing and how you can succeed instead. Crying or complaining won't get you anywhere, but learning from it, finding out ways to deal with failure and overcoming it, will.

  • Find a new perspective

So, your current perspective may be the reason you failed. Why, you ask?

Well, for starters, a lot of us think that taking risks will be too much of a gamble. They presume that if they just play it safe, issues such as downfalls or setbacks won't be troubles-some.

When, subconsciously, you know that you played safe throughout life just to achieve your goals only to realize you failed, it is a feeling worse than eating pizza with pineapple!

If you take risks, you know there is a chance you will fail; so you prepare yourself mentally for any downfall.

  • Practice Healthy Coping Skills

While failure can be demeaning, however, do not let it define you. You need to comprehend that there will be situations where you will try and fail. And, despite adversities, you need to overcome and move past them.

That is why, instead of telling yourself, "Need to get back to work," choose something new. A very healthy habit that you can develop is reading non-fictional self-help books by famous businessmen. It may sound boring but know that reading such books will inspire you to be just like them and help you learn how to cope with failure.

You can also take up hobbies or try concentrating your energy on being a better version of yourself. Simply abandon your self-pity and embrace healthy coping mechanisms.

  • Avoid Irrational Beliefs about Failure

You fall, you fail, and you try again. When you are fighting through life and establishing a career, feeling disappointed from time to time is quite common. However, there isn't much that you can do about it.

You may assume that it was your fault solely and you should have known better. But, instead, try acknowledging the real issue. Irrational beliefs and low self-esteem are useful for only throwing your confidence in a pit of fire, not renewing them.

So, instead of concentrating on failure too much, let's begin with baby steps. Think why you failed, what was the cause for your failure and how to cope with failure. Once you know, try to find out what you could have done differently to succeed.

  • Develop Realistic Thoughts about Failure

"As Sam returned home after failing to crack an interview he was looking forward to, he felt drained of confidence and didn't feel like leaving his house. His simple mistake in answering questions he didn't pre-meditate cost him a job position he was genuinely excited about. His failure caused Sam to be resolute about never attempting another interview again."

Do you think what Sam did was justified? What would you have done if you went through the same ordeal?

Option A: Give up and choose isolation.

Option B: Sue the company for not hiring you.

Option C: Get back on your feet and try again.

While the first two options may seem valid choices at the time of experiencing failure, however, do know they aren't the solution you are searching for. Instead, go for Option C. You need to realize that there will be issues, hurdles, and barricades along your path, but if you embrace realism and work hard, your failure will become your reason for success.  

  • Research Famous Failures

You aren't the only unlucky soul existing on this planet; there are several others who fall in this category. Some of the names on this list were actually on the verge of no return but what makes them different from the rest is that they never stopped fighting and figuring out the best way to deal with failure.

Famous people who fought hard against failure include:

  1. Oprah Winfrey
  2. JK Rowling
  3. Stephen King
  4. Angelina Jolie
  5. Bill Gates
  6. Walt Disney
  7. Albert Einstein
  8. Jerry Seinfeld

The list is endless. These legends never viewed downfalls as the end of life but as a part of it. Read their tales, know what they did differently, and get that much needed shot of inspiration. The choices you make today will affect how much success you earn in the future.

  • Ask Yourself What You Can Learn

Did you know that your brain has the capacity to hold 2.5 million gigabytes of memory? The reason for mentioning this information is to remind you that when you say you are too old to remember or too burned out to start learning, you are aloof of your brain's true potential. Keep reading to find out the best way to deal with failure.

A myth exists that Albert Einstein was one of the few humans who used more than 10% of his brain. While determining percentile isn't what we set out to do here, try to comprehend when we say there is no end to learning. The knowledge that exists around you is endless, so have a little faith in your learning abilities and try learning something new every day.  

  • Get support from others

In your journey towards success, there will be many who come forward to congratulate you on your endeavors. However, when you fail, how many of these people do you think will stay back and tell you about the best way to deal with failure? You see, in a career or any aspect in life, there are situations where your issues hold no value for other beings. They only focus on their own personal success. So, instead of whining, choose to mix with people who you know will stay by you. While interacting with a large group may seem like an attractive alternative, at times, it is always better to be surrounded by those few who only think well of you.

  • Face Your Fears of Failure

"What's the point? They probably won't like my presentation." "Sitting here waiting for the interview is giving me anxiety, might as well go home." "What happens if I lose everything while trying to do this? Will it be worth it?"

There must have been points in your life where you have expressed similar emotions such as these and let them control the way you react to circumstances. All of these emotions arise from feelings of loss and failure. So, you must learn to accept your fails as a part of life. Learn from the mistakes you made and choose not to repeat them. Look your fear in the eye and overcome it with grace.

  • Create a Plan to Move Forward

You tried but failed; there is no shame in that. However, what's next?

"Sam now knew that he couldn't just let one downfall affect his entire career, so he made a choice. He wanted to try again. This time, he would prepare all questions that came in the previous interview."

Does this sound like a plan? Well, it does sound like Sam has the will to try but doesn't know how. He needs to overcome his dilemmas for attempting again. However, what he did lack was a proper plan. You see, when you go for a particular task, you always have a pre-framed plan in your head. So, when attempting something entirely different from your daily life, always think of a plan. Coordinate your course and actions and choose to follow through with it to attain success. This is certainly the best way to deal with failure.

  • Move forward

People who appear well-off will comment things like “your failure isn't the end of the world”, or “you can always try again”. However, it is understandable when you say that you need time to heal from your trauma.

You are most welcome to use the first phrase for a while. However, as time passes, you cannot keep crying over old battle wounds as you need to prepare for the next one. You have faced failure, so you know how bad it gets. So, instead, create a plan and put it into action for it is the best way to deal with failure.

When it comes to any aspect of your life, it is all about moving forward. A simple hurdle in your career shouldn't mark the end of it but instead be the beginning of something new.

Tips for embracing failure

  • No matter how sad, depressed, or heartbroken that you might feel, try to overcome it.
  • Choose healthy coping skills such as meditating or socializing over unhealthy ones such as crying and binging.
  • Don't let irrational beliefs haunt you.
  • Always keep your thoughts on failure realistic, and stop thinking too much into the matter. Just know if you fail, it's your first step towards success.
  • Evaluate the situation that you were in, and when was it that you began to venture towards failure.
  • Acknowledge the mistakes that you made along the way. It is through your mistakes that you realize what you need to do.
  • Remember, this doesn't mean that you failed as a person. You just had a setback and recovering from it is pretty easy.
  • Don't bottle it up! Try talking to people about it. Often, when you communicate your emotions, you are able to derive more useful solutions and figure out the best way to deal with failure.
  • Try giving yourself small Ted talks. Tell yourself that if you keep trying, you will surely achieve the success you are persevering towards.
  • Keep away from those you don't trust. There are probably people who only stand beside you when you succeed.

Dealing with failure in interviews

As you go from one search result to the next, you will realize that there exist millions of stories of people who were inspired by one failed interview. While some never stopped trying, others simply began something of their own. The end result was something amazing and astonishing.

Failure had brought many close to a career path they never dreamed of when they began. So, know well that your failure is sure to bring you towards success.

  • A little time after a bad interview: You must be distressed by how things proceeded and wish to take some time away from constant disappointment. Know well that you have the option to do so. When faced with a situation similar to this, one can simply relax and take some time off. You aren't always expected to be in your best condition. Use this time to concentrate on yourself. You can concentrate on any activity that you feel is the best way to deal with failure—for example, meditation, art, etc.
  • Try finding the lesson in this failure: As you have read till now, know that every failure occurs due to an irreversible mistake. Since time machine is a concept prevalent only in science-fiction novels and movies, you can't go back to the past. However, you do have the option of evaluating your steps and heading towards the future. Know the mistakes that you made last time in an interview and choose to completely avoid them the next time around.
  • Request a second chance: Like you, even your hiring manager is aware that mistakes are common during this time. Often, they encounter many applicants who come in and lose all confidence. This causes them to fumble, forget, or even say things they had no intention of uttering. So, instead of worrying or crying over it, try again. Talk to your interviewer and ask for a second chance. Usually, hiring managers aren't quick to show reluctance in these matters.
  • Ask for feedback: Failing an interview in no way means that it's time to pack your bags and head over to depression. Analyze exactly where you went wrong and what you could have done differently. In case you can't understand your shortcomings, you can use your trump card, which is to ask for feedback. Email or call your hiring manager and enquire about the mistakes that you made along the way. It is one of the best ways to deal with failure.

Tell me of the time you failed?

You sit for your interview ready to answer technical questions when your hiring manager cracks the dreaded question – Have you ever failed? Tell me why and how did you overcome it?

It is a question that is quite common in recent interview rounds, wherein the hiring manager focuses more on your response to setbacks.

So, how do you respond to such questions? The answer lies in this example.

"As Shannon entered the room, she saw that there were three interviewers in the panel. She answered every question with a calm and sound mind. She didn't let stress or anxiety affect her ability to respond. As the interview proceeded towards the end, she encountered a question that would ultimately break her flow –

Tell us about the time you failed?



Utkarsh Sahu

Director, Category Management @ Interview Kickstart || IIM Bangalore || NITW.

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