6 Ways to Bounce Back from Failure Faster
During kindergarten, many of us may end up getting knocked down a few times. Looking back, we may even laugh at some of our playground scrapes. In fact, one of the traits that may actually improve—or at least avoid decline—with age is our resilience. That is, our ability to bounce back from failure and setbacks without getting bent out of shape along the way. But, of course, you don’t have to wait until you’re old and wise to reframe your challenges in ways that help improve how you work through them.
Researchers have found that resilience isn’t some either-or trait with which only the fortunate few are genetically endowed. Resilience sits on a continuum, one we can move upward or downward on depending on factors such as support systems and stress. Our brain’s innate neuroplasticity enables all of us to build our own unique “psychological teflon.” However you’ve coped with life’s inevitable stressors and setbacks in the past, you can always strengthen your ability to handle future ones better.
And let’s face it: They will come.
Here are six key methods that I hope will help you bounce back from failure:
1. Elevate your perspective.
“Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” I recall my mother saying this to me when I’d break out into complete hysterics as a child—about what, I no longer have any idea. Many of us can likely recall times when we mentally turned a relatively insignificant problem into a major catastrophe. But what about our current problems?
By elevating your perspective, you can see problems for what they are—a part of life, not the end of the world. In fact, raise your perspective higher again. You’ll see that problems hold wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, and maybe even ways to help you turn a loss into a future win.
There is a difference between having big problems and making small problems big.
2. Watch your language to bounce back from failure.
Your thoughts can impact your reality. So be careful, for instance, not to talk up your problems using dramatic or catastrophic language. Describe or imagine your circumstances as a nightmare or a sheer disaster, and you may be setting yourself up to experience just that. But describe or picture them as interesting, a unique challenge or, better still, an exciting opportunity for growth, and the emotions you bring to approaching your problem may shift toward the positive.
So be careful that whatever words you use to describe your situation place you firmly in a position of power, capable of working through whatever is ahead of you. Because no matter how much lies outside your control, there are always things that lie within it. Choosing not to complain, blame or sensationalize are among them.
3. Nurture resilience rituals to bounce back from failure.
When life is pressing in on you, try bringing your best self to your biggest challenges. Your daily rituals may help set you up to handle everything else better. Spend at least 30 minutes a day on activities that nurture your body, mind and spirit. If you think you’ve got too much on your plate for that, make it an hour.
Exercise, meditate, garden, journal, play music, do yoga, read uplifting material, commune with nature. Taking time out from your busyness to do things that refill and enlarge your tank will pay off a hundredfold.
4. Don’t let your adversity define you.
Anna Wintour, chief content officer and global editorial director of Vogue, was sacked from her first job in the U.S. as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar for being too “European,” according to an article by Wintour for The Guardian. She later told the audience at Teen Vogue’s Fashion University, “I recommend that you all get fired, it’s a great learning experience.” It wasn’t because she enjoyed losing a prized job in a competitive industry. It was because she took what she learned from it to forge one of the most successful careers in the fashion industry.
No one likes to be sacked or rejected, to have their heart broken or their pride dented. Although our setbacks and struggles can shape us, they don’t have to define us. When life deals you a particularly tough blow, don’t let your setback negatively impact your future success. Learn from it and let it make you a better, braver and bigger person than you would have been otherwise.
5. Enlist support to bounce back from failure.
People battling cancer who have a strong support network may have higher qualities of life than those who don’t. But if, during a personal crisis, you feel the urge to withdraw from those around you rather than reach out for support, try leaning into your vulnerability and reaching out anyway. There is real truth in the saying that “a burden shared is a burden halved.”
It may be a struggle for us to share our setbacks, reveal our shame, admit our failings or confide how out of our depth we might feel. Yet, it’s not a sign of weakness to open ourselves up to others or to ask for help. It’s the opposite: a sign that we are brave and that we want to be stronger. As I write in my book Make Your Mark, “We are braver together than we can ever be alone.”
6. Choose optimism.
Bad things happen to good people. People may not always act with integrity, and those we count on may still let us down. This isn’t negative thinking; it’s reality. But that doesn’t negate the case for optimism—far from it. In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman writes, “Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.”
No matter how bad things are, they don’t stay bad forever. Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., found that people are not good at forecasting the duration of their “affective reactions” to negative circumstances. They mistakenly assume that they’ll feel similarly in the future. But, as Gilbert and his fellow researchers found in a 1998 study on durability bias, “on some occasions, these overestimates seemed to occur because participants did not consider how readily they would ‘explain away’ setbacks, tragedies and failures once they happened.”
This durability bias drives us to underestimate our ability to recover: “It’s not that things don’t hurt. It’s that they don’t hurt quite as long or as much as we think they will,” Gilbert says.
However hard it might be to see any light at the end of the tunnel, don’t give up hope. As I write in Brave, “Hope is a risk that must be run. While holding on to hope may not improve your odds, giving into despair will most certainly lower them.”
Of course, there is no simple six-step recipe to bounce back from failures quickly, particularly those that turn your world on its head. But however big your problems might seem right now, or how poorly you’ve handled them in the past, keep faith that you possess the resources within you to handle them, one day or one moment at a time.
I’ve experienced my fair share of scrapes and struggles, hardships and heartaches. What they’ve taught me is that the human spirit is bigger than anything it faces. We have to keep faith that, to paraphrase Napoleon Hill, every adversity brings the seed of an equivalent advantage.
This article was updated July 2023. Photo by ViDI Studio/Shutterstock