A 4-step guide to dealing with failure and getting back on track

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It’s never fun to fail. It doesn’t feel right, and sometimes evokes feelings of shame. It can be a (hopefully temporary) blow to self-esteem.

Like everyone else, I try not to let it happen often – but when it’s unavoidable, I’ve almost always found that there is something to be learned from the experience. If things don’t go as expected, or if things don’t go the way we planned, here are a few steps you can take next.

1. Rest

Take a breather. Facing something disappointing isn’t easy, and you probably feel a little overwhelmed. Immediately after, you need to take your mind off things – it’s hard to think clearly right after a frustrating event. To me, that seems like spending time with my kids, fetching my dog, or doing something active like walking. Whatever it is, try to be present at the activity so you can focus on it. I appreciate hard work, and sometimes ignoring a situation feels lazy – but to clear your head you need rest.

According to an article in Scientific American“Stillness replenishes the brain’s attention and motivation, boosts productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieving our highest levels of performance and forming stable memories in everyday life.” While it may feel like the opposite right now, giving a real break will boost productivity in general and even lead to stronger ideas. Give yourself (and especially your brain) some free time so that you can come back with a clearer head.

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2. Reflect

Now it’s time to understand exactly what happened. Was there something you could have prepared for differently, something unexpected that you could not have known would affect you, or a combination of both? Regardless of the nature of what we consider a failure, there must be a catalyst, or a reason why we haven’t classified it as a success.

After you’ve slept in and cleared your mind, try to review the situation and see what could have gone wrong, or in a different direction. If it helps, repeat what came before and see if there was a better way to prepare. Being able to identify what could have influenced the situation will be of great help later in the process.

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3. Reframe

I am an ambitious person and I definitely consider myself a risk taker. That means my rejection rate is probably slightly higher than those who don’t take as many risks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

When you think about it that way, you haven’t really failed – you’re just one step closer to what you need to do to be successful. Both success and failure are part of the journey to growth, and neither should be seen as an end point. If you can accept failure as part of your path to success, as an obstacle to repeat rather than be held back, you will be able to move on. Reframing doesn’t mean wishing the outcome hadn’t happened or even happened differently, it’s about looking at the outcome through a different lens and understanding what you can get out of it.

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4. Visit again

Finally, it’s time to rethink the situation. This could be the next day, the next week or even the next month – it all depends on the nature of your situation. But if you’re like me, you want to try and achieve the result you initially hoped for, which means taking a fresh look at it again. Is it a presentation that needs to be reorganized? A pitch that needs a new strategic setup? Or even a conversation that should have been handled differently? Whatever it is — be it work-related, personal, or anything in between — you should be able to identify what might need to be added, removed, or changed. Then you can try again, and this time you may be happier with the result.

While it’s important to face failures and try to get through them, it’s also important to remember that this is something everyone goes through, usually many times in their lives. When I’ve written about risk in the past, I think about ways to mitigate risk and take calculated risks. That’s the best way I know of avoiding failing at something when I can.

However, as I’ve written before, nothing great has ever happened without significant, associated risk. In other words, great things don’t come easily, and certainly not without their challenges. The emphasis should not be on the failure itself, but on what you can take away from it and what comes next. Remember not to get discouraged. There is always more to learn, to grow and new opportunities to come.