Resilience: How to Bounce Back from Failure

When we are faced with challenges in our lives, we have two choices. We can either become consumed by the adversity, allowing it to hold us back, or we can get back on our feet and refuse to give up. The latter is where success tends to occur.

When some level of failure is guaranteed in all of our lives, we must be prepared for how we choose to face it. Overcoming challenges and setbacks is what resilience is all about.

Like any skill, resilience can be developed and improved, an important task if we wish to attain the success in our lives that is desired.

What Does It Mean To Be Resilient

No matter who you are or what you do, failure is going to find you. In some capacity or another, things are not going to go your way. For some people, it may come in the form of large, catastrophic events, while others may only have to deal with small road bumps.

But the size of the setback is not important, and the principles of resilience are the same either way.

The American Psychology Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well to adversity, challenges, and significant sources of stress.

When we are working towards a specific goal, any failure or challenge along the way can cause us significant stress. Such an adverse situation has the capability to throw us off course.

Too many people, myself included, dwell on these failures long after they occur. Thinking deeply about this raises some perplexing questions.

Why would we choose to relive an event that did not go how we wanted? Why would we focus on ourselves failing rather than succeeding? All that this does is keep our attention locked on an unhappy event and keeps us from progressing forward.

The ironic part of holding onto failure is that it keeps us from actually moving on. An act that we believe is somehow necessary and helping us, turns out to be inhibiting future success. I think one of the reasons we dwell on failure is because of the guilt associated with it.

It can seem somehow wrong or like you don’t care about what you are doing if you just brush off an unfortunate performance or setback. But the funny thing is, if you do care about being the best you can, dwelling on failure is something you absolutely mustn’t do.

I used to be guilty of this all the time. If I had a poor baseball game, which was a failure for me, I would spend that whole night and well into the next few days analyzing and obsessing over my performance.

What’s even worse is if I had a few bad games in a row, that could spiral me into a few weeks of constant fret and worry.

Fail Fast!

Whenever I would allow a bad game to become fixed in my mind, I then carried it into the next game. Now, rather than being prepared to perform well, I was still feeling the emotions associated with the previous game and I was not focused on the present moment.

What this did was allow my failures to compound on one another, contributing to and creating future setbacks.

Instead, what we must do is accept the setbacks in our lives and get ourselves in the mindset of moving forward as soon as possible. However, this is not easy to do, especially if you are under the impression that it is somehow admirable to torture yourself with the memory of your failure.

Feeling disappointed in ourselves makes it seem that we must really care about what we are doing. If we didn’t feel this way, we must not be that invested right? Wrong! Especially if you want to improve and succeed in the future.

Resilience refers to recovering quickly from a setback. That means we cannot dwell on the past. My mom would always say, “fail fast,” which really grasps the essence of being resilient. She did not mean to literally be moving quickly as I fail, but rather, to work quickly through the feelings of failure immediately after the event.  

If I failed in an at-bat, like striking out, for example, failing fast would mean thinking about the at-bat and deciding on what I could learn, then letting it go.

Done correctly, I would be going into my next plate appearance as if it were my first. It took me a while to fully understand this concept, and even longer to begin to do it well.

Our minds want to naturally hold onto these bad experiences, whether as a means to keep us safe from unpleasant situations, or as a way to perpetuate a feeling of guilt. No matter what the reason, in order to bounce back from failure, we must accept the need to let go and forget about it as soon as possible.

"Resilience refers to recovering quickly from a setback. That means we cannot dwell on the past. My mom would always say, “fail fast,” which really grasps the essence of being resilient."

How Should We Look at Failure?

How we view failure has an enormous impact on the way we respond to it. When a setback presents itself in our life we have two choices: learn from it or allow it to debilitate us.

Yes, it really is that simple, and if we adopt a certain way of looking at failure, the reaction becomes natural.

I used to be locked in the second choice, letting events and situations eat at me. The knowledge that failure can lead to growth was well known to me, but my mindset did not parallel this understanding. I knew a lesson should be learned, but the fear of making a mistake was so great, that I was unable to think straight once they occurred.

Instead of simply having the knowledge that failure can be turned into a growing experience, we must be actively prepared and ready for it.

The application is the important part, not just the know-how. For the longest time, I thought that somehow I would magically face a setback in a positive way, just because I knew that’s what should be done.

It is not that easy, and unless we are mentally prepared and ready, the emotions that accompany a failure are too great, causing our minds to become clouded, not allowing us to think straight.

So what is the answer?

It’s to take a proactive approach, meaning we must accept that failure is a natural part of life.

Anyone who achieves greatness or success has dealt with it at some level. There is no avoiding failure and a lot of times an experience that seems dreadful turns out to lead to the most amazing experiences.

View failure as an opportunity for something new and exciting, as a way to grow and improve yourself.

There is nothing wrong with failing, but there is something wrong with allowing failure to hold us back. Fear drives us to avoid taking risks, but that fear can be overcome by accepting and allowing failure with gratitude.

While this may seem strange, having such a mindset completely changes the way we look at the negative experiences in our life. By doing so, we will take away some of their power and face them with a growth mindset, ready to utilize this situation as a springboard for future improvement and success.

How to Be More Resilient

Rocky once said, “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

While this quote comes from a movie, the lesson it conveys is extraordinary. We can push and push and push in life, always doing what is right and “hitting” as hard as we can. But, there will come a time when we get knocked to the ground.

Nobody knows what it will be or where it will come from, but a failure of some sort is inevitable in all our lives. The testament to your character is how hard of a hit you can take and still get up and keep moving towards your goal.

So how do we do this? How can we cultivate the habit of bouncing back from failure, rather than letting it define who we are?

As I addressed in the previous section, a large part of this comes from how we view failure in the first place. There is no shortcut to being resilient. To put it simply, we just have to do it.

We must focus on building up the proper mindset, so we will be equipped and ready the next time life does not go how we planned. Accepting failure is not a very attractive thought, I mean who would want to intentionally allow it into their life.

While it may seem strange, accepting does not mean wanting. We should not want failure, but we should accept it, meaning we allow it to happen, knowing it is a natural part of life.

Resistance is one of the main culprits that leads to continual thinking and obsessing over failure. Do you remember how I talked about my past dealings with failure, and how I would carry my bad performances into the next game?

Well, the reason was due to my constant resistance towards failing. My fear led me to focus all my attention on not failing. What this resulted in was further frustration and sub-par performances.

Instead, what I should have done was accept failure as a natural part of the game (and life) and focus my efforts on preparing myself and my mindset for how I would handle it in the future. What I would like to do now is present you with some guidelines that you can use to better deal with failure in the future.

"Nobody knows what it will be or where it will come from, but a failure of some sort is inevitable in all our lives. The testament to your character is how hard of a hit you can take and still get up and keep moving towards your goal."

View Failure as a Learning Experience

This whole article on bouncing back from failure has been centered around this idea. We want to begin looking at failure as if it were a learning experience.

As a child, when you learn to walk, there are many falls along the way. You do not stop walking just because you fell, instead, you take it as part of the process.

Similarly, we should view the falls we have in our adult lives as part of the process towards success. Do not become discouraged, but rather view the failure as a teacher. Throughout my life, I have learned more from setbacks and situations that would appear to be more negative than all of my successes combined.

There is no better teacher than defeat. Through challenging times we learn what we did wrong, and how we can improve the next time.

Think of it in similar terms to building muscle. There cannot be muscle growth without first tearing down the fibers that make it up. Only then, after being broken, will you see progress.

Likewise, on our way to success, we must experience something similar. Not literally being torn down, but minor setbacks that we can build off of. If we have the mindset that failure is a learning experience and not something terrible, then we will have a much easier time being resilient.

Don’t View Failure as a Personal Defeat

One of the most problematic views we can take on failure is that it is personal.

The previous guideline was all about viewing failure as a learning experience. Well, that cannot be done if the setback feels like a personal defeat.

What this means is allowing a negative experience to hit you at the core of your self-worth.

For example, if you are a basketball player and you miss the game-winning shot, you could potentially take it as a personal defeat. You may begin to doubt your abilities, question your role on the team, and lose confidence in your skills.

There is no need for this type of thinking when it comes to failure. All it does is create unneeded stress and strain on our minds.

Instead of picking ourselves up and learning from the experience, we let it slowly destroy us.

I used to take each failure incredibly personally, resulting in a mini depression upon the conclusion of a bad game or a situation that did not go my way. However, this only furthers the pain suffered from a failure and inhibits the growth that needs to take place.

Whenever failure is present, try your best to view it objectively, and not take it too personally.

Be Grateful of Failure

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, being grateful for failure seems like an incredibly stupid way of looking at it.

We want to be grateful for those parts of our life that bring us joy and we want more of, not roadblocks and setbacks.

I understand this but hear me out. If you fail, it means you are working towards or doing something important. Otherwise, the failure wouldn’t mean much to you. You should be grateful for failure because it serves as a reminder you had the courage to start working towards your dreams.

Also, if we learn from failure, as we all should, it means we are one step closer to success. Be grateful for that!

Every setback or bad performance brings us one step closer to what we want, no matter what our goal may be.

If we learn properly, then we will have additional knowledge as to what doesn’t work and what will work instead. This is all information that can only be gotten through experience. This is something to be grateful for.

So you see, we can have an attitude of gratitude when it comes to failure, without seeming totally insane.

Always Keep Going After Failure

Upon failing, sometimes all we want to do is curl up in a corner, all alone, and cry.

Though, if what we are after is improvement, growth, and forward movement towards a goal then this type of behavior cannot be adopted.

Instead, we must get back on our feet and keep going as soon as possible. This can have many different interpretations, depending on what sort of activity you are participating in.

This is where the term “fail fast” I introduced earlier really comes into play. It does not mean that you necessarily have to get back to doing the activity you failed in right away, especially since that can be difficult if it was a one-time event, like a game, test, or meeting.

In order to keep going immediately after failing, we must get on the road to recovery as soon as possible.

This means letting go of the negative feelings associated with the event and taking an objective view.

Examining what went wrong, and asking ourselves, “What can be gained from this experience?”

If the failure is on a smaller scale, such as an at-bat in a baseball game, for example, moving on quickly is vital. I struggled greatly with this and hope my lack of understanding back then can serve as informative to you. Do not allow one failure to turn into many. Pick yourself up, accept the failure, and begin to move on right away.

Final Thoughts

Failure is not our choice, but how we respond to it is. No matter what the situation is, a lesson can always be learned that will improve our likelihood of success in the future.

The road to success in anything is always paved with setbacks and failures. There is admiration given to people who rise above such adversity. In order to do so, we must begin to view failure in a more positive light.

Become resilient, learn to be grateful for failure, learn from these experiences, and see how your life begins to change.

Have you had any major setbacks in your life where you’ve shown resilience? How do you currently view failure?

If you have any questions or concerns about resilience or any other performance psychology topic, please reach out to me.

I hope that this article has been helpful and informative, with information that you can begin to implement into your own life.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all you do.

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