A quick snapshot of some of this summer’s headlines: ‘Six Secrets to Using Entrepreneurial Failure – Effectively’ (Forbes Middle East); ‘How Overcoming Failure Helped Steve Jobs’ (CNBC); ‘What I Learned From My Failed Relationships’ (Mumbai Mirror). Where once it was unthinkable to admit that you’d messed up in life, today it’s accepted practice to hold up your hand and say, ‘Oops. Yeah, my bad’.
“Everyone will fail,” says Australian champion triathlete and businessman Chris McCormack, co-founder of Super League Triathlon. “Every single businessman on earth has failed at some point – failure is what shapes everything. As a sportsperson, if I’d quit after the first race I lost, I would never have continued racing. It is part of the journey to the top. Losing races or losing deals is normal.”
While these are undoubtedly wise words, when you’ve been fired for doing something stupid or you’ve seen yet another relationship collapse and you don’t know why, searching for a positive can feel like looking for a diamond in a dung-heap.
For your own well-being, however, developing an ability to bounce back is essential. We asked experts in love, life and more to put us on the right track.
Bouncing back… in business
Gosia Gorna is an award-winning transformational coach and trainer, and is the creator of a pioneering and powerful method/book for releasing fear called The Expansion Game. She has helped countless businesspeople rediscover their mojo after failure, and even has some first-hand knowledge of it herself…
“I was in my twenties,” says Gorna. “I had just arrived in London and decided to work in an office as a secretary to cover my bills. The job was totally misaligned with my life’s purpose and It was a painful experience for me to sit in the office every day. I frequently cried on my way home because I wasn’t good at office work and I felt like a total failure. Sitting alone in front of the computer made me feel unhappy and I kept on making mistakes; I tried to make it work for a few months, but luckily the owner of the company fired me because of my incompetence, struggle and my miserable face.”
While a young Gorna could have retreated into her shell, she decided to learn from the experience. In short – no more dull secretarial jobs.
“I followed my passions and dived into the area of well-being. I studied macrobiotic cooking and philosophy, massage, different aspects of healing, and coaching,” she says. “I started working in the areas which were in alignment with my greatest talents. Immediately, my feeling of failure shifted to a sense of fulfilment, joy and confidence.”
What she has gleaned from this, she says, is that it is vital to work in an area that aligns with your skillset.
But back to failure. When you’ve messed up in the office, been passed over for promotion, or – if you’re a business owner – seen your grand plan fall flat on its behind, Gorna says it’s OK to spend some time with whatever emotions you’re feeling.
“Share them with someone close, or write them down to create space for letting go,” she says. “Don’t suppress your feelings or pretend all is fine.”
Next, she says you should treat yourself to something that will give you a boost. “Do something that will make you feel loved and cared for,” she explains. “For instance, go for a massage, see a friend, have a run, have a weekend away. Do something relaxing and fun that will nourish you.”
It’s also useful to analyse the benefits of your failure, she says, because there will almost certainly be something good. If you didn’t get promoted, for example, make a list of all the negative things that may have happened had you been chosen for that promotion. “Everything always has two sides, so having a balanced view brings greater peace into every situation,” she points out. “The most successful people in the world are ‘excellent in failing’ because they have a very wise attitude towards it. They tend to be flexible and able to deal with unpredictable situations.”
She says they also tend to:
* See failure as a necessary process of growth which will lead to success sooner or later.
* Learn from it and move on quickly.
* See a bigger picture, including the greater purpose of possible failure of any kind.
* Follow their intuition, which minimises their failures and losses and guides them in the right direction.
* Tend to see every situation – even the challenging ones – as an opportunity.
A final thought: “Most of the time, we don’t deal with failure very well,” says Gorna. “We take it personally – see it as a reflection of our worthiness and our lovability. The more we make it reflect our worthiness, the more we hurt.” Instead, she suggests, try and see failure as feedback – and an invitation to growth and success.
Bouncing back… in love
“Feeling a loser in love can seem like the worst feeling because you conflate having failed relationships with being a failure yourself, when the reality is more relationships fail than not,” says Nichi Hodgson, dating consultant with The Inner Circle dating app (theinnercircle.co) and author of The Curious History of Dating. “What’s sad is that a successful romantic relationship is perceived to be the height of human achievement, when we know there are so many variables and reasons for why a relationship might not work out.”
Even so, Hodgson admits, when we have a number of bad relationships we start to believe that love will forever remain out of reach. But it only remains out of reach if we don’t learn anything from those relationships.
“Most people repeat patterns of relationships based on how they were loved as children,” explains Hodgson, “and addressing that pattern is key to understanding your predilections and likely behaviour, some of which may be good, some bad, and to rectifying it in order to get a better result next time. You can have had a string of failed relationships but finally have a good one in your 60s or 70s – it’s never too late, usually all that happens is people’s behaviour becomes so entrenched, they think failure is inevitable.”
The dating expert says that if you really have no idea about where your relationships are going wrong, it can make sense to find a therapist who can help you understand past errors and to come to positive realisations about patterns that you can change. “Remember,” says Hodgson, “you are stuck with none of your behaviours. You can change anything about how you behave if you want it badly enough. If you can’t afford a therapist, read up on attachment theory and try to honestly identify yourself on that scale. It relates to how you were loved as a child which conditions how we love as adults, and will give you insight into why you end up in a push-pull dynamic in your relationship, for example.”
And when you do want to get back into the game, Hodgson’s top tip if you’re looking for a partner online is to carefully read the other person’s profile and refer to something in it when you make contact. “The more specific you can be, the better chance they have of feeling special and replying,” she says. “That’s what you have to go for – sell yourself as unique, and identify and refer to the uniqueness in the other person.”
Bouncing back… in sport
How often have you told yourself you’d be running 10k in three months or that your team will win the local championships next year? Goals like these can give you focus – but they can just as easily ruin a love of sport when they don’t come true.
“It is normal to feel down when goals are not achieved in the way they are set,” says triathlon champion Chris McCormack. “But being demoralised is the wrong way of looking at it.”
He points to the famous Michael Jordan quote as a reference point: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” said the NBA legend. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And this is why I succeed.”
“This epitomises the way we should look at goal setting in the first place,” says McCormack. “Goals are not a guarantee; they are basically a map to a place you want to be.”
If you want to be happy in your sport, then, the answer is not to avoid setting goals because failure might feel miserable, but to understand a little more about setting targets for yourself.
Explains McCormack: “The key to goal-setting in sports is setting both long and short term goals and ensuring they interact on your fitness journey. Goals keep you engaged and define progress. I have always said that a goal is a dream with a plan, so ensuring you set both short-term, medium-term and long-term goals is critical.”
In doing so, he argues that you will acquire both the long-term vision and the short-term motivation you need. “It is very good for people to set goals,” he says. “Purpose in anything gives it value.”
For example, your short-term goal might be to ensure you walk to work three days per week instead of taking the bus. Ultimately, this will develop into you achieving your long-term goal of walking to work five days a week, says McCormack. “Your short term goals should be targets that can be achieved and require a closer focus on achieving, which will then add to the longer term goal which may be to run a marathon.”
And if you don’t get there? Don’t beat yourself up about it. “The first thing we all have to do is accept failure in our lives,” says McCormack. “Welcome failure and view it as part of the journey. Disappointment and failure are not the same emotion or outcome. They often feel similar, but failure only exists when it becomes your new reality.”
Bouncing back… in life
Chris James, founder of the successful wellness brand chrisjamesmindbody.com and a teacher in yoga and mindfulness meditation, was the victim of a violent assault in 2000 – an attack which left him with a broken neck and other serious injuries. “There was a very real risk of not getting back onto my feet and recovering the feeling in my body,” he says. “While I suffered from the symptoms of PTS, which manifested in anxiety attacks, about a year after the assault I was mainly grateful to still be alive.”
Whereas James could easily have found himself in a depressive funk that shaped the rest of his life, he didn’t. “To help move on and press the ‘reset’ button I changed my career,” he says. “At some point, as I lay there in my hospital bed in London, I decided that I wanted to teach yoga. I had experienced at first hand what a powerful and effective practice it was, and how instrumental it had been in surviving the assault. I wanted to share this with others.”
James’ story is inspirational – and just the tonic, perhaps, for anyone who might be feeling sorry for themselves because life doesn’t seem to be going to plan. Life-coach Gemma McCrae – who worked in Dubai for six years – says that any number of isolated events can “derail” someone, and lead them to a place where it feels like everything in life is going wrong.
“They suddenly feel like they are a failure,” she says. “It could be how they look, poor academic performance, lack of romantic involvement, lack of wealth, clumsiness – all sorts. Basically, though, everyone has the ability to transform their life, whatever their age, whatever the situation. Of course, luck plays a part, but study uber-successful people around the world and I can guarantee their successes have been down to their mental agility and adaption through failure.”
Instead of dwelling on negative thoughts, which McCrae says can become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, it is more helpful to focus on a positive – which breeds more positivity. McCrae’s clients are encouraged to think back to a time in their life when things were good – typically a time when everything felt easy and everything fell into place. She has some other tips, too:
* Be strategic: “Go somewhere where you can be by yourself and think,” she says. Ask things like: what areas of my life need improvement? What specifically needs improvement in those areas? What are the steps I can take to improve them?
* Embrace gratitude: “It’s easy to be negative,” says McCrae, “and it’s easy to be sucked down the rabbit hole of negativity. That’s why I’m a big advocate of a gratitude practice. Be it a formal practice at a set time every day or you use it ad-hoc, my advice is to think and feel the gratitude for all the good things in your life.” She has written a blog post about this very subject on her website: prosperitykitchen.co.uk
* Manage negative thoughts: “You can proactively manage how you react to them as they arise,” says McCrae, who suggests acknowledging them, identifying what the issues are and then reaching for a positive thought. “Also,” she says, “try to identify those things that make you happy, small and big, and proactively weave one of them into your life once a day.”
* Watch your back: her final tip is to look at the people you surround yourself with. If you’re convinced that you’re one of life’s failures, it may be because the people you associate with either tell you so, or are tainted by gloom themselves. “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with,” says McCrae, “So make sure they are good people! Toxic relationships have a habit of creeping up on us, so take time to analyse the relationships you have and weed out any bad ones.”