The entire week is about failure and about “the value of having a go rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less.”
I love this. Here’s why: We need to become friends with failure in order to be able to bounce back in life.
Even though there is lip service paid to “it’s okay to fail,” the reality is that there is subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to do exactly the opposite – to be perfect.
But we’re not perfect. We’re human and thus vulnerable to all sorts of flaws and foibles, including failure.
So, we know failure will happen at some point. The question is, can we recover from it? And even more so, can we learn to value it?
Be like the rock in the river
We tend to resist things we don’t like. And failure is one of them. But resisting failure is like the jagged rock trying to resist the rushing river: The water will always pour over the rock, so why does it try so to make it stop? Perhaps, instead, it can allow the river to smooth its sharp edges and turn it into beauty that the rock never expected.
And so, as the rock and the river become friends, knowing that they will always be together, so must we befriend failure.
4 ways to friend failure
1. Friend failure, don’t become it.
I have heard many people say, “I’m such a failure.” No, actually, you are someone who has failed. You, yourself do not equate to failure. Be wary of labeling yourself.
2. Look for the side effects of failure.
Paul Iske, a business innovation researcher and founder of The Institute for Brilliant Failures, likes to give one example to illustrate that failure often has beneficial side effects: Viagra. The drug was created to treat heart conditions. It failed at that, but scientists soon began to note that it had a very noteworthy side effect. The rest, of course, is history
When I was an undergraduate, I failed my statistics class. And then I failed it again. I passed it on the third try (and with a different professor) but my plans to become a mathematician were derailed. I was dejected. I had never failed at anything I set out to achieve.
After awhile, though, I noticed something. Failing my statistics class forced me to look at other fields of study. And I realized that it was actually psychology that energized me, not math. The side effect of my failure was that I allowed myself to really look at what I was passionate about. And although my math classes were interesting and challenging, they did not stir my creative juices as psychology did.
The rest of that story is history, too.
3. Realize that it may not be failure, it may just be deferred success.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Thomas Edison tried 3000 times to invent the light bulb until he got it right. If he had quit after his first few tries, you might be reading this by candlelight on parchment paper.
One of Paul Iske’s favorite brilliant failure stories is that of Christopher Columbus. His original mission was to find a faster trading route to the far east. Instead, he failed spectacularly by discovering the North American continent. The success of his failure would not be known until later years.
No matter what is happening for you right now, it could be that you are experiencing success that is deferred until later, one facet of the gem that is failure.
4. Release control of your expectations.
One of the reasons we are so failure-aversive is that it feels as though we lose control when we fail at something. Letting go of your control and expectations about something will allow you to see the softer sides of failure. And, again, letting go does not mean giving up. It merely means to have no judgment about situations or yourself.
We can learn a lot from failure. You never know, it may just end up being one of your best friends.
How do you deal with failure?
But if you’ve lost a loved one during the year, this time of year may very well be the opposite of joyful.
I hope this short article I first posted on my therapy website is helpful for those of you who are struggling this year.
Holidays without your loved one . . .
can be painful and lonely. Especially if it’s the first time the holiday has rolled around after your loss.
Sometimes it’s helpful to create a small ritual to help you remain connected to your loved one while still acknowledging your loss on this special day.
Get your closest friends together, the people you feel the safest with, and create a ritual to remember your loved one during a holiday. Or do the ritual by yourself. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Write a letter to your loved one expressing your feelings during the holiday. Put it in a box and gift-wrap it. Then, put it under the Christmas tree or on a table – wherever you used to place it when your loved one was alive – and keep it as long as you like. Or try these ideas with your ritual group: bury the box in a special place outside; burn the box and visualize releasing your feelings as the ashes float upward; have one of your friends open the box and read the letter to your ritual group.
- Ask your ritual group to gather and have each person recall favorite stories about your loved one. You might want to structure it by having them tell stories about their holiday memories of your loved one, how they met your loved one, or what your loved one would say or do that would make them laugh the hardest.
Sometimes life is just really nasty and smacks us right down to the ground.
It feels awful and can leave us flailing, trying to figure out how to get back up again.
Here are ten things to tell yourself that might help you do just that. Be sure to check out the resources that go along with each idea.
1. I’ve made it through this (or worse) before.
Unfortunately, we can’t permanently escape pain in life. But this can actually be helpful: Remember that this is not the first time you’ve faced heartbreak, grief, emotional distress, or any other kind of calamity.
You made it through then and you will now even if you think this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Read more…
How good are you at bouncing back?
Take this non-scientific quiz to find out!
Let’s hear how you did in the comments section.
You decide to join the Bounce community – and get a great ebook in the process – so you fill out the little form on the right that asks for your first name and email.
Not only do you receive the ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs, you inevitably get an email from me asking you to share the biggest struggle you’re facing right now.
I get a variety of responses:
- Health problems
- Financial pressures
- Worry about children and family
- Indecision about career issues
- Struggles with mental and emotional health
- Relationship problems
- Lack of self-worth, self-confidence, self-compassion
- Caring for aging parents
- Dealing with past abuse
- Grieving the loss of a loved one
I answer all my email and always try to help in whatever small way I can.
Since there are zillions of different struggles that we all face, there are lots of suggestions that I make.
But I find myself asking the writer one question again and again: Read more…
My breath was coming in gasps and I fought to keep my bike upright.
I was working my way up a long, steep hill. My friend, Keila, rode to my left, listening to my panting.
She was not breathing heavily as she maintained a slow, steady pace.
We had ridden this hill before. It was three miles with an average grade of 6% – challenging, but in recent tries I had been successful making it to the top without stopping.
My heart thumped hard and fast. My mind screeched at me to stop.
I stubbornly kept on, feeling more and more irritation with myself that the hill was this hard for me.
I uttered an expletive that I won’t print here but sounds suspiciously like “Smucker.”
After 37 mostly horrible minutes, we reached the top.
I dismounted and stood over my bike, my elbows on the handlebars, head down, trying to get my breath back.
When my wheezing subsided a bit, I straightened up and looked over at Keila. She was also standing over her bike, but she had her phone out and was texting someone.
No sign of struggle there.
I shook my head and rasped, “I don’t know why that was so hard this time.”
Keila looked at me and said in a soft voice,
It’s because when you start to suffer, you speed up. And then you get mad.
The phone rang. I lifted my head up off the tear-soaked pillow and searched for the phone under a mess of tissues and blankets.
Hello, I said, doing my best to sound as if I hadn’t just finished crying.
Hey man, how are you doing today?
Damn him. I felt the tears welling back up, begging to be released.
*cough* I’m ok. You know…just taking it one day at time.
But I hadn’t been able to take it one day at a time for weeks now. My world had been shrink-wrapped and all I could manage was to pray that the next 60 seconds wouldn’t send me over the edge. Minute by minute, hour by hour.
I wasn’t battling my depression; I was trying to survive it.
Some little thing you could do that would help you bounce back in a big way from a rough patch in your life?
Occasionally, there is.
Here are a couple stories from my private practice (names and identifying details have been changed) of people who changed one small thing in their lives that ended up making a big difference in how they felt.
See if you can spot what they did.
Dealing with physical and emotional pain
Celeste came for counseling because she had an injury she was dealing with that arrived out of the blue. One day she was fine and the next she was in excruciating pain from a back problem.
She had seen several doctors and was receiving physical therapy that had decreased the pain, yet she was still very depressed.
She wept as she told me her story about the injury, her frustration with the medical indecision about how best to deal with it, and the disruption it brought to her life including a lengthy absence from work.
She was quite depressed – a very different experience for this normally vivacious young woman.
After a long conversation, I made a suggestion to Celeste. She looked at me with hope and said, “I think you’re right. I’ll try that.”
The following week, Celeste arrived for her appointment with a smile on her face.
“I’m feeling much better!” she said. “I even went back to work this week.”
At the end of the session, Celeste said her depression had lifted to the extent that she was ready to come in for therapy every other week rather than weekly.
What do you think I suggested to Celeste? Was it just going back to work that helped her feel better?
Let’s look at another story.
“A snowball rolling downhill”
Bill sought counseling because he, too, felt depressed.
He was tired all the time yet had difficulty sleeping. He was short-tempered with his wife and kids – a behavior unlike this very loving middle-aged man.
Bill described his life as “a snowball rolling downhill of people, work, family, classes . . . it just seems like everything is picking up speed and getting bigger and bigger. I feel out of control.”
He gave me some details.
His job in sales involved meeting with people on a daily basis and much conversation.
“I really love sales,” Bill said. “Even though I’m actually shy, I do love to talk! But I still feel drained when I get home.”
He also loved his family very much. But the kids were all in different activities which involved time to support each child in their activity as well as interacting with the other parents of kids in the same event.
Finally, his wife really enjoyed taking classes in the community and loved to have Bill participate with her. However, the classes were two nights per week and, while Bill also liked the classes, he ended up feeling exhausted afterwards.
Eventually, I made a suggestion to Bill that was similar to the one I had given Celeste.
Bill’s response was, “Really? I didn’t even think about that since I’m in sales. Maybe you’re right . . . I’m going to try that.”
At our next session, Bill said, “I made some changes and I’m starting to feel better already. Who knew such a little thing could make such a difference?”
What changes do you think Bill made?
Finding yourself in an unexpected traffic jam on the only day you have a meeting first thing in the morning.
Getting another notice of your unpaid telephone bill even though you paid it two weeks ago.
Being placed on hold again by the customer service department of the software you desperately need to use. And they have crappy hold music.
The dog throwing up on your shoe as you’re rushing out the door after having already been made late by the refrigerator repairman coming at the very end of his four-hour window and then leaking water all over your kitchen floor while at the same time your child’s school is calling to say that Madison forgot to bring her saxophone – although you reminded her at least 100 times to take it – and could you please bring it to her because the school concert rehearsal is today?
How often do they happen? Every. Single. Day.
They’re not the big crises and tragedies that we sometimes have to bounce back from in our lives.
But they are inevitable and, left untended, they can add up to a lot of unnecessary stress. And we don’t want that.
To manage everyday frustrations before they get the best of you, try one or more of these tips:
1. This, too, shall pass.
Your crummy day, traffic jam, annoying conversation with a co-worker – they’re going to pass, too.
Keep these four crucial words in mind the next time you feel your blood starting to boil: This, too, shall pass.
2. Change is inevitable.
Your well-planned day? It’s likely something is going to throw a kink into it.
Trying to resist change is a waste of energy.
So plan for change. Expect it.
3. Don’t take on other people’s stuff.
Be aware of what is your responsibility (hint: your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) and what is the other person’s responsibility (hint: their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.)
If someone is causing you frustration, address the situation directly rather than going through all types of mental and behavioral gymnastics to get them to change.
4. Be flexible.
We’ve already decided that change is inevitable (see #2 above.)
Flexibility in thinking, behavior, and expectations allows us to deal with change as it comes. If we expect change, then we can be ready for it by not being attached to the way things were, but rolling with the new change-wave that has just come in.
5. Take a deep breath.
Taking a deep breath does a couple things for you: it can act as a trigger to bring you back to the present and it can stimulate your vagus nerve.
What does that mean?
When you take a deep breath, allow it to be a reminder that you are here in the present moment. You aren’t in the future (where your anxieties lie) nor are you in the past (where you had that frustrating conversation with your co-worker.) You’re in this moment and you’re okay.
One of the physical processes that happens when you take a deep breath is the movement of your diaphragm stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, that part of you that calms the body. And when the body is calm, the mind is sure to follow.
6. Remember that stress is in your head.
Stress isn’t your co-worker. It’s not the traffic jam. It’s not the utility bill, the dog, or even the refrigerator repairman.
Stress is how you perceive these things.
You could allow your co-worker to frustrate you or you could think, “This is about her and her need for attention. She’s not doing this to me.”
The utility bill is just a piece of paper. It’s only when you perceive it as a symbol of the utility company’s incompetence and persecution of you that it becomes stressful.
You get the idea.
We’re always going to have events come up that trigger frustration and stress, but we can at least soften the impact by realizing we have some control over how we think about it.
7. You’ve had days like this before and lived to tell about it.
It’s easy to get caught up in a sea of frustration, stress, and annoyance.
Remember to poke your head above the water and look back. You’ve had stressful days in the past. What happened to them?
You forgot them.
Which means that they really weren’t that big of a deal after all.
This day will be like one of those days, too. (Refer to #1.)
8. Remember your values. Does this little irritant really matter?
We’ve talked before about how important it is to live our lives steered by our values.
Perhaps a couple of your top values are kindness and making a difference. When you look at your everyday frustrations in light of these guiding values, do you notice how small they become?
Use your values like a compass and don’t let a bad day through you off course.
9. Ask yourself, “Why am I hanging on to this? How does it help?”
You have your values that are guiding you. And you have goals that are in line with those values.
So how is holding onto your annoyance at being placed on hold helping you with your goals and values? Is grinding your teeth down to nothing really going to make your life better? Is gripping the steering wheel so hard your knuckles turn white going to make the cars move any faster in a traffic jam?
Bonus question to ask yourself: “How is this [reaction to stress] working for me?
Bonus tip: Refer to #5.
Find a friend you know who makes you laugh. Watch something silly on YouTube. Talk to yourself in a Donald Duck voice.
It’s nearly impossible to feel frustrated and laugh at the same time.
Laughing releases endorphins and stimulates your vagus nerve as well so you get the double pleasure of feeling good and feeling calm at the same time.
11. Talk to a good friend.
Talking to a good friend about your difficult day will help you to frame your frustrations in a way that you can more easily do some problem-solving.
And the connection with your friend will produce some of those warm, fuzzy oxytocins that are good for us.
Now that you’re feeling warm and fuzzy, give your friend a hug.
12. Take action (rather than wishing something away.)
You’re gossipy co-worker has cornered you in the break room to fill you in on the latest dirt.
You hate this and wish you could get away.
Don’t just stand there wishing – do something!
Tell your co-worker you really don’t like to hear rumors about other people.
Excuse yourself and walk away.
Trying to wish something would end puts you in a place of feeling powerless; doing something about it helps you gain control again.
As Yoda would say, “There is no try; only do.”
13. Get something to eat.
I don’t mean this in the sense of get-something-sweet-to-make-myself-feel-better-but-only-for-a-moment-until-the-sugar-hits-me-and-I-become-crankier-than-ever.
I mean that you actually may need some fuel and part of your feeling of frustration may be due to your body running on both physical and emotional fumes. Get a little healthy fuel in there and see if that helps.
But try to stay away from sugar. I love sugar, but it really makes me edgy, cranky, and tired. And nobody wants to be around that.
14. Take a nap.
Besides being hungry, you might be downright tired. It’s really hard to manage emotions when we’re tired.
If possible, take a 10-20 minute nap.
Cleaning up after the dog will be easier after that, I promise.
15. Get some distance from it.
Sometimes physical distance from a frustration can help, but that option isn’t always available.
Emotional distance is, though.
Part of the reason we feel stress about everyday irritations is because we’re hooked into it emotionally and cognitively. (Refer to #9.)
To get a little distance, start actively noticing your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, here are some things you might say to yourself:
“I notice that I’m feeling really stressed out about this traffic. I notice I’m having the thought, ‘This traffic is horrible! I’m going to be so late!’ I see that my knuckles are white. I can feel the sensation of my hands gripping the steering wheel too hard. I notice that the car to the left of me is black, the car to the right is red, and the one in front of me is white.”
What you’re doing is becoming mindful of the present moment – what you see, feel, and think. As you do this, you look at your thoughts and feelings rather than from them. See how you unhook by looking at what’s happening around and in you rather than being locked in a mental and emotional tug-of-war with them?
I know we’ve already covered this, but it bears repeating.
Taking a deep breath seems kind of trite but it’s actually one of the most important things you can do when you’re managing one of those days.
Okay, over to you: What do you do to bounce back from everyday frustrations?