“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” — Zig Ziglar

Failure and disappointment are inevitable parts of life, yet difficult and challenging to deal with. We all face moments when we don't achieve our goals despite our best efforts. We may not find our dream job or soul mate. It may be too late to have more children, or the house with ocean view may be out of reach. Relationships may end despite our best efforts to save them, friends or lovers may betray us, we may not get the promotion we worked so hard for, or our children may not be as motivated as we want them to be.

What do you do when life knocks you down and the happiness and success you dream of seems out of reach? Below are 8 practical ways to cope with an experience of failure:

1. Face the truth of the situation.

wrangler/Shutterstock
Source: wrangler/Shutterstock

Denying the reality of a bad situation, or avoiding thinking about it at all, makes it worse—or keeps you stuck when you could be working on solving the problem. Awareness is the first step to change. Be willing to face the problem, but don't dwell on it 24 hours a day. This will just make you feel worse. Think about it enough to understand what you feel and the best way to respond, then focus on something more positive. Research suggests that avoiding thinking about or dealing with problems actually creates more stressors, a phenomenon known as "stress generation." For example, if you don't open the envelopes with your bills, you will end up getting calls from collection agencies.

2. Allow yourself to mourn lost dreams.

The gap between how you wanted things to turn out and how they actually did can lead to sadness and regret. Mourning is a step toward letting go. Take time to connect with your feelings in a compassionate way. Writing down your feelings or talking to a trusted friend can help. A study showed that when subjects wrote down their deepest thoughts and feelings about breakups, they recovered more quickly and had better physical health in subsequent months.

In another study, executives and engineers who deliberately confronted feelings about job loss felt more control over their situation and had a much higher rate of re-employment in the following months. 

3. Don't get stuck feeling like a victim.

Whatever your situation, you always have choices and skills to deal with it. Think about other situations you coped with successfully and how you might apply the same skills to this situation. If you're being mistreated, speak up or walk away. If you can't walk away right now, work on becoming more independent or finding other opportunities.

4. Check if your expectations are realistic.

The 21st century presents us with new realities, including less job creation and more competition for entry into the best colleges. There are no guarantees, and you may need to take alternative routes to your goals. It may take months or years to get the job you really want or earn the salary you think you deserve. Also, even the best relationships have their down moments and even your "soul mate" has his flaws.  

5. Be kind to yourself.

When things don't work out, it may not be because you did anything wrong. You may be turned down for a job if you're not the best match for a company's needs. The person you are drawn to may be love avoidant, already in a relationship, or a narcissist. While it's important to look at the situation to see what you can learn, adopt a compassionate attitude, rather than judging yourself harshly, so you don't get stuck in shame.

6. Look for the silver lining.

What is the new opportunity that this situation presents? Is there a chance to learn new skills, change your priorities, deepen your relationships, or grow as a person? Try not to see the situation in black-and-white terms or let yourself be defined by it. It's a bad moment, not a bad life. As Alexander Graham Bell once said, "When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."

7. Be willing to try a different approach.

If what you are doing isn't working, you may need to do something different. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you may need to improve your product or service, your marketing strategy, or your interpersonal skills. If there is no market for your services, you may have to reinvent yourself. If you aren't meeting the right type of romantic partners, you may have to try doing different activities or going to different places. If your partner isn't changing or meeting your needs, you may want to focus more on finding your own happiness. Getting what you want often means moving out of your comfort zone and tolerating loss, risk, and uncertainty.

8. Find your grit.

Research shows that persistence and determination are at least as important for success as intelligence. It's difficult to keep showing up, but by doing so, you will gain respect from others and feel better about yourself. Sitting around and ruminating about your problems only makes things worse and interferes with your motivation to take constructive action. Researcher Angela Duckworth uses the term "grit" to refer to individuals who are dedicated to their goals, who are passionate, conscientious, and exhibit persistence over long periods. In studies of different populations, ranging from schoolchildren to West Point cadets, grit predicts success over and above measure of talent or intelligence.

Failure and disappointment are difficult to deal with. Expect to feel sad or angry and to be uncertain about your next steps. Build a support system to keep you motivated while you undertake difficult changes in outlook or strategy. A trained psychotherapist can provide both support and expertise, while friends and family can reassure you of your worth and ability to succeed, or provide material or practical help. With patience, grit, and self-compassion, you can get back on track to build the life you want.

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a practicing psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and expert on mindfulness, stress, career, and relationships. She provides workshops and speaking engagements for organizations, and psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert in national media. She also does long-distance coaching via the internet.

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