Think back to a time you failed at something meaningful or important to you. Did you feel demoralized, blocked, hopeless, or helpless? Did you feel stuck because you had done what you could, yet were unable to succeed?
If so, you are not alone.
Small Psychological Injuries Can Have Big Impacts
We all know failures are demoralizing, but what we don’t realize is they constitute a form of psychological injury in that they literally distort our perceptions—and thus set us up to fail again. There are three primary ways in which this happens:
Taken together, we are likely to feel hopeless and stuck, which is why so many of us give up after a failure, or perform poorly if we do or must persist.
As an illustration of how powerfully our distorted perceptions affect our behavior, in a recent study, scientists examined the self-care practices of patients with heart failure—developing healthy habits is vital for people with cardiovascular disease. Patients who perceived themselves as having little control over their disease were much worse at self-care than patients who perceived themselves as having more control, even though all were well aware that self-care was vital for their health and longevity. In other words, incorrectly perceiving a lack of control prevented the patients from taking action and applying vital self-care strategies, despite knowing that such strategies were incredibly important to their health and longevity.
The Importance of Regaining Control
To avoid feeling helpless and hopeless, and to address the psychological injuries that failures and setbacks can inflict, you must find ways to regain control of as many aspects of the task or goal as possible.
Let’s look at some examples of how to regain control:
The bottom line is there are always ways we can take control of a situation even when we initially believe we cannot. This is an area in which our mind’s way of responding to failure and setbacks is misleading and potentially damaging. We have to override the defeatism we feel and find ways to assert control. That alone will help us move forward.
For many other tips on how to overcome failure check out, Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014).
Copyright 2014 Guy Winch
Teaser image by freedigitalphotos.net