How to "Bounce back" from failure...and even bounce higher!
Updated: Jul 6
Elements of this piece are quoted in THIS ARTICLE in the Independent.
How to bounce back from failure
Resilience research suggests that when crisis or adversity comes our way we follow one of 4 pathways:
- We succumb
- We survive but we might be impaired
- We bounce back (resilience)
- We thrive
Often with the latter two outcomes, the conditions that have enabled us to survive and recover may have made the necessary “changes” within ourselves or within our environment to encourage new growth and even thriving. It is certainly possible to not only bounce back after failure – but to bounce higher than before.
Unfortunately, what can happen when we falter and fail is that we are so demoralised by the event that rather than trying to learn from it, we supress it and ignore it. That is a wasted opportunity – but it happens because social conditioning often equates failure and fault, and when we feel blame, we tend to feel shame…shame is such a visceral emotion, it is no wonder we’d rather change the subject.
Create the conditions to bounce back
Therefore to be able to bounce back – and even spring forward – from failure the following conditions can help:
- A safe space to “grieve” (or be sad or angry, or other negative emotion) following what went wrong. This needs to be somewhere where one can tune out the negative voices – sometimes it can be through the practice of mindfulness, other times it might be with people who just allow you to be and accept (ie. They are not trying to tell you to “cheer up”), and it is away from nay-sayers and trolls.
o This can mean building a positive network around you of likeminded people
o This can mean finding or creating a specific physical space to do that! (The Geelong Grammar School, for example, reflect on their sports matched with a mindset of forgiveness rather than blame allowing them to can get to the learning points sooner)
- A support network that you can grow from. This is not the “toxic positivity” of “It’ll be fine” – which doesn’t validate your feelings. This maybe someone who explores with you why you feel this way and/or is able to signpost or help you with the practical areas of improvement that you want to pursue.
- Coping strategies to manage emotional upheaval. These can include simple energy boosters such as:
o Savouring moments that make you feel great
o Gratitude practice
o Spending time with those that energise you
o Doing things that you love (eg having a walk or a relaxing cup of tea)
The above serve as ways to keep your mood elevated which can provide a buffer to that “downward spiral” when something goes wrong, keeping you in the mindset that can deal with the controllables, rather than become lost in the vortex of things that are out of your hands.
Develop techniques to decrease your response to stress
The ABCDE technique from positive psychology:
- Eg: Recognise the trigger or “Activating event” (A)
- Recognise your Behaviour patterns following it (B)
- Identify the Consequences (C)
- Choose to do something Different (D) – ANYTHING at all, because it breaks the habit you may have gotten into
- E stands for engagement with Energisers (the first point) because they may give you the continued motivation to do the rest. (Self-improvement is not easy, especially when you’ve been practicing certain habits for a while)
Other tips to bounce back:
- Reflect on how far you’ve come. Ask yourself – If I was faced with this situation last year, how might I have reacted…and be proud of your growth
- Keep building a positive network. Identify the people you love spending time with and:
o Recognise what you love about them, and work to BE those things. (Like tends to attract like)
o Tell them so THEY know their value to you
o Actively choose to spend time with them which will leave less time for the energy vampires (or a least make the time you need to spend with them more pleasurable)
- Practice mediation/deep breathing (outside the point of crisis- so that in crisis you can get the “white noise” out of your head)
o Even if you are not quite in the “meditation room” mindset, you can simply count the paving stones, or the seconds hand on a clock which can regulate your breathing. Even, find a quiet activity that will absorb your focus. I personally like repeating affirmations such as “Even if I cannot control anything else, I can control my breathing.”
Doing the above can prevent the emotional spiral (or make it less deep) when facing failure.
- Learn to say “no” (if you spread yourself too thinly, you do not have time nor energy to reflect on “failure” in a way that can benefit you). While “No.” is a complete sentence, if you struggle with that, try “I’ll tell you later” which can give you time to find an excuse.
- Ask for help – while remembering you are the expert on you. Learn widely, ask widely, read widely, but remember if it doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to do it (again!)
- Practice a positive mindset. Try this challenge – for every negative thought you have about yourself (or others), have two positive ones…and if you find that too much effort, then try not to have the negative thought in the first place.
And remember, why stop at "back" when you can bounce higher
Resilience and recovery has also been related to growth and thriving because sometimes the changes you may in order to survive and recover can assist that growth; but it is not even necessary to have experienced crisis to seize opportunities to thrive - the same principles apply:
1. Ensure you have a supportive network. Now, remember, your friends don't have to be your free marketing specialists - they do NOT need to share your social media posts on their walls to show support (because, hey, it's their wall and how many picture of their babies (literal or figurative) do you share!?) Support is about championing you, encouraging you - and constructive critique when it is needed. If you are hanging around with people who dump on your ideas...stop hanging around with them. If you find your friends are exhausting you...find new friends. People who appreciate value know their own value, and if you are lucky enough to have those people around you, be their champions too.
2. Practice coping strategies. Healthy practices (which often include: physical (eg. exercise, sleep), mental (eg. engagement in what you do, rest time); emotional (eg. relationships) and spiritual (eg. reconnecting with yourself, grounding yourself whether through meditation, or even things like gardening or running/swimming)) as a matter of course form the basis of being able to cope, and they can be developed by engaging with the techniques suggested above (or others you may find yourself) outside the point of crisis.
3. Keep learning, keep developing, keep understanding who you are and who you want to be. Consciously life your life through making active choices. Have an idea of what your ideal life looks like:
- What are you doing?
- Where are you living?
- Who is in your life?
- How much money are you making?
...and regularly ask yourself...is this behaviour taking me towards my ideal life, or away from it?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt