We’re not going to start with an “It’s okay to fail repeatedly” sort of talk. Why do we mire ourselves in failure?
Because it’s not okay. It’s not okay to keep failing unless you’re trying to change the world by changing yourself.
*By the way, changing yourself does change the world. So keep at it!
You shouldn’t give two S*iT$ about failing to meet others’ expectations. Forget about conforming to what “society” (yes, including your family) expects of you. Obeying the law and treating others with loving kindness are the only dues you owe.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill
To truly “fail” is to fail yourself.
You should undoubtedly care about failing yourself. To be clear, to fail yourself isn’t to experience missteps along the way – everyone does.
Please understand that success and failure are defined on an individual level. In much of the developed world, culture promises that things like education, possessions, money, and some religion will make you happy. Maybe these things will, but most likely they will not. Not really – and not over the long-term.
5 Techniques To Stop Feeling Like A Failure
1. Seek happiness internally.
The explanation is simple: People who buy into the promises of society or anyone else are relying on the external world to deliver internal (and highly individualized) happiness. Psychology – and common sense – tells us that this is highly improbable.
Breathe? Really?! “Don’t I breathe already?”
Yes, but if you’re like many people, you probably breathe very shallowly.
Proper breathing is one of the life’s most precious gifts. Diaphragmic breathing can change your heart, mind, and spirit. It can make us happier, less stressed, and more resilient.
Here’s how to practice diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) per the Cleveland Clinic:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
Start by practicing this technique 5-10 minutes every day.
3. Allow yourself to feel
Personal failure can take a heavy emotional toll – and this is okay. Remember that it is not the situation that determines your happiness, but your reaction to that situation.
Feel afraid, sad, frustrated, confused…whatever you need to feel at that time – but do so non-judgmentally. Be kind to yourself.
Buddhism calls this type of emotional processing acceptance. We can accept these emotions and feel them without attaching to them.
Proper breathing activates the parasympathetic area of the nervous system (PNS), which suppresses the fight-or-flight response. Fight-or-flight is responsible for fear, anger, and all other negative emotions.
Another simple breathing exercise just for this purpose:
- Inhale through your belly for 3 seconds. Pause briefly.
- Exhale for 5-6 seconds.
- Repeat 6 times.
Congratulations. You just activated the PNS!
Please try this the next time someone cuts you off in traffic. You’ll be amazed!
4. Understand the benefits of failure
We’ll quote Churchill one more time:
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
So let’s critique ole’ Winston a bit. We’d all love nothing more than to fail and remain enthusiastic. But unless you’re a Yogi or monk, it’s probably not possible.
What’s possible is recognizing the benefits of failure – and there are many. Here are three:
First, failure is inseparable from self-realization and accomplishment.
Second, failure strengthens our character and willpower.
Third, it is through failure that we learn who we are – and how much further we must go.
“Character is what you are in the dark.”
Failure is an excellent teacher of character because it has a way of exposing us to the dark.
5. Occupy your mind
Time to get to work!
In all seriousness, there may not be a better way of overcoming the fear of failure than using your beautiful brain.
Nothing takes your mind off of the negative like hard work. On the other hand, if you need a break, take one! Engage in a hobby or find a new one, take a nap, read a good book – whatever you enjoy! Joyful distraction can be productive too! Just don’t get lazy.
Occupy your mind, and you’ll have much less to be afraid of!