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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Starting Over: 10 Helpful Tips to Overcome Setbacks or Failures

overcoming failure

For most of us life can be an ongoing cycle of challenges, disasters, loss, pain, successes, accomplishments, gains, happiness, and failures.

Although, no one’s cycle of life looks exactly the same, with each milestone occurring at various and differing times in life, we all experience ups and downs at some point. It may come as no surprise that life can be both fulfilling and draining, leading to mixed messages and confused feelings.

It is not uncommon for those of us who may have experienced more failures than successes to become disillusioned. Becoming disillusioned with life is typically attributed to individuals who believe they will never accomplish what they want, have a negative self-image, believe they are prone to making constant mistakes, or possibly destined for failure. Many of these negative perceptions and feelings have a real basis; they may have been generated as a result of repeated past failures, i.e., multiple unsuccessful relationships, failure to move forward in a career, unable to meet personal goals, etc.

Making mistakes, experiencing setbacks, and enduring failure is a normal recurrent part of life. For some people, making mistakes (which are often unavoidable) can be so upsetting that they miss out on the primary benefit of failing. Failures just like successes offer many significant benefits, such as identifying where we went wrong, what we would need to do differently, developing a smarter approach to manage the challenge, building resiliency, etc.

When it comes to failing, our egos are our own worst enemies. As soon as things start going wrong, our defense mechanisms kick in, tempting us to do what we can to save face. Yet, these very normal reactions — denial, chasing your losses, and hedonistic editing — wreak havoc on our ability to adapt.

In order to achieve success, we must first recognize failure. Recognizing failures is one of the largest obstacles people can encounter in their journey to success. Many of us have been taught through ongoing effort “persistence pays off,” so it feels wrong to end a failing relationship, separate ourselves from negative people, change paths, or cut our losses and label an idea a failure. However, if you find yourself going through the motions of the same behaviors expecting a different result, then it’s time to do something different, to change course. Being able to recognize and accept a failure means you will be able to re-cast it into something more likely to succeed.

Those of us who repeatedly beat ourselves over the head following a mistake, or allow others to do it, run the risk of becoming fixed on the idea that successes — no matter what area of our lives — are unattainable. Upon hearing we have failed time and time again from ourselves and others, we start to believe that we are somehow flawed. Being bombarded by negative thoughts and inferences can slowly breakdown our self-esteem. Unfortunately, for some of us, we begin to assume if others are saying that we are a failure, it must true, there is validity to their assertions. We begin to adopt the negative words or perceptions of others as our own.

10 Helpful Tips to Overcome Setbacks or Failures

·         Recognize failure

·         Gather feedback

·         Remove emotions from the equation

·         Take ownership of the mistake

·         Accept that you have made a mistake or suffered a failure

·         Don’t get too attached to an idea or plan

·         Identify areas of your life that require additional attention and work

·         Identify options that can help you address the problem from different angles

·         Develop a new plan

·         Understand failures are a necessary process towards success

Although, you may not consider negative thoughts or maintaining a negative belief system to be harmful, thinking negatively of yourself can do a lot of damage.

Negative thoughts and feelings can create emotional crippling that can take on very real physical challenges. When you internalize negative thoughts or a negative self-image your body absorbs it, now taking on physical characteristics such as feelings of nausea, anxiety, rigidity, etc.

The perception of failure can be a difficult cycle to break but you must identify there is a cycle and devise a new plan to address it in order to move forward in a healthy manner. No one is perfect, therefore, if you are willing to accept successes in life you must also be willing to accept the mistakes that come along with them. After all, how could you possibly recognize or appreciate the successes or accomplishments in life if you have never experienced losses and failures?

Starting Over: 10 Helpful Tips to Overcome Setbacks or Failures

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2016). Starting Over: 10 Helpful Tips to Overcome Setbacks or Failures. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Aug 2016
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