10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure

Whether you were denied a promotion at the office or you didn't qualify for a marathon, failing feels bad. Many people will go to great lengths to avoid failing so they don’t have to feel painful emotions.

There are many reasons why you might be feeling like a failure. Some factors that might play a role include:

If you find yourself thinking, "I am a failure," it's important to know that there are things you can do to feel better. Knowing how to deal with failure in a healthy way takes some of the fear out of it—and it might reduce the pain so you can bounce back better than before.

First of all, it's important to acknowledge that everybody fails at one time or another, but that doesn't make us failures—it just means we are human, and that things didn't work out this time.


Embrace Your Emotions

Businesswoman standing on city street with sunlight shining

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Failure is accompanied by a variety of emotions: embarrassment, anxiety, anger, sadness, and shame, to name a few. Those feelings are uncomfortable, and many people will do anything they can to escape feeling emotional discomfort.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making says you shouldn’t try to slough off feeling bad after failure. Researchers discovered that thinking about your emotions—rather than the failure itself—is most helpful.

Allowing yourself to feel bad is motivating. It can help you work harder to find better solutions so that you’ll improve next time.

So, go ahead and embrace your emotions. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and let yourself feel bad for a bit. Label your emotions as you allow yourself to experience them. For example, you might think, "I'm disappointed," or "I'm sad that didn't work out."


Recognize Unhealthy Attempts to Reduce Pain

You might be tempted to say, “I didn’t actually want that job anyway,” but minimizing your pain won’t make it go away. Distracting yourself or filling the void you feel with food, drugs, or alcohol won’t heal your pain either. Those things will only provide you with some temporary relief.

Recognize the unhealthy ways you try to avoid or minimize pain in your life. Turning to coping mechanisms that do more harm than good will only make your situation worse.


Practice Healthy Coping Skills

Calling a friend, practicing deep breathing, taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, or playing with your pet are just a few examples of healthy ways to deal with your pain. Not every coping skill works for everyone, however, so it’s important to find what does for you.

If you struggle with bad habits when you’re stressed out—like smoking or eating junk food—create a list of healthy coping skills and hang it in a prominent place. Then, use your list to remind yourself of the healthier strategies you can turn to when you’re feeling bad.


Acknowledge Irrational Beliefs About Failure

You may have developed some irrational beliefs about failure at some point in your life. Perhaps you think failure means you’re bad or that you’ll never succeed. Or maybe you think no one will like you if you fail.

Those types of beliefs are inaccurate, and they can prevent you from doing things where you might not succeed. Make a point to identify the irrational beliefs that might be impacting your feelings and behavior.


Develop Realistic Thoughts About Failure

A 2016 review published in Clinical Psychology Review of 46 studies examining reactions to failure found that "more positive attributional style" was a strong factor in how resilient people were to the emotional distress caused by failure. In other words, seeing the failure as a result of something specific and external rather than something internal.

When you find yourself thinking that you’re a hopeless cause or that there’s no use in trying again, reframe your thoughts. Remind yourself of more realistic thoughts about failure such as:

  • Failure is a sign that I’m challenging myself to do something difficult.
  • I can handle failure.
  • I can learn from my failures.

You may need to repeat a phrase or affirmation to ward off negative thoughts or to reinforce to yourself that you can bounce back.


Accept an Appropriate Level of Responsibility

It’s important to accept an accurate level of responsibility for your failure. Taking on too much may cause you to unnecessarily blame yourself. On the other hand, blaming other people or unfortunate circumstances on your failure will prevent you from learning from it.

When you think about your failure, look for explanations, not excuses. Identify the reasons you failed and acknowledge what you can do differently next time.


Research Famous Failures

From Thomas Edison to Walt Disney, there’s no shortage of famous failures. Spend some time researching famous people who have failed. You’ll likely find that they did so many times along the way.

Many successful people continue to fail regularly. Actors get rejected for roles, athletes get cut from the team, and business owners get turned down for deals.

Study what they did to bounce back. You might learn skills that can help you in your own life. It can be helpful to see that failure is something that everyone deals with.


Ask Yourself What You Can Learn

Failure can be a great teacher if you’re open to learning. Did you make a mistake? Did you make a whole series of mistakes?

Think about what you could do differently next time. Then, you will ensure your failure has become a life lesson that helped you learn something.

Instead of seeing a failure as a burden weighing you down, look at it as a stepping stone toward your goals.


Create a Plan for Moving Forward

Once you've identified your mistakes and where you can learn from them, you'll be ready to make a plan for moving forward. Remember that dwelling on your problems or rehashing your mistakes will keep you stuck. Stop thinking, "I am a failure," and focus on thinking, "I am capable of trying again."

With your new learnings, think about what you’ll do differently next time. Create a plan that will help you put the information you gained into practice.

Press Play for Advice On Growth

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to build a growth mindset by learning from your mistakes. Click below to listen now.

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Face Your Fears of Failure

If you’ve spent most of your life avoiding failure, it can feel really scary when it finally happens. Facing your fears, however, can be the key to reducing the discomfort.

Practice stepping outside your comfort zone. Do things that might get you rejected or try new things where you could fail. Over time, you’ll learn that failure isn’t as bad as you might imagine. It will help you learn to face your fear of failure in a way that can be productive and help you reach your goals.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes, failure becomes debilitating. If you’re struggling to function after you’ve failed at something, consider seeking professional help. Whether you’ve experienced a failed marriage or you’ve failed in business, talking to a mental health professional can assist you in bouncing back.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nelson N, Malkoc S, Shiv B. Emotions know best: the advantage of emotional versus cognitive responses to failureJ Behav Decis Mak. 2017;31(1):40-51. doi:10.1002/bdm.2042

  2. Johnson J, Panagioti M, Bass J, Ramsey L, Harrison R. Resilience to emotional distress in response to failure, error or mistakes: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. 2017;52:19-42. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2016.11.007

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.