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By all counts and measures, feeling like a failure is a real thing. In an age fuelled by social media, with its filtered images and glamorous stories, our accomplishments can seem small in comparison, making it easy to feel like we’re falling behind. The tiniest of blemishes can send our minds quietly spiraling under the radar into fits of inadequacy and feelings of failure. You think to yourself, “It must be because I’m not good enough,” “I’m a failure,” “My life sucks.” When you’re feeling down about yourself or life, it may seem like the only plausible reason.
Why is it that some people can navigate failure and even use it to fuel a path toward their life goals, motivations, and drive? When others, however, give up on their dreams and sometimes themselves? The reality is, failure is inevitable. We all experience it, and if you haven’t already, at some point, you will too. However, you don’t have to make it define who you are. It comes down to how you think of failure and approach setbacks.
Failure can be part of the long road toward success, and when the feelings of failure creep in they can be easily shrugged off, or better yet, used to your benefit—but only if you know how to think of it constructively. You are about to learn six simple—yet underrated—methods that you can use to take the feeling of failure and reframe it to your advantage.
Where Does The Feeling Of Failure Come From? (And Why Is It There?)
You can go and search for the words “feeling like” on Google, and you’ll notice that it autocompletes with the word “failure.” That’s because you are not alone, and even the most successful people in the world go through it.
Why is it we go through this feeling even when we’re successful?
The truth is: anyone who has ever succeeded at anything has failed along the way.
Instead of acknowledging how smart, strong, and resilient we are, most of us spend the majority of our time comparing our weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. We keep reliving moments of defeat or developing an unhealthy attachment to an idea of who or what we want to be like.
This “comparison game” eventually leaves you feeling like a failure.
Why do we do that? It doesn’t make any sense—or does it?
You may find this hard to believe, but you’ve probably been—gradually—conditioned to behave this way.
You see it all over the media: millionaire CEOs turned into celebrities, the glamorization of influencers with millions of followers, and hustle-culture workaholism being praised in the spotlight.
All of this sends us a subliminal message of toxic productivity and misleading beliefs of what success should look like.
With such pervasive messages, it’s so easy to assume it to be true for you too.
It’s easy to lose sight of your own strengths and goals and be tricked into following the crowd playing this toxic game: a rat race of achievement hoarding and unrealistic busy schedules.
If you are like many of the millennials out there today, you’re probably spending the majority of your time trying to play this “game” and get it right, too; putting in so much energy and effort thinking it will make you great or bring you happiness.
Either you’re trying to win at something as opposed to learning.
Expanding your social circles as opposed to building friendships.
Chasing a promotion instead of doing what you love.
Trying to fit in just to be liked by your acquaintances or peers.
Getting more “followers” or “likes” on your posts.
And so on…
In reality, if you’re truly honest with yourself, you’ll realize that most of the goals that you set for yourself are externally motivated and don’t hold much merit to you personally.
That’s why you make it your goal to try and collect one achievement after another but still feel dissatisfied and empty inside.
Furthermore, when you don’t succeed at these goals, you internalize the problem and blame yourself.
You begin to assume that maybe you’re playing the “game” all wrong, and you have to do better because you’re just not cutting it.
You think: “I’m such a screw-up. Maybe my best isn’t good enough,” and counterintuitively, instead of doing anything to remedy your situation, you end up demotivating yourself.
So if your spirits are down in the dumps and you’re sitting here thinking: “Why am I such a failure?” you might want to pause and reflect on the question: “What is the reason behind you wanting all of these things in the first place?”
Now the game-changing question becomes, not if you’re playing the game right, but, “Are you even playing the right game?”
Think about it:
Wouldn’t it be terrible to spend your whole life trying to win at a game only to realize you’ve been playing the wrong one all along?
How Feeling Like A Failure Can Affect Your Life
It’s undeniable that failure can be difficult to deal with.
Whether you broke up with your partner, closed down your business, lost at a sports game that you were working hard to win, or lost your job. All these things can be difficult when viewed as failures.
When you feel like a failure for a prolonged period of time, you feel like it’s hard to escape the sadness, anxiety, stress, and even depression that this experience manifests as.
Guilt and shame over your perceived failures can also give rise to the fear that internally whispers, “You will always be a failure.”
These “whispers” are what I call our inner critic.
I define the inner critic as, “An annoying little voice of self-doubt inside your head that always seems to highlight your flaws and wipe out your confidence.”
The inner critic is the bearer of bad news. When failure ends up making you feel down about yourself, your inner critic begins to feed off of that negativity and attacks you with even more destructive thoughts, making you think: “I am NOT worthy of success.” “I DON’T have what it takes.” “I am NOT enough.”
All the things you say to yourself about not being smart enough, good enough, brave enough, make you lose trust in your own abilities.
Its sole job is to tell you what you can’t do, what you aren’t good at, and where you aren’t headed in life. It can eventually start leaving you depressed.
The Link to Depression
When feelings of depression start creeping up, you end up isolating yourself from your family and friends, thinking that you will spare them the burden of supporting you.
These painful emotions can lead to fear of failure and depression, which are associated with sleep disorders, inability to focus, lack of energy, and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
It’s like taking out the vibrant colors and flavor of what life can potentially offer, making it grey and bland.
It’s important to note that these thoughts aren’t painting a perfect picture of reality; however, in the moment it can feel very true to you. You make them true the more you say them to yourself, blurring the lines of what is real and what is exaggerated negative self-projection.
Whether it’s love, a business venture, or a personal goal you set out to achieve, where some view pitfalls as failures, others view them as learning opportunities that show a path forward to the goal. It’s just a matter of perspective.
Even the smallest adjustment to your perspective can have mind-altering shifts to how you begin to think of yourself.
How Your Mind Works Around Feelings Of Failure And Why It’s Your Master Key
“The most powerful potential on the planet comes from your mind.”
We often hear that the mind is really complicated and can take a lifetime to understand. While that might be true to some extent when it comes to understanding its biology, we often make the mistake of thinking that it also applies to our psychology.
The truth is, you don’t really need to know the complexities of your mind to get it to work for you; you just need to know the rules of how your mind functions.
For example, when you are in a state of feeling like a failure, you tend to get sucked into a downward spiral of negative self-talk. You put yourself down and stop trying new things, meeting new people, and seeing the possibilities all around you.
This happens because the feeling of failure can be paralyzing. By not allowing you to act, your mind thinks it’s keeping you safe from potentially failing. However, it stops you from succeeding as well.
“The simple truth is that the human mind has one simple job: to keep you alive for as long as possible.”—Marisa Peer
Change and the Mind
Your mind hates change. That’s because it only knows what worked before to keep you alive. It doesn’t like to deviate away from that, even if it’s good for you.
So if you’ve been living routinely convincing yourself that you’re a failure, your mind will do everything it can to make that your reality. It’ll make you lazier, demotivate you, give rise and more power to your inner critic. It will keep you exactly where you tell it you want to be.
“Your every thought and word form a blueprint that your mind and body work to make your reality.”
At the end of the day, your mind will do what you want it to do and what it believes is in your best interest. With that said, let’s take this thinking and dive one step deeper, and talk about why perspective is important.
Since your mind responds to the thoughts and words you tell it, then, by definition, it will project them and make it reality. With this logic, you can deduce that your reality isn’t what’s out there, but what’s in your mind.
So it’s important for us not to misinterpret our understanding of our experiences.
One common mistake that many of us make is misinterpreting the concept of “failing” vs. “being a failure.” There is a key difference between both and adjusting that perspective plays a positive role in your psyche.
What is the difference between failing and being a failure?
Most of us tend to make a wrong association between “failing” and “being a failure.” Just because you failed at something, doesn’t automatically make you are a failure.
To understand this, you need to distinguish between states and traits.
A state is a temporary way of being, thinking, and feeling that is usually instigated by external circumstances. For example, feeling depressed when you experience a setback, or motivated when you start working on a new project.
A trait is a personality characteristic or a genetic predisposition which influences our personality, attitudes, and behaviors. It includes character qualities that are stable and enduring, such as an affinity towards patience or generosity.
Given that explanation, you could assume that “failing” is a state of being, whereas “being a failure” is a trait.
However, it’s not that simple, and we are often confusing our states with our traits.
The Similarity Between Depression and Fear of Failure
When we feel chronically depressed, we start identifying ourselves as a “depressed person”. We assume depression to be a part of who we are.
“Your mind has no choice but to respond to the pictures you construct and the words you tell yourself.”
The reality is that depression is something that one can let go of and get past. It is not a part of who we are; it is a temporary passing phase.
The same applies to the feeling of failure.
When we fail a few times, we start identifying ourselves with these events and feelings. We start believing that we are a failure and failing is a part of our character: this simply can not be.
Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health explain how it’s important to differentiate between states and traits if we are to understand ourselves better.
Understanding that “feeling like a failure” is a temporary event can help you begin noticing how everything starts with your mind’s projections.
Let’s talk about how we can reframe our mind to navigate the feeling of being a failure and turn it to our advantage.
6 Simple Methods To Shift From Feeling Like A Failure To Success
1. Make smart—positive—choices
Even the smallest of choices can impact your life in big ways. A small choice today can act as a domino effect for big life changes later.
So don’t ever think that small changes don’t matter.
Making a small conscious choice to do something positive can cause a ripple effect of positivity in your life.
The simple formula to follow:
Simple (smart) choices + consistency + time = radical life changes
With every small positive change, you influence yourself, your emotions, and your mind.
“Your thoughts control your feelings. Your feelings control your actions. And your actions control the outcome of your events. So if you change your thinking, you change everything.”—Marisa Peer
Just like how you can get sucked into a downward spiral of negative thoughts, you can also elevate your mind into an upward spiral momentum of positive thought.
2. Practice positive affirmations
One of my Rules of the Mind is: “Your mind is hardwired to love what is familiar.”
So if you’ve been in a negative thought pattern and criticisms for a while, then that is what is familiar to your mind. Even if you want to change, it will try to drag you back.
We can change that by consciously repeating positive thoughts and affirmations.
Throughout my 30+ years of helping thousands of people release their deepest fears and insecurities, I’ve realized that the root cause of most of our issues stem from the feeling that we are not enough on our own.
Leave this deep issue neglected, and you start to fulfill these feelings through disempowering behavior and language patterns: keeping you one step behind who you want to be.
One core practice to tackle this feeling is to reprogram your subconscious—the deeper part of your mind. That’s because most, if not all, of your beliefs are stored there and your subconscious responds to consistent affirmation practice.
You’ve been doing it your whole life anyway, telling yourself that you’re not smart enough, good enough, or deserving enough, but you never considered that to be negative affirmations you tell yourself. You just thought it to be true.
Imagine replacing that thinking pattern with a positive one that empowers, inspires, and drives you toward growth, leaving you feeling good about yourself. Even in the worst of times, this is the place where you will be operating from.
How to practice ‘I Am Enough’ affirmations:
When you get negative thoughts about yourself, don’t judge them. Simply write them down on a piece of paper. Then identify the disempowering word, and replace it with the opposite one that you would like to embody.
Example thought: “I am NOT smart enough,” “I am NOT strong enough,” “I CAN’T do it.”
Replace with: “I AM smart enough,” “I AM capable of doing anything I put my mind to,” “I AM ENOUGH on my own.”
To get some help in the beginning, consider practicing with the ‘I Am Enough’ Guided Meditation. Use it once a day for at least 21 days, and you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to reprogram your mind for success.
”Your words and thoughts are powerful and your mind is always listening.”—Marisa Peer
3. Make what is familiar unfamiliar
Most of us make decisions out of habit or familiarity. In order to harness the power of positive choices you make, you need to be willing to become more mindful and make conscious choices.
You do that by making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar.
Apply that formula to reprogram your mind. You will be able to stop whatever old (negative) habits your mind regularly gravitates towards and make way to build new (positive) ones.
“Your mind is hardwired to resist what is unfamiliar and to return to what is familiar.”—Marisa Peer
So be wary that when you try to drop any old familiar negative habits, you will potentially run into resistance from your mind. It may sound counter-intuitive, but that is a sign that you’re doing it right. So stick with it, because everything you want is right at the edge of your comfort zone.
4. Drop perfectionism and focus on incremental progress
Most of us are trying to create a radical change and sticking to it with willpower. In reality, it can be compared with trying to bench press 100lbs on your first day at the gym. It’s a formula for disaster.
What you want to focus on is the “progress” toward your change, and not the change itself.
Here’s the logic: Focus on improving incrementally. Even as little as a 1% change—yes, you read that right—can have a phenomenal compounding effect that will surprise you.
With a 1% compounding increase every day, it ends up doubling every 72 days. Meaning in under 3 months you double your progress to success—whatever that means to you.
Here’s the math for proof.
Let’s go back to our gym analogy.
Say you want to work from carrying 10lbs to 20lbs. 1% better tomorrow looks like this:
First Day: 10 x 1.01 = 10.1
Second Day: 10.1 x 1.01= 10.201
Third Day: 10.201 x 1.01 = 10.303
It may not look like a big deal early on, but fast forward 72 days later and that’s:
10x(1.01^72) = 20.5
Remember: small changes over time = huge changes later.
5. Awareness can be healing—practice it
Practicing awareness is like growing a muscle. The more you practice paying attention to what is happening around you and within you at a given moment, the more the muscle grows.
You can practice your awareness muscle with mindful meditation.
Now, if you’re thinking, “This is going to take ages, don’t worry about that.”
Remember, start small.
10 minutes a day is plenty.
It can help you take a deep look inside yourself. You will be able to recognize how the emotion of “feeling like a failure” is not a part of you, it is just deeply embedded.
When you bring awareness to that, it can help you let it go and stop it from holding you back.
Be concomitant and patient with yourself. If you miss a day or two, it’s fine. You only fail when you stop trying.
6. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday
Comparing yourself to someone else’s capabilities can often lead you to think about your inadequacies, not your strengths.
For example, when the media glamorizes Elon Musk’s insane 100-hour workweeks, it’s understandable for you to think in comparison: “I’m a failure,” “I’m doing nothing with my life.”
When we decide to become successful, we often look up to others that “have it all.” We pick up our success goals from what they have already achieved. This way is prone to disappoint.
Comparing ourselves with them can become overwhelming, slowly nipping at your confidence and belief in yourself. With such disempowering thoughts, you pave a sure path to give rise to envy or feelings of failure.
Turn it around. Before going after another goal, you need to define what success in this area of life looks like for you personally.
The best person to compare yourself to is your former self. To make this approach easy and attainable, you need to define what a 1% better version of yourself looks like.
You are your best “control group.” If you want to compete fairly with somebody, you’ll want to be competing with yourself.
Moving Past Feeling Like A Failure
The way you respond to failure is within your control. After all, there is a difference between failing and being a failure.
Own your failures and position them as a stepping stone to growth.
View mistakes as an opportunity to learn and adapt. This way you’ll be able to frame failure in a healthy and empowering way.
Reposted with permission from marisapeer.com.
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