Feeling Like a Failure? Here Are 4 Ways to Cope

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Are you overly critical of yourself? Do you feel like you’re not measuring up to your peers in some way? 

Everyone has moments when they’re feeling like a failure in life. This sentiment is especially common in the modern day of social media and highlight reels. But criticizing yourself does nothing except demoralize you and diminish your sense of self-worth

Below are some recommendations for coping with feelings of failure.

1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparing yourself to others is pointless and often makes you feel that you’re lacking in some way—in reality, everyone’s at a different point in life at different times based on our priorities, values, and other external factors that are out of our control.

Consequently, another person’s life position is irrelevant to you because you’re a different person—you have different values, a different family and upbringing, and different life circumstances. While they might be in their prime now, you might be on the rise and reaching your prime while they’re on their decline.

Many aspects of our society thrive by making us compare ourselves to others like social media and marketing campaigns for clothes, makeup, and other material goods—if we don’t have this thing, this life, or look this way, then we aren’t good enough. Mind coach Vex King (Good Vibes, Good Life) recommends distancing yourself from social media and other pressures if you’re falling trap to the self-comparison complex.

2. Set Your Own Goals

In 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson echoes King’s idea that comparing yourself to others is pointless. But Peterson takes it further and explains that if you’re feeling like a failure, you need to stop judging yourself by other people’s yardsticks. Instead, you need to set your own. You need a total reworking of your goals, starting with understanding yourself as though you were a stranger. There are three steps to it:

Step 1: Take a broader view of your existence and of other people.

You’ve likely identified a single, arbitrary dimension as THE single most important thing to achieve—like money, fame, or status—and you’re feeling like a failure because you don’t have it. But as Peterson points out, your existence is multidimensional: You have a lot of components to your existence—family, friends, personal projects, hobbies. So, you should judge your success across all the games you play. 

Furthermore, there isn’t a binary condition of “success” vs “failure.” There are many gradations in between. What matters is whether you can get better, not whether you can achieve binary success.

Finally, you’re likely only seeing the highlight reel from other people. They don’t expose their deep problems and failings. You’re likely overvaluing what you don’t have and undervaluing what you do. Even the very people you envy might secretly envy you, in ways you’re not aware.

Step 2: Drill deeply into your discontent and understand yourself.

You’re likely discontent about not having something (like money, a particular job, an achievement). Drill into your discontent and transform it. What do you want? Why do you feel this way?

As you question yourself, you may realize that there are multiple conflicting desires at play. List them all out, realize the conflict between them, then prioritize them into a list.

Is the subject of your discontent within your control? If not, look somewhere else. Find something you can fix.

Step 3: Transform your goal into something achievable. 

You might have big goals, and that’s good. But break it down to something tractable you can do today. Then you’ll start building ever upwards.What one small thing can you start doing right now that will improve your life? Do that for a month, then three months, then three years, and now you’re aiming for the stars.

TITLE: 12 Rules for Life
AUTHOR: Jordan Peterson
TIME: 31
IMG_URL: https://www.shortform.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/12rules_cover.jpg
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: 12-rules-for-life-summary-jordan-peterson

3. Celebrate Your Successes 

It’s common to focus more on our failures than our successes. In fact, you may be doing very well in life, but you’re feeling like a failure because you focus on failure. According to Jack Canfield, the author of The Success Principles, there are three main reasons we tend to focus on failure rather than success: 

  1. As we grew up, our family and teachers emphasized our failures. For example, your parents may have reacted to a good grade by saying, “Nice work,” but to a C or less by giving you a lecture. Or maybe your teachers marked wrong answers with a red pen rather than marking correct answers with a check mark. As adults, we may continue to emphasize our failures rather than our successes.
  1. We remember events associated with negative emotions better than those associated with positive ones. Failure produces strong negative emotions. As a result, many people think they have many fewer successes than they actually do because their memory emphasizes failures.
  1. We define success in a specific way. People tend to define success as an important life event, like graduating from college. But this definition undermines everyday successes like skipping dessert, doing laundry, or making an important phone call at work.

Because it’s more natural for us to dwell on our failures, we have to make a conscious effort to reorient our focus. Canfield recommends several activities to celebrate your successes:

  1. Identify nine major successes you’ve had. Divide your life into three equally sized chunks. For example, if you’re 30 years old, your chunks would be from 0 to 10, 11 to 20, and 21 to 30. Then, write three successes for each stage. For example, a success in the 0 to 10 group might be that you participated in your first piano recital.
  2. Write 100 ways you’ve succeeded. People usually find it easy to come up with about 30, but identifying more can be difficult. To get to 100, include small successes. Examples include saving $50 to buy your first video game, learning to ride a bike, and starting a family.
  3. Surround yourself with symbols of your success. Create a victory wall where you display symbols of your accomplishments. These might include trophies, diplomas, or thank-you cards you’ve received. You can also create a written record of your successes. Every time you succeed, log it in a notebook or on your computer. If you’re preparing for something important and feel anxious, read your log.
  4. Recount your successes in front of the mirror every day. At the end of each day, stand in front of your mirror, look yourself in the eye, and recount your successes aloud. Work through your whole day, citing successes large and small. Finally, tell yourself, “I love you.” At first, you may experience adverse reactions such as anxiety, wanting to cry, or crying. These are normal reactions when you’re not used to acknowledging yourself. They’ll diminish after a few days. Commit to doing the exercise for three months; many people do it longer.

TITLE: The Success Principles
AUTHOR: Jack Canfield
TIME: 90
READS: 118.1
IMG_URL: https://www.shortform.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/the-success-principles-cover.png
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-success-principles-summary-jack-canfield

4. Challenge Negative Self-Talk

If you constantly think about all the ways you’re falling short in life, you’ll view yourself as a failure. Consequently, a negative self-image will hamper your ability to perform successfully because you can only perform up to the level you believe you can. 

To stop negative self-talk, first, recognize how you communicate with yourself. When you see negative thoughts about yourself for what they are, you can begin separating them from your self-image. As negative thoughts about yourself arise, stop them by setting a rule that you’re not allowed to speak to yourself that way. 

Additionally, instead of focusing on the problems that might hinder your success, focus on the solutions you can use to improve things. When you center your thinking around problems, they become bigger in your mind, and you make decisions based on fear. 

For example, if there’s something you don’t understand at work, don’t focus on thoughts like, “I’m not smart enough to do this,” or “I don’t belong here.” Instead, consider possible solutions, like finding resources you can use to research your question or thinking of people you can ask for help. 

Final Words 

Many people struggle with feeling like they’re falling short in life in some way. But this attitude—whether it’s true or not—actually prevents you from succeeding. If you’re feeling like a failure in life, the first step is to understand why you feel that way. Are you judging yourself against an unfairly harsh standard? Do you set unreasonably high expectations for yourself? Or perhaps you let negative thinking get the better of you? Whatever the reason, know that it’s within your power to transcend these feelings and feel proud of yourself—it’s just a matter of reorienting your focus.

If you enjoyed our article about feeling like a failure, check out the following suggestion for further reading: 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson argues that you are frustrated in life and feeling like a failure because you value and prioritize the wrong things, thanks in part to society’s emphasis on positive thinking, over-involved parents, and susceptibility to superficial social media messages. This leads us to pursue emotional highs that don’t lead to lasting happiness.

The solutions are counterintuitive and include: be wrong, fail, tolerate feeling bad, accept pain, practice rejection. Because we can’t care equally about everything, we need to prioritize and focus on what brings us happiness and meaning. In other words, we need to carefully choose what we give our f*cks about.

Feeling Like a Failure? Here Are 4 Ways to Cope

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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