The Psychology of Failure, or the Art of Falling: How to Relax and Have Fun

    In the SmartProgress blog, we already talked about the delights of procrastination, the psychology of setting goals and the reaction of our brain to multitasking. Now is the time to talk about what we all face and are afraid of. About failures. Lesions cannot be a pleasant experience, and, unfortunately, we are not able to foresee everything and completely isolate ourselves from them. But it is in our power to learn to control ourselves. To do this, you only need to understand what happens in our consciousness and subconscious when we fail.

    It is not amazing, but our mind is fooling us, forcing us to believe in those things that are far from reality. It is very important to be able to distinguish truth from deception and transform your failures into a valuable (albeit bitter) experience.

    To begin with, let's discuss a couple of startling facts about how failures change our perception of reality, and see why our subconscious mind often plays wicked jokes with us.

    Inflating an elephant from a fly ...

    After we failed, our goal, which was not achieved, seems to be much less achievable.

    Eloquent confirmation of this phenomenon was the results of studies conducted by American psychologists. A group of people was given the task of hitting the ball with the ball in the crossbar, while the field on which the studies were conducted remained uncharted. What is noteworthy, for those who failed, the crossbar seemed to be located farther and higher from them than it actually was - and than it was seen by those people who successfully coped with the task.

    In other words, failures automatically distort our perception of our goals, and they begin to seem more inaccessible than we previously imagined. It is amazing how our assessment differs from reality.

    Elephant and pug

    The most offensive is that we are fooling ourselves not only by overestimating our goals, but also by underestimating ourselves. The bitterness of failure affects our self-perception: we begin to underestimate the level of our abilities and intelligence in our own eyes, we believe that we do not have enough talent or certain moral qualities to achieve goals. It is not true!

    Chain reaction, or how our brain works when we fail


    When failures, most people feel their own helplessness. Why does this happen? The fact is that we receive psychological trauma, and our mind in response to this trouble, without asking permission, begins to take measures, trying to isolate us from further pain. How? It makes us feel complete hopelessness and lose faith in the fact that we are generally able to do something to achieve success in the matter in which we failed. So our consciousness protects us from further failures. Only here there is one side effect that mother nature clearly did not take into account: together with the danger of defeat, such a scenario robs us of the possibility of success.


    Having failed only once, we can “acquire” a chronic subconscious fear of defeat. Some people are sure that they are “afraid of success”. They are mistaken - in fact, they are afraid of failure, although this is not easy to admit. A huge problem with fears is that most of them are subconscious. Therefore, we are not able to evaluate them, to understand whether they are real, justified or completely irrational. And we can, without even realizing this, avoid everything that is associated not only with potential failure, but also with potential success.

    Fear of defeat is contagious

    Yes, this may seem unexpected, but the fear of failure is contagious. And parents pass it on to their children. People who themselves are afraid of defeat tend to react nervously to the failures of their children - and the latter subconsciously begin to perceive failure as something unacceptable.

    Chain reaction

    Thus, our reason from “the best motives” forces us to do things that will make us unhappy in the long run, although they are designed to protect us from unpleasant emotions associated with failures.

    A striking example of this is subconscious self-sabotage. Those who are unfamiliar with this term, I can assure you that most of us have come across this in our lives at least once, and some have even achieved some skill in this unusual matter. Self-sabotage is a model of a person’s behavior, in which he contradicts himself and prevents him from achieving his own goals. Have you ever experienced confusion when you want to do something, but, on the other hand, find a lot of reasons for procrastination? It is worth adding unbelief in yourself and your bright future, and often envy of other, more successful homo sapiens.

    Then a person comes up with excuses for his insolvency and creates situations himself that can both justify his defeat in his own eyes and protect him from the convictions of others. This includes the exaggeration of the importance of some side tasks, the adoption of decisions that obviously interfere with success. It also does not do without a “hardcore”: psychosomatic symptoms such as exaggerated stomach pain and a headache are what we direct ourselves to in search of the desired “distraction” that will prevent us from moving towards our goal.

    For example, a student who wants to pass the exam, but fools around until the last, and then goes to a party on the eve of Doomsday, does nothing more than self-sabotage. And he has an explanation why he will fail the exam - he had too much fun and slept little.

    This is the irony, my friends, subconsciously we want to protect ourselves from failure, but we ourselves doom ourselves to them. As a result, we have no choice but to take everything into our own hands.

    How to deal with it

    Failures are dangerous because failure makes us believe in our own helplessness - this is what most people feel. Failure can greatly suppress us, make us feel hopeless, give rise to both conscious and subconscious fears, and cause feelings. But we can keep the punch. You just need to pick the right weapon.

    A New Look at Failure - Learn to Fall

    Chop on your nose that those peaks that you wanted to achieve, but failed, remained where you were before before your failure. All that has changed is your perception and attitude towards them. So we need to try to believe in ourselves again and get rid of the veil, which prevents us from seeing the obvious: we took a step and stumbled, got bumps and gained experience, or maybe even moved forward a little. At the same time, our goal did not break loose and did not disappear across the ocean - it did not become more difficult, the road to it did not become more thorny than it was before our fall.

    It's time to get up and try again - and it is possible that the previous bitter experience can save us from some setbacks in the future. Try to take failure as a lesson that will help us succeed in the future.

    Need to know your enemy in person

    To do this, you need to carefully study the task that you failed. Break it down into those aspects that you are able to control, and those that are not dependent on you. Then go through the list of things that you cannot influence, and think about what needs to be done to take them under control. Maybe careful planning, communication, preparation, additional knowledge or skills will help you? Then focus your attention on everything that you are able to change. This will be a good antidote to helplessness and depression, which will accelerate the healing of spiritual wounds caused by failure, and help you achieve success.


    If you are defeated on the way to your dream, this does not mean that you are not worthy of it. Perhaps you just needed to break it down into tasks, the solution of which, step by step, will bring you closer to what you want. You can read about the art of goal setting here .


    This is the next step. Since the previous scheme of actions let you down, now you need to carefully plan your new path to the goal, taking into account the pitfalls that you have already run into. Do not forget about plan B - perhaps it was precisely his absence that led you to failure. If you think ahead of the retreat techniques, then the fall will not be something tragic - it will simply be a transition from one tactic to another.


    People will help you overcome fears and cope with emotions, gain faith in yourself and see the path to your goal. Turn to your loved ones, to those people who have achieved success in what you burned. They will help you understand that failure is normal, and we all make mistakes. Try to work out with a coach or find yourself a mentor. They will teach you to rise after a fall and move on. For some reason, many believe that they do not need outside help - but this is not so, it is much easier for us to achieve our goals in a team of like-minded people who will motivate us to new achievements.

    In the vastness of SmartProgress, you will find thousands of stories of people who, despite failures, have managed to achieve their goals - precisely thanks to a good plan and the support of other people. And that means you can do it!

    Leveling skills - plus in karma

    Oddly enough, it’s just the right time to compare human willpower with muscles — without proper exercise, it will atrophy, and when overstrained, it needs rest. Our brain needs glucose so that it can not only think clearly, but also show sufficient willpower to fight against itself, procrastination and other difficulties. Therefore, watch how much effort and willpower you exert during the day, and do not forget to take breaks for rest and snacks (indulge the brain with glucose).

    We hope this article has been helpful to you. Guy Winch, Shawn Achor and Kathryn Schulz, as well as Guy Winch's publications, used TED's psychologists to write it.

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