Building Resilience — Bouncing Back After Failure

Resilient plant growing in concrete

Resilient plant growing in concrete I failed last week. It was a major failure.

It was the kind of failure that forces you to simply shut down the computer and walk away for a bit just so you can remind yourself to breathe. And while the failure would have been gut-wrenching on its own, it was a very public failure that came at a time when my team needed me the most. While I’ve experienced loss in my career before, this experience felt different. I had two choices. I could either try to forget what happened and hope my colleagues would as well, or I could reframe the situation and try to turn it into something positive.

I chose the latter. I decided to work on becoming more resilient in spite of my emotions.

Working on building resilience when you’re feeling down is a true challenge, but it’s absolutely necessary. No one builds resilience when things are going well. We learn how to engage healthier coping mechanisms by adjusting our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and experiencing positive results over time.

Unfortunately, there is no playbook or magical formula for building resilience. It’s a very personal process and depends greatly on the person’s resilience baseline. For example, people who have a generally positive outlook on life with a strong internal locus of control seem to bounce back from stress more easily than others. They move from fight or flight into action quickly while others may remain a bit paralyzed by the fear of failing again.

Here are a few ways to build resilience during times of stress:

  • Resist the urge to shut down. When faced with bad news, we often want to run away and wallow in the emotions for a bit. And while it’s important to validate and acknowledge how you’re feeling, be careful not to let negative thoughts drag you further into darkness or isolation. Crawling into bed and replaying every mistake will not help you move from grief into productivity.
  • Instead, engage your support network quickly. If you feel comfortable sharing, explain to them what you experienced and ask them to help you identify ways you could improve in the future. When you find yourself slipping back into negative thoughts, rely on their help to see the positives. A strong support circle will help you find balance and provide a more realistic perspective on the situation.
  • Change up your routine. Go for a walk, take on a new hobby, paint, meditate, or journal. Help your body and mind become active in a new positive way and your thoughts will follow.
  • Set new goals for yourself. The fastest way to pull yourself away from a past failure is to direct your energy toward a positive and healthy future. Set a goal for yourself in an area that brings you energy.
  • When you’re in a healthier mental place, take time to think through the failure you experienced. Write down all the things you did well, and consider the things you will do differently if the opportunity presents itself. It’s critical that you don’t dwell on the negative here. Instead, think of this as a second chance to make things right. By learning from our mistakes, we create a playbook how to avoid feeling this way again.

Building resilience and overcoming adversity is a life skill that takes time, energy, and motivation. As you work to improve your mindset and move toward action, don’t forget to give yourself grace. It’s important to remember that we all fail from time to time. The failure doesn’t define us. It’s what happens next that matters.