9 Responses to Failure


If you’re like most of us, your typical response to failure doesn’t help you move forward to that next action or goal. In fact, it probably works against you, putting you in a demotivated, disempowered and risk-averse place. This can be detrimental to your continued growth and success.

But guess what? With some awareness and practice, you can begin consciously choosing a response to failure that leaves you much more able to get back into action.

Which of these possible responses to failure is your current default? Which response would help you move through failure and onto your next success?

  1. Self-Doubt Fuel: This reaction looks at a recent failing as added evidence or confirmation that you’re just “not good enough,” “don’t know what you’re doing“ or will “never reach your goal.” It turns a failed action into the conclusion that you yourself are a failure.
  1. Crucial to Learning: This perspective sees failure as critically important to the process of learning. In this mode, you put failings in the context of your bigger-picture goals, and look to identify useful takeaways and lessons learned. You mine the experience for nuggets of wisdom that help propel you forward.
  1. Projection of Judgment: This response takes your own self-judgment and projects it on to others. In other words, you become overly focused on the fear that others must be criticizing and judging you because of your mistake. It puts a lot of emphasis on external approval as a way to gauge success.
  1. Added Drive: “Failure shmailure! Do you think that’s going to stop me?” In this mode, failure becomes added motivation to push through and prove that you can succeed. It activates increased focus and a heightened sense of determination, sometimes to an extreme degree.
  1. Of No Consequence: This is when you’re numb in the aftermath of failure. You don’t attach any feelings, judgments, reflection, or learning to the situation. Instead, you move forward in a state of denial that it happened.
  1. Confirmation of Risk-Taking: In this context, you welcome failure as a good sign that you’re truly stretching yourself. If you haven’t risked anything, you wouldn’t have failed. In this way, failure is seen as a positive. You’re able to move past it, as it doesn’t deflate your sense of self or larger vision.
  1. Anger and Resentment: This reaction takes what could be temporary frustration and amplifies it. In this place, you confuse a desire for success with a sense of entitlement. “I wanted this to happen, so why didn’t it! I deserve it!” Then, in response to not getting that thing, you grow resentful of others whom you perceive as easily getting what they want.
  1. Interesting Information: This response simply looks at an experience of failure with non-judgmental curiosity and interest. When you respond in this way, you aren’t jumping to establish lessons learned or apply a critical eye. You are simply looking at what happened as interesting data. That information might be helpful for your next step, or might need to be discarded.
  1. Someone Else’s Fault: “This wouldn’t have happened if so-and-so hadn’t messed it up!” Through this lens, you jump quickly to identify and blame the role that others played in the situation without reflecting on your own contributions. This is typically a way to deflect personal ownership, vulnerability and the recognition of needed improvement or learning.