Self-Improvement doesn’t always go the way you want. Despite our best efforts, things still go wrong. But how we respond to failure may be more important than you think…

Didn’t make it to the gym today? Fell off the diet wagon with a huge piece of pie? Turned over and went back to sleep? Dealing with failure is an essential ingredient of Self-Improvement.

On my own journey of Self-Improvement I have met with many, many failures. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I write this blog: so that you can learn from some of my mistakes! But whether or not you take my advice, you will eventually meet with a “failure” of your own.

Failing is unavoidable.  But how you deal with it will determine your progress: “failing successfully” is an art. And it’s one worth developing…

Feelings are not facts

Failing at something, particularly something significant, can be very emotional. When we break a promise to ourselves or make a wrong choice, we can feel that we have let ourselves down. Self-doubt and self-condemnation can easily take hold.

But feelings are simply the responses we choose to attach to our circumstances. Don’t like feeling down about yourself? Then choose not to. This may sound easier to say than to do, but the sooner you leave your own pity-party, the sooner you’ll move on from your failure and get back on track.


…If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
(from “If” by Rudyard Kipling)

Kipling had it right: neither failure nor success are fundamentally important: what matters is our journey. Failing is just another signpost along the way. When we take our failures too seriously, we can miss the opportunities they afford us:

  • Failure as a STARTING POINT
    One good way of viewing failure is an opportunity to start again. For example: I like to count the number of consecutive days I have successfully got up at 5.00am (see my blog post about this.) Occasionally, particularly after a late night, the alarm goes off and instead of getting up I turn over and go back to sleep. FAIL! Yes, I get a little annoyed or disappointed with myself at some point later in the day, but why dwell on it? Instead, I renew my efforts to rise at 5.00am and start the count all over again. Maybe this time I can beat my record…
  • Failure as LEARNING
    I think I learn more about myself or my work when things go wrong than at any other time. As I have developed this blog and tried to share it with the world, my failures have taught me many things about internet promotion. My “try-it-and-see” approach has resulted in multiple failures and each time I learnt something new (like the famous Edison light-bulb story.) Discovering how not to do something is always a step in the direction of mastery. If you don’t try, you don’t fail; if you don’t fail, you don’t learn!
  • Failure as OPPORTUNITY
    Several years ago, whilst recovering from depression (see my About Me page), I found the words of the Serenity Prayer particularly apt:

    Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    the courage to change the things I can
    and the wisdom to know the difference.

    As a depression sufferer, the concept of failure was very real to me. Learning to discern between the things I could change and the things I could not was vital to my recovery. Failure gives you the opportunity to reassess your position: why did you fail? What could you have done differently? What could you change to improve your chances of success next time? At the heart of my Self-Improvement lies both the serenity to accept those failures I have no control over and the opportunity to tackle the rest with courage and tenacity.

Excuses, excuses!

One of the worst ways to use failure is as an excuse:

  • You break your diet in the morning and then eat badly for the rest of the day, saying, “I’ll start again tomorrow…”
    No!  Start again now!
  • Your resolve weakens and you buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke one, thinking, “I’ll just finish the packet and then try again…”
    No! Jump up and down on them, cut them up, shred them, whatever: just throw them away!
  • You know you have to finish your assignment but you start watching a TV show, telling yourself, “I’ve started now so I’ll just watch this and then I’ll get started…”
    No! Turn it off and do your important task first. You can always record the show to watch later anyway.

The sooner you get back on track after a failure, the more likely you are to succeed, because you are demonstrating your commitment to the process and signalling to yourself that, in the end, failure is not an option you are willing to settle for. Be intentional. Be consistent.

Take Action

How do you handle failure? As a disaster or as an opportunity? How could a different ‘take’ on a bad situation help you move forwards more successfully? 

If you have your own ideas or tips about handling failure, please feel free to email me or add them to the comments below. I would love to hear from you! Make sure you download my free eBook for more Self-Improvement ideas, too.  

To our continued Self-Improvement and success!

David Hendra
The Self-Improvement Guy