A Survival Guide On How To Cope With Failure And Setbacks

So you messed up. Like really bad. 

Maybe you tanked an important job interview or messed up an important meeting at work. Or perhaps you failed an entrance exam or just ended the most important relationship in your life. Or you couldn’t achieve your gym goal or get somewhere on time. 

However big or small the failure, for the majority of us, the first instinct is to wallow in self-pity alone and get out in the world only after we have spent enough time beating ourselves up for whatever went wrong. 

Not only do these habits make you feel worse, but they also instill a fear of failure within you. This fear restricts you from truly taking chances and making the most out of the opportunities that come your way. This is why you need better tips on how to cope with failure. 

To help you get started, we have compiled a complete survival guide on how to cope with failure and setbacks. This will help you figure out why dealing with failure is so damn hard for all of us. It will also provide you with the most effective ways to deal with failure. 

So, if you have had a full-blown crisis recently and do not understand how to cope with feeling like a failure, this is the perfect place to get started. Let’s dive in.

how to cope with failure

Firstly, Why Does Failure Hurt So Much?

Failing is hard. No matter how you look at it, it is painful and constantly chips away at our self-worth and confidence. Even more horrible than the initial feeling is the whole process of learning how to cope with failure. You have to cross many stages and barriers; it almost feels impossible.

If you are somewhat like us, you have probably had a dramatic moment when giving up felt like the only option after a colossal failure. That’s because failure costs us considerable time, money, and dignity. It sticks right into your self-esteem, thereby making it even tougher to cope with it. 

One of the significant reasons why failure is so tough on all of us is because we live in a culture that looks down upon it. Failing is the worst possible thing that could happen to someone. 

As a society, we rarely acknowledge the existence of failure, let alone figure out ways to cope with it. The only time when failures come up in conversations is probably to make an example out of someone. 

While some communities, like tech and entrepreneurship, are slowly recognizing failures, it’s a gloomy scenario for the rest of us. For those with marginalized identities, it is a source of even more shame and social isolation.

Apart from the external factors, there are internal ones that make coping with failure even tougher. We often blame ourselves for things that are beyond our control. This affects our self-esteem and also impacts the way the rest of the world views us. Additionally, having a lack of self-esteem to begin with can complicate the process of learning how to cope with the fear of failure even more. 

So, How Do You Actually Learn To Cope With Failure?

You will find people telling you to celebrate and embrace your failures in multiple TED talks and motivational lectures around you. They are supposed to be the turning point of your life and propel you to greater heights eventually.

Only if it was so easy. 

Research in the past decade has shown that people find it extensively hard to deal with failure. People either completely stop trying or refuse to acknowledge their mistakes and drawbacks. 

They fail to make changes in their lives and learn from their failures. Rather, they spend a lot of energy overthinking how they could have prevented the failure instead.

To help you understand how to cope when you feel like a failure, we have compiled a list of the most effective and non-intimidating ways to deal with failure. Let’s dive in.

1. Try Not To Label Yourself As A Failure.

Failure has a way of hurting where you are the most vulnerable. It constantly affects your self-confidence and chips away at your self-esteem. Therefore, the first step in how to cope with failure is to try mentally removing the ‘failure’ tag from your mind.

One of the best ways to deal with failure is to understand and accept that your mistakes don’t define who you are. Yes, acknowledging and accepting them is essential, but do not make your identity. 

Just because you couldn’t figure out how to do something properly doesn’t mean you should be labeled a failure. Failure is something that happens to you, not your whole identity. 

2. Give yourself time and space.

If you are still reeling from the aftermath of a recent failure, we understand how hard it is for you. Your emotions are at an all-time high. You constantly feel truckloads of regret and are overthinking about what you could have done differently to avoid this failure. 

If all this resonates with how you are feeling, here are some questions that will help you figure out how to cope with failure:

  • Will this failure matter to you after a year? After five years? After ten years?
  • Will this failure obstruct any of your long-term life goals?
  • Was this failure totally because of something that you could have controlled?
  • Was it totally your fault only?
  • How does this failure affect your emotions?

Having answers to these questions will give you the much-needed perspective change. Equipped with these answers, you can effectively decide the best ways to deal with failure going forward. 

3. Understand the importance of failing.

Now, don’t give us the eye-roll. At least not yet. 

We remember saying we wouldn’t give you a motivational lecture, and we plan to stick with that. So, hear us out for a second. 

We all know the age-old saying of failure being the stepping stone for success. But do you know that this has been scientifically proven?

Yes, research shows that being open and honest about your mistakes is one of the best tips on how to cope with the fear of failure. It opens bigger learning opportunities and helps demystify the idea of success. 

In fact, as per research by Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, science students who learned from the failures of their great scientists performed better at experiments than their classmates who didn’t. 

Analyzing failures and mess-ups can also lead to higher learning rates. 

Therefore, accepting and learning from your mistakes is one of the best ways to deal with failure. 

4. Visualize courage.

One of the most common fears of failure is centered around public speaking. Just the thought of giving a speech in front of a group can make people anxious. The solution on how to cope with the fear of failure involving public speaking is simple – exposure. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to take up the mic at your town hall every week. Simply visualizing the scenario while standing in front of a mirror is enough.

This idea of visualizing courage as one of the ways to cope with failure can also be used beyond public speaking. Instead of avoiding your fears, try spending some time being in those situations mentally. Picture yourself facing the fear of failure without being scared. 

This will help you realize that failing is not the end of the world. It will help you understand that not learning is way worse than failing. Eventually, you will be able to replicate this courage in real-life situations. 

5. Redefine what failure means to you.

One of the best tips on how to cope with the fear of failure is to redefine what it means to you. 

Most of us are afraid of failure because we worry about doing something wrong or making a fool out of ourselves. We stress over not meeting our expectations or letting down those around us. 

Reframing what failing means is probably one of the best ways to deal with failure and the dread it accompanies. 

For instance, if you are going for a job interview, the most obvious failure is messing up the interview and not being hired. However, what if you redefined your success as being able to answer each question to the best of your abilities? What if you redefined your failure as being unable to answer any question or receiving negative feedback?

Do you get what we are trying to say now? 

This redefining will help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with your fear of failure. It will also help you accept the results gracefully and with less anger or frustration.


Failing is hard. Not getting what you have worked hard for is tough on all of us. But your failures aren’t the sole decider of who you are. Your failures don’t mean that you aren’t good enough. 

Your failures are, in fact, proof that you dared to try even though you were on shaky grounds.

Learning how to cope with failure is an integral part of your learning process. Don’t believe us, but it’s scientifically proven now! Accepting your mistakes and learning from them is the best way to grow as a person and become a version of yourself.

We hope this list of tips on how to cope when you feel like a failure will help you get started in the right direction. 

Another one of the best ways to deal with failure is to listen to people who have been through them before us. Here are the best motivational podcasts for you to overcome your fear of failure.

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