How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure: 3 Practical Strategies

by Alina on March 27, 2015

in Am I Good Enough?, Career Change, Decision-making, Gut Feeling, Happiness, Impostor Syndrome, Power

Abbey, in the puddle.

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How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure: 3 Practical Strategies

     With enough education, experience and wisdom we’ve accumulated over the years, most of us know on the intellectual level that failure is inevitable and even necessary when we attempt to learn new things or create something of value.

We understand that it is ok to fail on a path to mastery. A rational person who contemplates failure can certainly convince himself that most of his perceived or actual failures are not as horrible as he can imagine.  And yet, when we fail, failure often feels penetratingly awful. The important question is: is there anything that we can do to change that “feeling of failure”, especially in light of our rational thinking about failure as a normal part of progress?

Let’s first dissect our experience of failure. There is a thought, “I failed”, and then there’s a cognitive feeling (the way we experience our thoughts) of “I’m a failure” – what it feels like for us to think of ourselves as failures. Changing our thoughts is not necessarily the key to changing our feelings. For example, if you start telling yourself “I’m a winner”, it doesn’t necessarily translate into your feeling like a winner: “If I’m a winner, why do I feel like a failure?”

     Changing your feeling by changing your thoughts is just as difficult as changing someone’s belief by adding more facts to support your argument.

It is presumptuous to expect that your feelings will change as you change your thoughts, provided that regulating your thoughts is even possible. It is an assumption rather than a fact that our brain-generated mind can examine itself and self-correct according to its new desired specifications. As Robert Burton put it in A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind, “It is the human condition to experience a largely involuntarily generated mind that feels quite strongly that it can rationally explain itself.”

What I believe we can do to change our [cognitive] feelings is to switch our attention to what we know from previous experience makes us feel better. When you feel better, thoughts like “Who cares how I feel if I’m still a total failure!” are not at the forefront of your mind. Instead, in a state of psychophysiological coherence, your analytical thinking, creativity, and overall feeling of well-being improve.

One way to achieve psychophysiological coherence are to put yourself in a state of appreciation. For example, think about spending time with people you love, or make a list everything that you’re grateful for in your life. Here are 3 more practical strategies to shift your attention and stop feeling like a failure:

1. Document your history of success

Start a running list of your accomplishments. You don’t have to show this list to anyone, and the list can contain things big and small, personal or work-related, as well as things that may seem unimportant in the eyes of others. List all the times when you’ve succeeded, when you’ve done things right, according to your own standards. When you feel like a failure, look at this documented history of success and try to add something to it. This switches your focus from thoughts of your failure to thoughts of your successes, hence switching the cognitive feeling.

The success facts on your list won’t necessarily change what you believe about yourself. Still, the list will provide a mechanism for acknowledging the gap between your positive history and negative belief. Seeing this disparity will allow you to move from “I know I’m a failure” to “I believe I’m a failure, although it doesn’t seem to be the fact.” The next step may be to realize that you can choose a different belief. As my mentor and teacher Martha Beck puts it, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

2. Follow the “YES”

Whenever you feel unsuccessful, lonely, or stuck, find and follow the “YES”s in your life that make you feel good, even very small “yes”s, as long as they make you feel more like yourself. Think: who always says “yes” to you? Who wants to work with you? Who gives you invitations? Who is always happy to have you? Who always comes when you call? Who opens doors of opportunities for you? If those “yes”s make you feel seen and recognized, follow them.

Recently, I felt like several doors slammed in my face: “No, you can’t come.” “No, we don’t want to work on that.” “No, we can’t make it.” “No, this is not the right time.” I spent a lot of time ruminating over these “no”s. Yet, I completely neglected all the “yes”s that I’ve also been getting: “Yes, we really want you to join us!” “Yes, we’ll be thrilled to be there!” “Yes, we want to work with you, right away!” “Yes, please submit your proposal.” “Yes, you can choose your own topic for the presentation that we want you to do.” YES! Instead of trying to prove myself to the “no”s, I’ve started following the “yes”s. Thank you for every one of the “YES”s you’ve given me.

3. Do something good for someone else.

Give something of yourself. It can be something small like bringing your neighbor’s garbage pail back after the garbage truck passes, or it can be something big like giving your time, energy and expertise to someone you can mentor, or to a team that can learn something new from you.

It’s rare that generally self-sufficient people would reach out and say: “Hey, I’m lonely, I could really use your company”, or “I really need someone to hear me out. Do you have time?”, or “I’m completely stuck and have no idea what to do. Can you help me?” Reaching out is hard. So, don’t wait: offer a bit of yourself.

It’s nearly impossible to feel like a failure when you give your attention, time, energy, and expertise. (Try this strategy when you feel like a failure, or lonely, or stuck, and let me know how it goes – just send me a 0ne-liner, sharing what you gave of yourself, and whether it helped.  Thanks!)
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     Making a major life transformation on your own is ridiculously hard. If you’re ready to work, though, and ready for help, let’s do this together. Join me for a very personal, deep 3-month executive coaching collaboration project, The Journey VIP program.

Doodle: attention, creativity, perspective

         “The Journey” VIP program. 

This program offers a powerful transformation in the area of your life where you need it most. (You may be surprised how interconnected all areas of your life are, and how much, for example, your work satisfaction is connected with your weight management, and with the quality of your most important relationship).

  • We’ll be working as partners for 3 months (April – June)
  • You will be on my attention radar for any relevant opportunities and learning experiences for you.
  • You will be at the top of my attention list, as we work on accomplishing your personal and professional goals.
  • This is what I can guarantee you as we work together.
  • 6 one-on-one in-depth transformational coaching sessions (about 2 per month).
  • detailed follow-up report after each session
  • Full email support from me personally between sessions
  • Two 30-min intuitive readings (ff you are open and interested) at the beginning and at the end of our collaboration
  • A pdf copy of my book chapter, “Practical Guide for Making Choices without Regrets”
  • Additional surprise resources from my colleagues around the world
  • Financial Investment: $1199 (of course, investment of your time and attention is also essential)
  • We will start our collaboration in April and continue through June.

     We’ll work via phone or Skype, at a time that is convenient for you.  For obvious reasons, the number of participants will be very limited.
     Please e-mail me at with The Journey VIP in the subject line, so that we could start a conversation about the best way to make The Journey VIP package work for you.  No new inquiries for this round of the program will be accepted after March 31st, 2015. Please, let me know if you’d like to be added to the waiting list for the next round. 

With love and gratitude,  

Alina Bas, M.A., Executive Coach & Life Strategist
I coach leaders through making difficult decisions in a way that is aligned with their core values.
Tel.: (917) 208-8094
Connect via Facebook or Twitter
Read my book Skeptic’s Guide to Intuition (available on Amazon)


RECENT ARTICLE: Odd Yet Effective Way to Boost Productivity
Previous articles: Love in the Time of Neuroscience

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Popular article: “Expectations: to Have or Not to Have.” 

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