Find the Positive in Failure

Written by Dr. Dan Johnston

how to manage setbacks and failureWhen it comes to energy, drive and success, attitude is everything.  How do you view a setback?  It's the response more than the setback that will determine your future happiness and success. 

You leave your old, secure job for a fresh opportunity at a hot new company. But one month later that hot company is out of gas and you're out of a job.

An optimist would say, "Well, it's unfortunate, but it's just temporary. I have other possibilities. I did all I could."  This person bounces back from disappointment and stays motivated.

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Pessimists, however, look at the same setback and say, "This is terrible.  I'll never get over it. It just ruins everything.  I don't have what it takes for this business."  This attitutde withers motivation and leads to despair and self-blame.

Which style is yours? If you take the pessimistic approach, you may be making harmful self-fulfilling prophecies, predicting failure and robbing yourself of energy and drive.

If you're plagued by pessimism, give your attitude an overhaul. It just takes awareness and effort. Start by looking at what I call, the three P's of pessimism: permanent, pervasive and personal. 

If you think the situation is permanent, you believe it's unchangeable and the consequences will last forever.  If you allow the problem to be pervasive, it will negatively affect every area of your life.  If you take the situation personally, you fell it's a reflection of your flaws or failure.

Learn to challenge these three P's. 

  • Permanent: Always look to see what can be changed or salvaged;  the old making lemonade from lemons approach.
  • Pervasive: Focus on the specific situation and don't generalize. Don't let one small, isolated problem become like a wildfire roaring through your life affecting everything.
  • Personal: Don't personalize events with self-blame. Accept legitimate responsibility and learn from mistakes but don't beat yourself up for every setback.
The key to changing your pessimistic outlook is learning that you can change it. Accepting this truth is the first step to personal growth. Next, focus on your strengths. Acknowledge your positive efforts, and you'll start living better and happier.

Dan Johnston, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and director of psychological services at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. He also serves on the faculty of the Mercer University School of Medicine. Johnston is the creator of the Awakenings Web site, offering lessons for living.


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