If you believe what Nietzsche said about what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, you might want to reconsider, particularly when it comes to failure. According to recent studies of brain chemistry, there’s a reason why we find ourselves on winning and losing streaks. Success begets more success and the same applies to failure.
When you’re winning, you’re getting all the great boosts of testosterone and dopamine, which, get this, actually make you smarter so you’re more likely to keep winning.
Failure on the other hand, delivers a psychological load of problems to wade through. Self-doubt, fear, shame, loss of motivation, depression. The list goes on depending on your background and how you’ve handled failure in the past.
The brain is pretty great at making sure you never experience that painful sense of failure again by sabotaging efforts that entail risk. These are most of the efforts that are truly worthwhile in life! And certainly the ones necessary for achieving great things.
The best thing you can do for yourself after failure is to move on as quickly as possible, so the bad chemicals and habits don’t form a neural pathway (rut) that’s hard to get out of.
As soon as you realize you failed, do this:
Find something you can experience easy success in. Get that dopamine and testosterone hit as fast as you can. Make sure it’s something that will give you a win like a video game, completing a 5k race, or writing start to finish an essay about winning. Basically, complete something.
Be watchful of attempts to avoid risk and possible failure. Remind yourself that failing is a part of achieving success. Google famous failures and revel in how many times Edison failed at the light bulb before getting it right.
Don’t sabotage yourself! This is tricky because you still attempt challenges, but in order to avoid taking responsibility for the failure (if you fail) you set up situations before that you can blame if things go awry. You might go to a party before a big test. Or stay up all night talking to a friend in need before your early morning job interview. These situations, while giving you an out if you fail, may also facilitate the very failure you’re so worried about experiencing.
Go ahead and take a breath and lick your wounds if you need to. A day should be more than enough, an hour is better, and then get back out there. Even if you want to vomit, it will feel better once you’re over the hump and the good chemicals start flowing again.