We’ve all been there. Maybe it was the job interview that didn’t go well. Perhaps the long-awaited client pitch that didn’t hit the mark. A conversation that started well but somehow ended badly. The task we promised to finish but then missed the deadline. All of these things can challenge and unsettle us. It is tempting to get stuck in rumination over what didn’t work and allow the inner critic to berate and point out all our flaws. Remember that our thoughts formulate our beliefs which in turn can drive our behaviour. Unchecked negative critical language can sour motivation and drain self-belief like water swirling down a plug hole.
There is another way. A priority is to restore self-confidence, dial-up your resourcefulness and build resilience for the future. You might like to try these four tips:
1. Focus on the lessons that you have learnt from the situation. Change the narrative. Ask: what was within your control? What was outside your control? What might you influence next time? What might you do differently to get a better outcome? List the issues, any ideas and the options for what action you might potentially take when preparing to deal with future situations.
2. Consider similar situations where you did succeed. What worked for you last time? Make a list of the strengths you used, the support network you tapped and the resources you accessed. Now you have a toolkit upon which you can build.
3. Think about inspiring examples where someone has faced something difficult and responded in a way that led to a better than expected outcome. What strategies, strengths, resources or insights appear to have helped them along the way? What might you take from their example for your situation?
4. Work on your mindset to deal with the fear of future failure that can paralyze the ability to envisage and plan for success. Change can be unsettling even when it is self-directed. Often FEAR is a key driver: meaning False Evidence Appearing Real. When this happens your primitive “fight/flight/freeze” response kicks in, and you react instinctively to something new as a perceived threat. The brain goes into survival autopilot and focuses on the worst-case scenario. You begin to collect evidence that confirms your belief that you will fail. The result is that your “panic zone” is activated and, of course, this makes it unlikely that you will succeed. The vicious cycle continues. The important thing is to notice when you are tipped into autopilot, then choose to do something about it.
Here is a framework to self-coach in these situations. Created by the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center as part of the Penn Resilience Program, this works because it enables us to cultivate our ingenuity, gain perspective and challenge disbelief. Knowing that situations can work out in different ways means we can ask:
1. What’s the worst that can happen?
What’s my evidence for this?
How can I act to mitigate the worst?
2. What’s most likely to happen?
Is this ‘good enough’?
If not, how can I improve on this?
3. What’s the best that can happen?
How can I act to enable this?
What will this take?
What support do I need?
Where might I find this?
What’s the first step?
Practice self-compassion as you ask these questions. It is natural to feel annoyed, sad and upset after experiencing a disappointment. All emotions are valid. It is just some are not as helpful to you as others. You can reframe challenging situations so that you bounce back stronger.