Can you recall the last time you failed at something?

Do you remember the most recent time you felt pretty embarrassed in public?

Just thinking of these times can conjure up a host of unpleasant memories.  You may get a queasy feeling in your stomach or your breathing may accelerate as you recall the last incident where you experienced a failure or embarrassment, or both.  Yes, failure can make you feel pretty bad.  And embarrassment, especially public, can make even us grown adults feel like vulnerable, humiliated kids back on the playground being singled out for some perceived inadequacy.

The troubling thing about failure is that it often stifles and paralyzes us, causing us to avoid action and shudder at the possible risk of a repeat.  Instead of being a source of learning, it can become the source of our worst insecurities, destroy our self-confidence, and cause us to avoid future risk at all cost.

Yet our ability to bounce back from failure quickly, weather blows to our confidence, and overcome tough challenges is the very thing that helps us succeed in the long run.

Case in point:

I don’t watch network TV much, but I admit to being a bit hooked on the show, “The Voice”.  On the show, celebrity wannabe singers sing a song to four celebrity singer judges who have their backs turned to them.  If the judges like what they hear, they turn their chairs around and compete to be the singer’s “coach” and try to help them ultimately beat out their competition and be the next “Voice” winner.  Sometimes, all the chairs turn around because they love what they hear.  And sometimes, well, none of the judges turn around…

None of the judges turned around for one particular contestant hopeful a few years ago.  She sang her heart out to four celebrity judges on public television, in front of millions of TV viewers, and not one judge wanted to be her coach.  After she experienced this failure, the judges then gave her some strong feedback about her voice and what she needed to do to improve—right there on public television.  She obviously failed to hit the mark.  How embarrassing, right?

Well, this season, she came back!  She took the feedback, practiced, honed her skills, and tried it again!  Yep—she could potentially fail and risk public embarrassment once again.  What if her prior potentially humiliating experience happened again? She could have easily used her prior experience as an excuse to give up singing or to totally obliterate her confidence.  She instead made actionable use of the feedback, got up, brushed herself off, and tried again.  This time, her experience was totally different.  All four of the celebrity judges turned around to compete to be her coach!  She used her failure and embarrassment as fuel and learning to make adjustments and propel her performance the next time around.

So how can you develop the resilience to overcome setbacks and challenges quickly to help propel you rather than paralyze you?

Here is one so simple and very effective practice to help strengthen your personal resilience:

Reframe the negative storyline running in your head about the perceived “failure” and plan what you will do differently the next time.

1.  Remind yourself of prior successes and of your “why” (Why are you doing this anyway?)

2.  Dis-associate the event with your competence as a person (The action you took or the performance result was not up to par—not “you” are not up to par)

3.  Identify what didn’t work and what actions you will take to make changes next time you do this  (This one is key.  You must use the experience as a learning and assume you are going to do this again successfully, rather than use the experience to avoid future attempts and action.)

4.  Focus on taking some deep breaths, get out of your “head” and try again.

When we fail at something we attempt, many of us personalize the experience and demean our own self-worth.  The sabotaging voice that runs in our heads tells us how stupid, terrible, incompetent, lame, or (fill in the blank with your choice of put-down) we are.  I recall a time when I uncharacteristically got nervous during a presentation I was giving.  After the talk, I considered myself a total failure for being nervous. (And public speaking is one of my top strengths—I rarely get anxious or uncomfortable) The voice in my head told me the story of how I should just give it up entirely and change careers, as I obviously was losing my nerve and was now failing.  Wow.  Pretty drastic, huh?

After I had a chance to process my experience, I was able to reframe the story in my head and follow the four steps outlined above by reminding myself:

1. That I was pretty good at this and just how much I enjoyed inspiring a group to take action and make changes.

2. That feeling occasional nervousness does not mean I am incompetent.

3.  That focusing on how I was coming across instead of on the audience was not something that worked for me and that I needed to get out of my head in order to connect.

And finally, I got “back in the saddle” a few weeks later and:

4.  Took some deep breaths, focused on the group connection and energy, had a blast, and the whole thing rocked

So stop beating yourself up and using a real or perceived failure as an excuse for inaction.  Take a cue from the contestant on “The Voice” and from the words to a famous song :

“Pick myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again.”

Note:  Repeat process until successful.