Failure is a feeling we can all relate to. Even today, as you read this, it’s likely you’ve felt like you failed on some level: Whether it’s work, as a parent, on a health or fitness goal – even managing to leave the house with tights that don’t have a hole in the toe. 

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How to stop feeling like a failure

We ask experts how we can stop feeling like a failure.

Worried woman looking at computer screen

Chloe Brotheridge’s tips

Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist, anxiety expert for Calmer You and author of The Anxiety Solution (available on Amazon), says it’s completely normal to feel this way. “But we suffer needlessly from it. It comes down to, in parts, perfectionism and feeling like we have these incredibly high standards for ourselves and compare ourselves with the idea of ‘perfect’. There’s also a fear of success, which can almost be as big a problem as fear of failure,” says Brotheridge.

“We worry: What if we can’t keep this up? What if we’re successful and can’t sustain it, will people alienate us? Sometimes that can be in the back of our minds. It’s human nature to compare ourselves, and in modern times, we are constantly exposed to what people are doing. We see their ‘highlight reel’, and it’s not natural for us to know the ins and outs of everyone’s lives.”

Pamela Sommers’ tips

Trying not to even let the word ‘failure’ into your mind is something that works for Pamela Sommers, who came across a lot of feelings of failure when she wrote her book, Life Lessons From A 40-something (available on Amazon).

“Think of failure as part of a process – that changes the position of it a bit,” Sommers suggests. “Try replacing the word failure with the word mistake. Then it’s not so magnified, as everyone makes mistakes.

“Feeling like a failure can stem from feeling embarrassed and worrying what others think of you,” adds Sommers – something those in the public eye may feel more keenly. “But it’s not going to be there forever. I’ve come to realise that everybody is busy thinking about themselves, and that takes the pressure off you.”

When it comes to our work lives, failure can be a big deal if you’re considering setting up your own business. “People might think, ‘What if it is successful and I suddenly have staff to handle and I can’t cope with it?’,” says Brotheridge.

Parenting is huge, of course, and what about physical goals, like that 10k PB or nailing that yoga pose? Being perfect isn’t always attainable. And experts agree the sooner we realise that, the better it’ll be.

“You have to step into the shoes of a good friend and think what you’d say to them in that position,” advises Brotheridge. “We’d be able to be kind and loving and rational and point out the successes within in the failure, but we’re not able to see that ourselves.”

Jessica Boston’s tips

Jessica Boston, a cognitive hypnotherapist, says she meets clients every day who are battling feelings of failure. But she also nods to that all-important flip side the others speak of: that the biggest fear is often of success.

“We make ourselves small and find ourselves creating the outcome of our failure. Investigate if there is a reason why you’re keeping yourself away from the thing you want?”

feeling like a failure
Is your fear of failure really a fear of unknown success? (Thinkstock/PA)

Changing vocabulary is important, too. Like saying ‘you’re fat’ or ‘ugly’ to yourself, saying you’re a failure negatively reinforces that view.

“The label, ‘I’m a failure’, needs to go,” says Brotheridge. “A person cannot be a failure. You might have failed at a project or failed at a goal, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure. Ask, ‘What is the lesson?’ – because if you have learned from it, you haven’t lost.”

Boston agrees that how we talk to and about ourselves makes a big difference. “Even in a joke, negative self-talk all goes in, and the unconscious is always listening. If you’re calling yourself a failure, it’ll look for evidence you’re a failure, and keep feeding you that evidence,” she says.

As the well-know poem by Erin Hanson goes: “And you ask: ‘What if I fall?’ Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”

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