4 Steps To Dealing With Failure In A Healthy Way

Dr. John Townsend

May 29, 2018

God designed you for many wonderful purposes! He made you so your self-image would be your friend and ally. A positive self-image will help you make great choices, find your passions, and succeed in all walks of life. It was also designed to help you fail well.

Let’s face it – failure is going to happen to you at some point in your life.

Read my recent blog on dealing with failure as a starting point.

Healthy self-image can help you learn to fail in redemptive ways.

People with a healthy and accurate self-image don’t have a big problem with failure. Why is that? It’s because they have harnessed the ability to fail well.

How Does a Healthy Self-Image Help Us Fail Well?

The idea of failing well might be a new concept to some of you. That’s okay.

Let me explain how it should work when we fail. You should experience five stages:

  • Disappointment: That was a bummer; I’m sad about this.
  • Leaning on God: I need his help and wisdom in this.
  • Support: I think I need to call my friend Pat about this and get some face time.
  • Learning: What was my contribution to this problem? What do I need to change?
  • Adaptation: It’s time to swing the bat again and try things a different way.

Training our brains to learn lessons and grow from failure is the key to failing in a healthy way. Following the five steps outlined above will help you to learn as time goes on.

Entitlement Can Hurt Failing Well

Entitlement cripples your ability to fail well and hampers your capacity to learn and grow from failure. Research has shown that entitlement creates a paradox of self-images within us, one external and the other internal. This means the two self-images we have are in conflict.

The person with entitlement looks confident about themselves on the outside, to the point of arrogance or cockiness. They don’t need to prepare a talk, practice a golf swing, or take a course on building a resume. The  external self-image says, “I am above all that because I am special.”

Given what we’ve seen and experienced personally with entitled people, we might expect this. What we might not expect is the existence of a different self-image deeper within the entitled person–one that is insecure and afraid, and above all, risk-averse.

The entitled person is deathly afraid of taking a risk and failing.

An Example of a Double Self-Image

I have a friend whose parents encouraged him to pursue what he was gifted at (and could do easily) but avoided pushing him in areas he would have to work hard in to be successful. He was a talented musician but didn’t like math. So they let him slide in math and kept him focused on music.

The result? As an adult, he loves his music, but has great difficulty in his financial life and has been in serious trouble with his money.

Because of his double self-image, he doesn’t try to face his financial challenges. Instead, he freezes up and avoids his money issues because he is overwhelmed when dealing with matters that are hard for him. Unfortunately, dealing with difficult matters is a skill his parents never forced him to learn while young. You don’t want your child, spouse, or employee to have this experience! 

The Simple Solution

How can you begin to fail well? Start by helping people to feel competent because they are competent (not to just make them feel good about themselves). The young baseball player doesn’t need groundless praise; he needs parents and coaches who will support his attempts to develop a better swing with hundreds of pitched balls until he starts connecting. The young grad student needs a job where she is around people as intelligent as she is, who challenge her and who help her wrestle with difficult matters.

People don’t first feel competent and then become competent. It’s the other way around. They become competent and then they feel competent. It is the history, the experience, the at-bats, that create a sense of “I can do this.” And before we reach that point, all we have is, “I have people who love and support me while I am not-yet-competent.” And that is enough.

How to Learn from Failure (in a Healthy Way)

I’m going to give you a few steps to take as you grow after a failure. These are internal steps you can take at your own pace.

The sequence, then, is this:

  1. Positive self-talk. Before you achieve competence, you are loved, you are okay, you are supported by God and others. It is grace, the essence of love that is not performance-based: “Though I am not competent at this, I am loved” is the positive self-image at this stage.
  2. Step out of your comfort zone. You try new things, and while no one does them well at first, the “loved” self-image carries the day.
  3. Try, try again. You practice, learn, get advice, fail, and adapt.
  4. It gets better. Gradually, you begin doing things better. Now the self-image says, “I am loved, and I am competent.”

This is what works. Love precedes confidence, but confidence can’t exist outside of failure and adaptation. When your self-image aligns with what is real and true about you — in other words, how God sees and experiences you — it works for you and not against you. This is the foundation of how we learn and grow from failure.

Admittedly, everyone struggles with failure. That’s okay. It’s normal. If you are wanting to learn more about how to grow from a failure, become a TownsendNOW member. Our Certified Coaches can guide you through the challenges and get you on the path to growth.


This article was curated from The Entitlement Cure by Dr. John Townsend.

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