Fail. And Fail Again.


Fail. And Fail Again: Building Emotional Resiliency

Resilience is a buzzword in education and mental health and describes the ability to bounce back; also known as toughness, tenacity, and grit. The more we learn about this quality, the more we can understand the complexity of how people can go through hard things and come out stronger and wiser. This idea of “how can I become more resilient” seems scary in that no one chooses to go through hard things for the purpose of building character. But as I look in my life for normal, everyday circumstances that help me build resilience, I am humbled by the amount of opportunities- in that I fail a whole heck of a lot.

Maybe like me, you were raised with thinking that failure is not an option. However, as we dig deeper into understanding how the brain works and the potential for human beings to rebuild, reconstruct, repurpose, and repair (the list goes on), we know that letting humans believe failure means defeat, is too costly. There are reputable and successful corporations that reward failure (learn more). There is too much to lose if we don’t see failures as an opportunity to grow and learn.

So, what are the barriers to learning from failure? I believe the answer is simple: emotions.

We’ve been wired to feel bad about failing. To take failing personally. To over-analyze and get stuck in the vicious cycle of feeling: “I don’t feel like this was a success, I don’t feel like moving on with my day, I don’t feel like attending that meeting with people that shot down my ideas last time, I don’t feel like getting on the floor and playing with my children who were screaming and tantruming 2 minutes ago, I don’t feel like adulting.”

I certainly understand the emotional rationale and I sympathize, no, I empathize because these thoughts are truly my own. But as I get older (man, that feels old) and as I get further into my career and parenting, I realize that dwelling on failure and becoming emotionally wrapped up in it can be devastating and detrimental in meeting some of my life goals. By life goals, I’m talking simple, like “raise well-adjusted, healthy children” and “make a difference in the world.” Simple, right? Getting emotionally wrapped up in failures makes me adopt unpleasant character traits that send me in the opposite direction of my “simple” life goals. This is how a day-to-day failure / emotional breakdown plays out in my life (can you relate?):

  1. I yell at my kids (about something stupid, not, “don’t cross the street, there’s a car coming!)

  2. I tell myself I am a terrible parent and I should be smart enough and educated enough to know that’s not the best way to handle the situation; and for God’s-sake, I am a Behavior Analyst and should know better.

  3. I retreat emotionally and get in my head so I am less present and engaged with my children or other people around me.

  4. I act grumpy or rude or moody to people who have no clue what’s going on inside me.

  5. I put the kids to bed and drink a glass of wine and watch reality TV to checkout and try again tomorrow.

Anyone with me? For non-parents, or perfect parents, this scenario can be exchanged for any other failure (career, relational, exercise, etc). Just substitute the actual circumstances for this pattern:

  1. Mistake / failure

  2. Shame

  3. Retreat / disconnect relationally

  4. Moody

  5. Poor coping skills

Ok, before you think I am passing judgment, let me clarify on “poor coping skills.” I love wine and I love turning my brain off and being entertained with other people’s crazy lives to make myself feel better about my own, however, there is a difference in enjoying these things because they are leisure activities versus escaping the reality of sitting with our own failures for a bit to understand and feel the pain or frustration of what happened. It is when we are able to sit with those mistakes, talk about them, wrestle with them, and understand them, that we can really make effective change. When I let failures affect the way I behave for the rest of the day, I’m not actually wrestling with the hard questions, “Why do I still do that?” “What led to that?” “What are my triggers?” Instead I feel emotional until it’s time to checkout and then try harder the next day.

So what if the “try smarter, not harder” in regard to failures, means, feeling the feelings of pain and frustration, and allowing it to prompt change. Instead of letting my brain go to “shame,” I take control of my narrative. This instead:

  1. Mistake / failure

  2. Allow myself to feel human

  3. Talk to trusted people about the failure

  4. Acknowledge emotions - i.e. that didn’t feel good, but I can handle this, this will make me stronger

  5. Healthy coping skills- i.e. exercise, write, journal, cook, bake, hike, throw a baseball, shoot a bow, drink wine with friends, cry, take a nap, you decide!

And taking it a step further (to build resiliency, to make behavior change, and all those wonderful things we aspire to…)

      6. Make a plan & practice - plan how you will respond to a situation like this in the future,        practice a mantra or reassuring statements, and ask (trusted) friends or professionals to keep you accountable.

With failure I believe there is an extremely personal journey ahead. Your own failures lead to your own growth. And it's up to you to find your community, your village, your support system, to work through those failures. There's no recipe because everyone's failures are really their own. It’s hard work. Good luck, fail a lot, learn a lot, and aspire to those lofty life goals. We’re cheering for you!


Written by: Josi Garcia is the Co-Founder of ZimZum Consulting Collaboration. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, holds a Masters degree in Special Education, and has experience working with schools and families supporting individuals with special needs.


Photo Credit: Austin Johnson on Unsplash


NPR: Ted Radio Hour. (2016, July 29). Failure is an Option.