How to Protect Yourself from Failure

 How to Protect Yourself from Failure –

After the Setback

November 28, 2013


A failure is a setback that has left scars. When it doesn’t scar you, setbacks are learning experiences, but there’s no doubt that suffering a setback is difficult. It only turns into an opportunity if you have the psychological tools that protect you from failure. In the last post I presented a strategy for preventing failure in advance, which is always the best way. I encourage you to take a look before reading this post, which is about how to recover from setbacks.

In many ways the two states, before and after, call for the same steps. In particular,

1. Have a good support group around you at work.

2. Communicate with your spouse or partner.

3. Don’t isolate yourself and carry the whole burden by yourself.

4. Identify with core values that sustain your sense of worth.

5. Build your self-esteem.

6. Develop interests outside work.

Since these points were covered in some detail in the first post, I won’t elaborate on them here. It’s realistic to accept that for most of us, preventing future failures is something we pay little attention to. Our focus is on immediate challenges and their success. Therefore, when a setback actually does occur, we are left vulnerable and open to a rush of negative emotions. The more that a setback feels like a failure, the more likely it is to scar you. You become more wary of risk, sometimes to the point of genuine anxiety. You feel a range of emotions from guilt and shame to anger and fear. Your mind obsesses over “What did I do wrong?” and “Why did this happen to me?”

This composite of reactions differs for each person, but the major setbacks for most people are similar: divorce, losing your job, having a small business go under, and bankruptcy. To make full use of the points already listed, you have to get over the trauma first. Here’s a general guide.


1. Give yourself room to grieve over the loss. Healing takes time.

2. Don’t hide from your pain. Denial makes healing take longer.

3. Notice the signs of depression and seek help for them.

4. Spend minimal time with commiserating and indulging in “what if.”

5. Find a confidant who has survived the same setback you are suffering through.

6. Revise your vision of the future in a positive way.

7. Make clean breaks with the past where it’s necessary.

These points are all action steps; they get you moving instead of brooding. It’s unfortunate that the most common way of dealing with crisis is to watch more TV and play more video games, although surveys show that this is so. Sometimes laying low helps your battered emotions to recover, but more importantly, they will recover, in time. Everyone has an emotional set point that returns to normal, usually within six months of a major trauma. Even so, recovery isn’t the same for everyone. At one extreme are people crushed by a setback, who internalize it as “I’m a failure.” At the other extreme are people who say they thrive on stress and only want to fight harder when they go down.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and therefore we vacillate between discouragement and hope, self-disparagement and self-belief. Beneath all of this turbulence, there is a steady state of the self that can be accessed with meditation, contemplation, and other practices that connect you to your center. It’s very worthwhile to explore these techniques, because at the very least you will begin to have a sense of inner purpose.

Most men in particular feel compelled to move on as a first response to setbacks. Something bad has happened to them, so they are determined to find something good as a remedy. The impulse is commendable, but too often what gets ignored is the inner turmoil created by a setback. As a society, we are so used to efficiently organizing the externals of life that we ignore where the real damage occurs, which is inside. You can be swindled out of a hundred dollars in a shady investment and feel enormously angry and resentful, or you can lose a million dollars honorably and walk away from it a better person. The choice is yours, and it depends on how much attention you pay to building a self. In the coming posts I’ll talk more about this lifelong project, which is the most valuable thing you can do for yourself and others. Someone who is successful at building a self doesn’t fear the ups and downs of his inner world, because he has created an unshakable foundation in the true self.

Deepak Chopra, MD, author of instant New York Times bestseller, What Are You Hungry For?


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