What to do when you've hit rock bottom

How to Recover From a Big Failure

Everyone has at least ONCE epic failure in their life. Some have several. The most important difference between great people and ordinary people is how they recover.

Most people dust themselves off, get back up and try again. If they’re resilient, they recover. And they become stronger and wiser for it. But, after recovering, few of them ever rise above an average level of achievement. Some come close. But every time they do, they’re blindsided by an explainable setback. In time, they stop taking risks and give up on the dreams that once inspired them.

This is how people with great potential confine themselves to a life of ordinary success. If you can relate with this, you’re not alone. No one is invincible and you can only recover so many times by raw willpower. But, you CAN turn even the most epic failures into an opportunity to discover and to achieve your true potential.

Commitments at Rock Bottom WILL Shape the Rest of Your Life

People often cling to beliefs that got them where they are now. Not realizing that those same beliefs are stopping them from getting where they want to go next. In most cases, these beliefs were formed at a low point in their life.

I saw this countless times during my counseling days. Some beliefs and commitments have the power to “rescue” us from rock bottom. But that doesn’t mean they’ll serve us well once we’re back on our feet. In many cases, they become the biggest obstacles to our future success.

Think about your top three personal limitations. No matter what they are or how long you’ve had them, you weren’t born with them. Most likely, they’re the result of commitments you made when you were desperate. You might not even remember making them. But they’ve now outlived their usefulness.

This is why you should be careful what commitments you make and what beliefs you adopt as result of a recent failure. Rock bottom is the seedbed of self-limiting beliefs. Thankfully, such beliefs are easy to spot. In my experience, they’re usually based on generalizations like “always,” “never,” “last time,” or “no more.” For example…

  • “I’ll never ___ again.”
  • “From now on, I’ll always _____.”
  • “That’s the last time I ever____.”
  • “No more ____ .”

You can put ANYTHING in those blanks…

  • “I’ll never date a self-employed person again.”
  • “From now on, I’ll always go to the gym when I say I will.”
  • “That’s the last time I ever hire a family member.”
  • “No more business ventures with friends.”

Some of these, I admit, are smart ideas. Hiring family members rarely works out. Business ventures with friends can destroy friendships. And yes, some self-employed people are only self-employed because they can’t handle the responsibility of answering to a boss. We could list dozens of “never” or “always” commitments that are smart.

But such commitments can also trap you in all-or-nothing thinking and the futile pursuit of perfection. This is because they limit growth by forcing you to live by rigid “rules.” True, growth requires structure. But it also requires flexibility and a willingness to reinvent your methods. Too much structure suffocates growth. It forces you into rigid positions which you cling to more out of pride than commitment.

So if you’re recovering from a big failure, be on your guard against perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking. True, these might serve you VERY well at first. But they’ll also block you from growing past a certain level.

This is especially true for commitments based on sweeping generalizations such as: “always,” and “never.” This is the language of a perfectionist. Ironically, perfectionists often wear such labels as a badge of honor. After all, perfectionism has helped them reach a certain level of success.

But in time, many of them realize that their attachment to perfection is blocking them from getting where they want to go next. The only way out of this trap is to make better commitments in response to failure.  And THAT starts with asking better questions…

3 Questions That Turn Failure Into Growth

I’ve often said that denial is the only incurable self-limitation. It’s the biggest obstacle to growth. And the only way to crack through the barrier of denial is to ask questions that don’t allow you to fool yourself about who you really are. The singer Bobby Womack once said..

“You don’t know what you’ll do till you’re put under pressure.”

Adversity is the magnifying glass for self-awareness. But it’s tempting to bury what self-awareness reveals. And the more we do this, the less self-aware we become and the less likely we are to become our authentic self.

This is why the intense pressure of failure is a blessing in disguise. It gives you a chance to discover who you really are. If this idea scares you, you’re probably asking the wrong kind of questions.

For example, people who have suffered a recent failure, whether in business or in their personal life, often ask questions like this…

  • “Why do I keep dating cheaters?”
  • “Why can’t I stop losing my temper?”
  • “Why are people so disrespectful to me?”
  • “Why can’t I just have a good marriage, like THAT couple?”

These questions will only yield negative, doubt-inducing answers. This is because they have negative assumptions “baked” into them. Take this question for example…

  • “Why do I keep dating cheaters?”

Okay, so you got your heart broken because you “dated a cheater.” But unless you KNEW they were a cheater when you met them, you didn’t really “date a cheater.” You dated someone who you THOUGHT was a good person. True, maybe you ignored some warning signs. But asking why you “keep dating cheaters,” just suggests to your brain that you knew you were a cheater from the start.

This might sound crazy, but your brain will believe whatever you tell it. It also seeks the patterns most familiar to it. These patterns don’t even have to make sense. In fact, next time you’re with a friend, ask them to say the word “silk,” five times as fast as they can. Then, ask them to tell you what a cow drinks. Most people will say “milk.”

But cows don’t drink milk. They drink water. People will only answer “milk,” because…

  1. You “primed” their brain with an auditory pattern by getting them to say “silk” five times.
  2. Most people’s brains already associate cows with milk because cows PRODUCE milk.

This isn’t just a clever word game. It’s an example of how your brain seeks out the patterns its been “primed” with. This is why you should be careful what questions you ask in response to a recent failure. So why ask yourself questions which only reaffirm the beliefs that got you where you are right now? Your questions should lead to solutions, not more problems.

So, here are questions that have worked REALLY well for my coaching clients…

Question #1: “What can I change?”

If you’ve just had an epic failure, there may be very few things you can change immediately. But there’s always at least ONE. Find it, and focus all your attention on changing it. I don’t care how small or insignificant it seems. In fact, small actions are better because they’re easier. And even the smallest success will give you the courage take on bigger challenges. So start small.

For example, you can wash the dishes in your sink. You can clean out the junk drawer in your kitchen. You can unfriend a few people on Facebook who you KNOW to be toxic people. You can throw out that old shower curtain and replace it with a brand new one. Just find something you CAN change, and change it. Then, ask the question again….

“What else can I change?”

Then find something else, and change it. Keep doing this. Every time you do, make a quick journal entry. Write down why you choose the task you did and how you felt once you’d finished it. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn about yourself. And the more little things you change, the more courage you’ll have to change bigger things.

Question #2: “What must I accept?”

No one can control everything. The problem is, we often tell ourselves we can. We try to change people and circumstances which we either have no power over OR which shouldn’t be changed in the first place. This is a direct route into failure, self-consciousness and even depression. There’s only ONE WAY out of this prison of perfectionism: Acceptance.

Now, let me be clear. Acceptance is NOT passivity. Ambitious people often reject the idea of acceptance because they assume that if they accept something, they’re “settling” for it. Thus, they only “accept” things they approve of.

But this is not acceptance. It’s approval. Acceptance is acknowledging that there are things you CANNOT control and that your energy is better spent on things you CAN control. If you experience periods of amazing success followed by periods of mediocrity or failure, I guarantee you’re confusing acceptance with approval.

And if you’re frustrated because your friends or romantic partners don’t want to be around you anymore, or because people don’t seem to trust you or respect you, there’s a good chance you haven’t been accepting other people for who they really are.

You can’t trust anyone to be “good.” You can only trust them to be human. To see people as humans, you must get your expectations out of the way. Imposing your expectations on them will only drive them away. But if you accept them as they are, they’ll be more likely to listen to you when you DO try to influence them. So, ask yourself what you must accept, and accept it. Save your energy for the things you can actually do something about.

Question #3: “How will I know the difference?”

This question helps you see the difference between what you can change and what you must accept. At first, it will be hard to answer. Especially if you’ve just started practicing acceptance. But the more you ask it, the easier it becomes to find answers. In time, you’ll develop a deep inner calmness and self-assurance that is one of the rarest qualities in the world. But if you don’t ask it, you’ll live most of your life reacting to circumstances instead of creating them.

I know this from personal experience. I was raised with the belief that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. True, this helped me accomplish a lot of things and to overcome some formidable obstacles. But it also gave me unrealistic expectations about my own ability to change the world and other people. I drove a lot of people away by imposing MY standards on them. Standards which were based on my expectation of who they “could” become, rather than who they were or who they even WANTED to become.

Like it or not, you can’t control everything. Especially other people. The sooner you accept this, the more energy you’ll have to invest in the things you CAN control. And this simple question will help you discover the difference. Again, it won’t be easy at first. But if you keep asking it, your mind will eventually start to respond with answers.

So, to recap here are the three questions for turning failure into opportunity…

  1. “What can I control?”
  2. “What must I accept?”
  3. “How will I know the difference?”

You might recognize these from the famous “Serenity Prayer…”

“God grant me serenity to accept the things I can’t change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

This simple prayer will change your life. Even if you don’t believe in God. In fact, if you take “God” out, and your brain will still internalize these three ideas. In time, they’ll become embedded in your subconsciousness and permanently influence the way you evaluate everything.

Now, since you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you want to do more than just recover from failure. You want to become better for it. So here’s the final habit for turning failure into opportunity and growth…

This Question Will Make You the Wisest Person You Know

The most important thing in life is who you become. It’s more important than anything you’ll ever do or have.  It’s also the greatest gift you’ll ever give to yourself, to God or to your fellow man.

Few things are more inspiring than a person living at the top of their potential. You’ve met people like this. The second you get close to them, you feel their energy and confidence. It rubs off on you.

Sometimes it takes hours to wear off. Think about the last time you met someone like that and read this very carefully…

“YOU can become this kind of person.”

If you doubt this, I don’t blame you. It’s hard to believe immediately after a big failure. But that will change once you start asking THIS question…

  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this ____?”

You can fit ANYTHING in that blank…

  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this job?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this relationship?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this house?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this city?”

You can also ask it about little things…

  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this shirt I’m wearing?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this music I’m listening to?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming because of this picture on my wall?”

I’m not suggesting that you’re defined by your job, your house, your clothes, your music or the pictures on your wall. I’m simply challenging you to think about their INFLUENCE on your growth. If ANYTHING in your life causes you to dislike who you’re becoming, why keep it in your life? Why stay in a job, a relationship or a city that’s turning you into someone less than your best self?

It’s a common myth to believe that a great person can overcome any circumstance and thrive in any environment. This is a direct path to perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking. No one is invincible. And for every mediocre job, relationship and/or environment, there are plenty of jobs, careers, relationships and/or environments which will bring out the best in you.

But the longer you spend and the more energy you invest into trying to make the wrong job or the wrong relationship work, or the longer you spend trying to thrive in the wrong environment, the more you sabotage your opportunity to find the BEST one.

And here’s else something to think about. The NUMBER ONE death bed regret is…

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me.”

This is what happens when you’re so concerned with what other people think, you never take the time to find what’s really best for you. Why shouldn’t YOUR life be one of those shining examples of someone living as their authentic self?

Imagine how many people you’ll inspire to follow the same path once YOU start following it. Again, the most important thing in life is who you become. It’s more important than anything you’ll ever do or have. It’s also the greatest gift you can offer to yourself, to God or to your fellow man.

And the more devoted you are to becoming who you were TRULY created to become, the more you’ll inspire and motivate other people to do the same.

If you’re worried that the above question will turn you into a “selfish” person, ask this question instead…

  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by ____?”

Again, you can fit ANYTHING in that blank…

  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by staying at this job?”
  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by staying in this relationship?”
  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by staying in this city?”

I think you’ll find that this question leads you to similar answers. Answers which will challenge you to surround yourself ONLY with things which will help you become your best and authentic self. Again, your authentic self is the greatest gift you can give to others. And the closer you get to living your best life and becoming your authentic self, the less power failure will have over you.

So, in conclusion, guard yourself against perfectionism. Make a habit of asking what you can change, what you must accept and how you’ll know the difference. Most important, make it a LIFE LONG habit to ask whether you like who you’re becoming because of the things in your life.

These simple questions will help you turn even the most devastating failures into priceless opportunities. Most important, they’ll turn EVERYTHING in your life, from your greatest successes, to your greatest challenges, into an outward expression of your best and authentic self.

-Stay Awesome,

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