Challenges and failure happen, it is simply a part of life; if you are learning a new skill or even simply trying something new – chances are, at some point you will have a setback and fail. Think of a young child who is first learning to walk, they fall-down, and then they get back up with the determination to master that skill. It can be hard to sometimes remember that failure is only absolute if you do not get back up and stop trying – Here are some reasons why it is so hard to get back up and how to overcome them:

Our brain and body are working against us

Our bodies have two states – relaxation or fight/flight. These states are governed by hormones and chemicals that our body automatically releases depending on the situation around us and our perspective of it. When we master a new skill or ‘win’ something, our bodies release all the happy hormones (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin) – These give us that ‘cloud nine’ feeling. Our brains are wired to get that feeling again – so this encourages us to do the task again. When we have a challenge, or we fail, etc. the opposite happens. Our bodies are flooded with a stress hormone that triggers the fight/flight state and our brain recognises this as something harmful and to not do it again. Our brain has the best intentions and this is a protection mechanism.

The key to hacking our brain

The key to hacking your brain and getting around this aversion to failure is all about perspective – think of this: If you saw a pride of lions in the wild with nothing in between you and them, your fight/flight mode would kick in (rightly so!) and you would begin the process of your getting yourself to safety. So why is it when we encounter a pride of lions at the zoo, we have a different reaction?  We have altered the perception or perspective we view this situation, in that they are behind the, glass so we are safe – We have trained our brain to view this differently. This is what we need to do with failure – we need to change our perspective on it and view it differently.

Changing your perspective

Our current perspective of failure is something we have developed over the years, our experiences develop it, family, friends, bosses etc. – it is not something that we can change overnight. It will take some time, but each time we do it will get easier and more habitual.

Before you do anything, you need to regulate your cortisol or stress hormone levels. When we have high cortisol, levels our brain focuses all its energy on essential body business (breathing, blinking etc.) and we lose our higher thinking power! If you have ever had a car accident, you would know the feeling – bystanders are asking you questions and you can barely manage to respond, and then if something was to ask you a complex maths question you would probably gawk at them like a deer in headlights. You can regulate your cortisol levels in several ways: 

  • Deep breathing for an extended period.
  • Meditation.
  • Exercise and fresh air.
  • Proper restful sleep.

All these activities help move the body from the fight/flight state to a relaxation state and allows our brains to do those higher thinking activities. 

Once we are in the relaxation state and have our brain functioning we can go through the following steps/processes: 

Identify the challenge or failure

It is essential to deep-dive into what the actual challenge or failure is. For instance; the business owners that I am working with at the moment have all said the challenge is Covid-19 and while it is the driving factor it is not the actual challenge. The challenge is not being able to do business as we normally would. It is important to dissect what is going on and not solely jump to the first answer that comes to mind. Try asking ‘but why’ a few times to get to the heart of it.

Identify the Risks, Learnings or Opportunities

Once you have a clear objective understanding of the situation, we can then delve a bit deeper. Next, we will look at if there are any risks, learnings or opportunities we can take from this challenge or failure. To flip our perspective and to start writing a different mental story about challenges or failure, we need to look at it in a different light. Chances are there will still be some risks, however, we can now look at them objectively and, with a full functioning brain not from a point of fear and stress. You also need to understand if there are any learnings or opportunities you can take away from this. 

I was working with a client recently, and due to the restrictions placed on their business, they were unable to operate. They were coming to me saying their business was a failure and what were they going to do. Going through this process together we were able to identify the following: 

Risks – Financial and cash flow risks to the business, potentially affecting the ongoing nature

Learning – Looking at diversifying their income, building a better cash-management method, building cash reserves/investments

Opportunities – add a takeaway aspect to the business, utilise an under-utilised space in the business’s building.


Identifying the resources and actions required

Now we have, a clear understanding of the challenge or failure and we have identified any ongoing risks, learning or opportunities, the next step is leveraging off this. To do this, we need to identify what resources we have at our disposal and what our action plan is going to be. 

Resources can be anything going to assist you to either mitigate the risks, implement the learnings or leverage the opportunities. 

Where the power in the process is, is developing and actioning the action plan! In our next blog post, we will look at how to set up a successful action plan!


I have put together a worksheet that goes through all the key stages discussed above, completing the form below to download it.