What is Personal Failure and How to Overcome It

Throughout their careers, all athletes at some time or another will experience disappointing situations that can make them feel that they've failed. Although that feeling is normal, it's necessary to face it and overcome it.
What is Personal Failure and How to Overcome It

Last update: 14 November, 2020

There are few things that can make you feel discouraged more than the feeling of personal failure. This disagreeable sensation that you haven’t been able to obtain the results you wanted can make you feel stressed and upset.

Personal failure can come from many different situations. However, it really depends more on your viewpoint than on the situation itself or what you do in that situation. That is, the same negative event can be seen either as a failure or as an opportunity. It all depends on the viewpoint of the athlete.

The feeling of failure can also cause negative emotional reactions that can put your psychological well-being and sports performance in jeopardy. That’s why it’s very important to understand how to deal with personal failure and with the negative emotions that come with it.

Following, we’ll show you a few situations where you may feel a personal failure. Then we’ll take a closer look at how to overcome it.

In what situations might you feel personal failure?

As we mentioned above, the feeling of failure depends more on a negative viewpoint of the situation than the actual event itself. But despite that, there are a few key occasions where it’s very likely that an athlete will feel they’ve failed. Here are a few of them:

  • Feeling that they didn’t perform at their full potential after an important training session or competition.
  • Losing to a rival that they previously considered inferior.
  • Suffering from an injury, even if accidental, just before a crucial competition.
  • Establishing objectives that are too ambitious and not being able to reach them.
  • Not achieving the desired results despite having worked extremely hard and despite being highly motivated.

How to overcome personal failure

What’s the next step after identifying the situations where you might feel like a failure? Next, you should establish some guidelines on how to overcome this unpleasant sensation. Here are some ideas that may help.

A woman feels bad after losing a race.

1. Consider different possible outcomes

Often, someone may feel a personal failure because they have unrealistic expectations with regard to the future. Then, when what they want doesn’t coincide with reality, it’s likely that they’ll feel disappointed with themselves.

So what can you do? When it comes to expecting results, it’s good to keep an open mind and remember that there are many factors you can’t control. That’s why there may be many different outcomes, apart from what you were hoping for.

2. Redefine your objectives and prioritize them

The difference between your goals and your capacities as an athlete can be a potent source of feelings of failure. Try not to view your personal objectives as a demand, but rather as attractive goals that keep you motivated.

When you’re setting goals, try to be flexible and to remember that you may need to modify your goals if your circumstances change. This way, you’ll be maximizing your chances of reaching your goals, which also has positive repercussions on your self-esteem.

Another aspect to take into account is that you should prioritize your objectives depending on their difficulty or urgency. Not all goals have the same importance or urgency. It’s a good idea to put them in order and start with the ones that require more work on your part.

3. Learn to let go of negative thoughts

After suffering a setback, it’s normal for an athlete to have negative thoughts about themselves. However, these thoughts must only be temporary. You shouldn’t let them take control of your mind.

If you let negative thoughts stick around in your mind, they can create negative emotions. It’s then more likely that your performance will decrease. However, if you don’t let yourself be affected by these ideas, you’ll be able to face the future with a more optimistic and confident attitude.

A man relaxing and listening to music.

One way to change your way of thinking is by focusing on your strengths. All athletes have strengths and weaknesses. Concentrating your attention on these can help you to remember your virtues. You can then learn how to make the most of them.

You can overcome even the worst failures

Life is full of adverse situations and obstacles, but that’s no reason to avoid facing difficulties or just resign yourself. The only way to overcome these negative situations is to be brave and actively face them. Research into psychology confirms that avoidance just makes a bad situation worse.

With good mental training, it’s possible to overcome any disappointment. As we said at the beginning, the feeling of personal failure comes from your interpretation of the situation, not so much the situation itself. You can learn to overcome personal failure!

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  • Pérez-Acosta, A. y González, A., (1998). Conducta de evitación: adquisición y extinción. Suma Psicológica. 5. 207-231.