Failure as Fertilizer: A Practical Way to Approach Failure

It’s undeniable. Failure feels like sh#&. But it’s the perfect fertilizer for our growth.

We feel what we feel. And failing, especially when there’s a lot invested, can bring us to our knees. We’ve all been there in one way or another. The work situation that didn’t work. The relationship that we gave our hearts to that crushed our dreams. The exciting creative project we spent years on that lies dormant on our hard drive. And our students, even our very young ones, feel disappointment, rejection, and many other adverse feelings that they don’t really know how to process.

Sometimes failure knocks people down and they end up living there. They develop all kinds of stories about why they are still on the ground. They build resentment toward people who are upright. They join clubs and chat rooms made for ground dwellers and read blogs that support their rationale for living low. And the cost is dear. It’s paid with unfulfilled dreams, lost hope, and fear of more failure ahead. But no matter how long (or briefly) someone’s been on the ground, getting up is always an option.

Merriam-Webster defines “resilience” as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” We often talk about helping our students become more resilient, but how do we teach this important life skill?

We can start by teaching them to acknowledge failure and disappointment as inevitable parts of life. We can help them to think of failure as a turning point in the road that stops us in our tracks to alert us to a new path or approach. They can learn to process the feelings that knock them down in order to get back up again. To start, I have a helpful technique for you to share with your students that will help them deal with difficult feelings. It’s called FLIP the Mood©:

FLIP the Mood©

FLIP is an acronym to help us remember a 4-step tool for dealing with uncomfortable emotions. Instead of getting lost in an unproductive spiral of negative feelings, we can FLIP the Mood©. This device is portable, easy to learn, and teaches self-management as students interpret their body’s emotional signaling to become proficient at regulating intense feelings.

F = Feel
L = Label
I = It is
P = Plan

Feel where in your body you sense the emotion.

Do a quick mental scan starting with your head. Does it feel tense? Move down to your temples. Do you feel pressure there? Are you holding your breath? Is your neck aching? Are your shoulders tight?

Keep scanning all the way to your toes till you find the place or places where your notice disturbance. Take note of where the uncomfortable sensations reside in your body. Acknowledge where the emotion is felt.

Examples: My chest feels heavy. My stomach is upset. My head hurts.

This practice helps to become more aware of the body-mind connection. Our emotions take up residence in our bodies, not just our minds.

Label what you are feeling.

Here are a few choices of the many upsetting emotions we might experience:

Afraid, Anxious, Angry, Impatient, Frustrated, Confused, Disappointed, Upset, Sad, Terrified, Embarrassed, Jealous, Panicked, Excluded, Ashamed, Helpless, Humiliated, Worthless, Tense, Scared, Rejected, Misunderstood, Overwhelmed, Lonely, Lost, Nervous.

Naming the emotion helps your brain manage your feelings. It moves the locus of attention from impulsive reactivity to cognitive awareness. We “name it to tame it”. This allows your brain to think about the emotion and examine it which is the first step to a quieter, thoughtful mind.

It is what it is.

You don’t have to like the discomfort, but you are experiencing it. Give up the fight! Allow your body to feel what it feels. Many people fear strong emotions. Blocking the emotion, ignoring the emotion, or distracting yourself from the emotion is a delay tactic, not a way to learn and move on.

By letting the emotion have room to be present, you sink into the truth of what is happening. You become an active force in aligning with your inner guidance system. You are no longer fighting what you are feeling.

Plan your next move.

What do you need right now to move forward? Perhaps you could do something physical like go for a run or a walk, play a sport, or do yoga? Maybe you need to do the Slow Breath Practice©, draw, color, or listen to music? You may want to call a friend, write in a journal, play an instrument or find some other form of relief.

Make a plan that will bring you to a place of calm and clear thinking. You got this!

Using this technique gives your students a process to cultivate self-kindness and self-compassion. As with most effective tools, this one is useful for our students and also for us. The next time you find yourself experiencing a painful emotion, try FLIP the Mood© and witness the relief you find in this simple, portable technique. And of course, share it with your students!

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *