8 Psychological Strategies for Managing Failure

8 Psychological Strategies for Managing Failure

Last update: 15 April, 2018

Managing failure and the emotions that follow after our actions didn’t get the result we wanted is a daily task. When faced with a new project, whether economic, academic, or personal, the same question always comes up: what if I fail? There is no question that scares us more or is as important to us than success. Have you ever tried to find a good strategy for getting back up when you fall down? Because this is often the key to success…

Being capable of overcoming failures, problems, frustration, or even stress can mean the difference between being successful and plunging into a pit that is difficult to get back out of. To do this, we need not only to work towards our goals, but also know how to manage failure.

What do we mean by success?

Success depends on every situation and every person. It is most associated with money and work. A good salary from a good job. However, success can also appear in many other spheres of our lives. Social appeal, the quality of our social relationships, finding a romantic partner who compliments us…

We won’t always get what we want. Knowing how to manage these situations will help us to cope with them better, and even use them to become stronger.

woman managing failure

What do we mean by coping?

Coping is a series of thoughts, of cognitive processes that orient our behaviors towards solving the problem. We continually change the way we move forward, depending on the resources we have or the demands  our environment generates (or ourselves).

What are coping mechanisms? Maybe you think they are specific and planned processes. However, any kind of response we have to an event (good or bad) will activate a coping mechanism. For example, crying after a break up is a kind of coping mechanism and a way of managing failure. Going out to party with your friends, going to the gym to “disconnect”, or watching a marathon of our favorite movies. These are all different but equally valid ways of managing our bad feelings.

General coping strategies

Let’s look at two kinds of coping strategies:

  • Problem-solving strategies – these focus on changing the problem. The problem caused the bad feelings, so by altering it, we are also changing the situation.
  • Emotional regulation strategies – adapting our emotional response to the problem. This is a self-control mechanism. We adapt the solution to the problem.

“’If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, never the goal”


Not all strategies positively resolve a conflict. We could respond in any given moment in a certain way, but the later emotional consequences may not help with managing failure. On the contrary, they could even make the situation worse. For example, if we respond by yelling (emotional regulation) at someone who has hurt us, the situation will continue . We even perpetuate that hurt, deepening the conflict that already existed.

man thinking about managing failure

How to manage failure

Lazarus and Folkman are leaders in looking at how we manage failure and its repercussions. They evaluated and classified the thoughts and actions that help us deal with the problems and stresses that we face throughout life.

In total, there are eight strategies that encompass both problem-solving and emotional regulation. In turn, each strategy consists of a series of behaviors or thought processes. These are forms that encompass different methods that people have for resolving problems. Lazarus and Folkman collected this data through the famous Ways of Coping survey.

Strategies for managing failure

  • Confrontation – a person comes back to reality in attempt to modify it. They seek to re-do the failure, to try again. Sometimes, this strategy entails great risks, as it means that a person must invest more resources, whether to obtain a new opportunity or to ensure success the second time around.
  • Distancing – the opposite of confrontation. In this case, a person tries to distance themselves from what happened. Especially in terms of responsibility – they try to minimize their role in what happened.
  • Self-control – a person focuses on regulating their emotions. This doesn’t mean they do nothing, rather that they take mental action.
  • Social support – this strategy is based on finding support in our environment. Sometimes, by externalizing our feelings, we can better focus on the problem. Talking with other people who listen and give advice can help us to see things from another perspective.
  • Accepting responsibility – recognizing the role that each person has played in the development of what happened. Accepting the fact that we may have some responsibility (locus of control) focuses any problem-solving on ourselves.
  • Escape or avoidance – we fantasize about possible solutions that we could carry out, but we don’t put any into action. Other strategies that fall into this group could be more active, but they also fall into the avoidance category: eating, drinking, smoking, etc.
  • Planning – thinking about and developing possible strategies to resolve the problem as a method of confrontation. Planning also can include drawing a mind map in an effort to minimize losses associated with the failure.
  • Positive reevaluation – noting positive aspects that can come from the failure. In other words, “look at the bright side“.

Failure is an opportunity

Life is a constant lesson. It’s very rare that things go the way we want them to, which is why we can feel frustrated or like we have failed. This is normal, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. Our opportunity to grow and receive returns on our investment appears when we start using our emotional resources to managing failure. This will teach us life lessons that will make us wiser.

woman using psychological strategies to manage failure

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.