Resilience and Dealing with Failure
April 9, 2018 |

man climbing mountain

Even the strongest can break, but what makes them strong is their ability to rise from it all.

The sappiest, but most relevant piece of advice that I can ever relate to. That ability to rise is resilience.

Every one of us has a weak spot. The pain from being hit in your weak spot forces you to back down or get knocked out. What do you do when you’re hit? How soon do you think it’s okay to give up and move on from the experience?

These questions have different answers; the best answer is knowing how to calculate your next move.

Here are my top tips on how to minimize failure and overcome hardship:

Preventing a set up for failure

Knowing when to stop trying

The human body is remarkably resilient, but you’re sacrificing precious time if you’re fighting a lost cause. Don't forget to keep re-evaluating your goals: are they still relevant, or achievable?

If you can compare your efforts to that of a frog who can't jump out of a well without sliding back down to the bottom, rethink your strategy. Quit trying to reach certain milestones if your goals are no longer SMART. For more on SMART goals, check out this other post I've written on sticking to new years resolutions.

The perception of failure is difficult to digest. Think of your brain as a normal, non superhero person attempting to break down a concrete wall by running into it without equipment. Your strength withers away as you keep trying, and you may even end up collapsing with exhaustion. Learning to take a step back to reexamine your goals sets yourself up for fewer "failures".

Why am I putting up failures in quotes?

a woman looking up angrily at the camera as her unfinished icecream cone melts on the ground
Hard to accept this as a mistake to learn from (it's icecream, after all), but sometimes we have to rethink our strategies.

Failure: A necessary evil

Cheesy, I know. Also, very contradictory to the above paragraph on how you should be setting yourself up for fewer failures.

But have you ever thought about how much successful people have had to go through? Take JK Rowling, who struggled through depression, unemployment, a divorce and welfare. Perseverance is the key that opens many doors, or lets you look for them if you don’t see any doors. But what really kicks your survival instinct into fifth gear is not succeeding. My mom would call this a wake up call, or in Malayalam "oru adi". It’s what makes you remember that even if there’s a long way up, you cannot go any further down. Further, learning to re-evaluate that bottom rung by making it tolerable is what sets you on the right track.

Set small, achievable goals

I cannot stress how important it is to break down everything in your life into manageable bites. And because I love using examples to describe the most mundane experiences in life, I want you to picture scarfing down an entire chocolate cake.


Well, that wasn’t the intention.


It’s not easy to physically or mentally handle a big pile of work. For one, it leads to procrastination. The bigger and less obvious second issue is the breaking down of your mental strength. If you’re always struggling to get anything done, it’s probably because you haven’t set up a good, manageable schedule.

Let me give you an example:

Meet Lola

infographic of Lola's list of improvements
Lola's got it all, if she puts her mind to it! Created using Canva.

Lola’s a lovable, fun imaginary character (or is she?). She’s got a lot going on in her life - she runs a website, and she’s on the hunt for a job. She’s also a huge chocolate cake kinda person; she needs to bake her chocolate cake every other day. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle (we’re not going to judge Lola’s chocolate cake eating habits here) she needs to spend an hour working out at the gym. It generally takes up 1.5 hours out of her day because she needs to walk to her gym, which is fifteen minutes away.

She also needs to cook for herself, clean her apartment (because, allergies, people), wash up, do her laundry… Lola thinks you get the gist.

Her workload for the day is getting too much, and she thinks she might need some professional help because she cannot sleep at night, and she didn’t care much about baking her chocolate cake on two occasions. That’s two chocolate cakes missing from her life!


Yes. Possible? Yes. How, you ask?

Simple. Lola needs to breathe. And not just regular breathing to stay alive. I'm talking deep breaths that calm Lola down. Then, Lola needs to take out her handy calendar - she prefers everything to be digital because she gets carried away with all the neat handwriting and “BuJo inspiration” - and start breaking everything down.

She prioritizes her life goals and sections her everyday routine in a piechart.

Then she realizes that the only difference before and after the pie chart is writing it down makes it real! She still doesn’t have time to relax.

Here’s what she needs to do next:

Lola’s fun list of improvements

  1. Automate certain tasks using content management systems that handle scheduling. Lola would be able to spend her time wisely by scheduling her posts on tools like Buffer or Hootsuite. This mean she wouldn't have to take out time at specific points of the day to post something online. If Lola has enough money, investing in a stand mixer for her chocolate cake would allow her to wash up as the cake batter is being mixed.
  2. Lola can’t get enough of baking her precious chocolate cake, but the mixing process takes out a lot of her time. Premixing two batches of wet and dry ingredients might make things easier. That way, she can spend less time measuring out fewer ingredients.
  3. Part of Lola's weeknights go in the travel to the gym: Lola could cut it short by cycling to the gym! With one cardio workout out of the way, she could spend 50 minutes at the gym and focus on other exercises.
  4. Lola thinks she’s already kicking ass with her new and improved schedule, but there’s one more thing. While communicating with a professional is a great start, Lola recognizes the need to schedule time for her mental health. The workouts and chocolate cake are great stress busters, but she needs some relaxation. She decides to schedule time to relax while watching some tv and eating her chocolate cake.

Now what?

Is Lola winning? Not yet - she needs to put everything on her calendar! With her pie chart, and adjustments to her tasks, she now can schedule approximate times on her calendar!

Lola finally realizes she’s got enough time to work, relax, take care of her mental and physical health, and most importantly, bake and eat that chocolate cake!

Lola is me, without the relentless baking and eating. Trust me, I’ve gotten so much better since monitoring my diet and a whole bunch of things. I’ll write out some more posts on this in the upcoming months, so stay tuned!

When there’s so much going on in your life, you automatically push things aside. If I'm not wrong, the most popular term for this is procrastination? The problem with it is it leads to a delayed reaction to a pertinent issue and increases your levels of stress.

My advice? Tackle it as much as you can - in the smartest way possible.

I hated applying for work. The rejections, the hours spent trying to impress people who wouldn’t ever look at your application, the physical reactions to stress... Why on earth would I put myself through that torture?

Here’s where my next suggestion comes in…

Building resilience

Rethink your negative thoughts

I’ve spoken a bunch about dealing with negative people and negative thoughts. This won’t be news to you if you've been following my blog. But if you’re new here, you should know that the best way to deal with all that negativity is to challenge it with positive thoughts.

I once read that HR managers can believe you to be an exceptional candidate, but decide not to go ahead with your candidacy. This doesn't mean that you're not good for the job. It means that they think you might not be the best fit - and that's nothing you can fix. Rethinking a rejection as a way that is more palatable helps you build your resilience.

This is the exact point where perseverance comes handy. In their book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney liken willpower to a muscle that can fatigue easily if you’re not taking good care of the elements that make those muscles strong. I’m going to add on to that - willpower’s strongest ally is positive thoughts, and greatest adversary is negativity. Catastrophizing magnifies the negativity.

catastrophe nuclear reaction in the head
Don't let yourself be vulnerable to catastrophizing. It's not fun having this happen to you.


Catastrophizing (not in the dictionary) is a way of mounting negative thoughts over the others with no specific rational basis.Your willpower ceases to exist when you engage in catastrophizing.

Example? Think of hypochondriacs, people who worry about having a life threatening illness when they see a symptom. It starts off as a debilitating migraine, then develops into a brain tumour and then you think about death. I’m not saying that isn’t a possibility - because it is - but for the most part that migraine developed because you didn’t eat or sleep at the right time.

The best advice I’ve ever received on catastrophizing is training yourself to pinpoint the moment there’s an exponential increase in negativity. Once you figure it out, ask yourself why you did it, retrain yourself to find more realistic alternatives and bring yourself back down.

I know this is easier said than done! Believe me, this is something I’m very familiar with, having had a mom who was the queen of catastrophizing. If you’d like to learn more, here’s a great guide to understanding catatrophizing and beating the habit

Mental exhaustion gets the best of us though, catastrophizing or not. So what do you do then?

Time out!

Shift your focus on relaxing with a good book, or watching your favourite TV show. Going back to Lola, baking and working out are great stress busters, and even though I want to relabel her baking as a poor coping mechanism, I will still applaud Lola’s tenacity to continue doing things she loves.

a view of a hut on the boardwalk beach in a Maldivian island
Complete contrast to the first photo, but this is what you need to be doing, or picturing at least...

Sometimes all it takes is a shift in focus to recuperate and get back that lost willpower. It allows you to pursue a goal for longer than you’d normally attempt to without any breaks. Now this is where it gets fun - relaxing breaks give you the space to mend and get back into the game with better cognitive capabilities.

So the next time you’re lying awake and stressing out about failing a midterm exam, substitute overnighters for good sleeping habits.

You’re strong, and you know it

We don’t reward ourselves enough. That doesn’t include all the pampering and relaxation you reward yourself with at the end of a long day. Scheduling me time is great, but writing /reading out daily affirmations is paramount to staying positive. Affirmations are positive and empowering thoughts and sayings. It is hard enough to drown out all that negativity and slump you feel when you’ve dealt with enough. Letting it sink in without acknowledging your efforts doesn’t exactly help you move forward. Affirmations therefore, are an extension to positive thinking.

Tell yourself that you’re a hardworking person. Tell yourself that you’re amazing, and that you don’t give up. Repeating these affirmations build your confidence and resilience.

Most of the time, you focus on the negatives from the experience, and not exactly the amount of strength and courage you’ve displayed in the ordeal.

I clearly recall a few days ago when I told my husband I didn’t have any resilience, he told me that was ridiculous, because I was holding everything together after my mom died. Looking at it, my life post my mother’s death could have been a lot worse, but my resolve to push through all the emotions I felt has made me stronger.


two people clasping each others' hands in support
Your friends, family and coworkers can keep up your spirits and remind you that you're not alone in your fight

No one said this is a road you should be traversing alone. Meandering Paths isn’t my road to travel alone - I have my husband, my friends and my family. Sometimes they stay at the fork as I go ahead and walk back, but I know they’re not too far away.

Get all the support you can, because tough times are best dealt with, with a lot of conversation and heart to hearts. Open up to someone about the way you are feeling, because being closed up doesn’t do anyone any good. Don’t assume people can tell exactly how you feel about something, because they cannot.

What are some of the toughest times you’ve faced, and how have you learnt to deal with it? Is there anything you’d add to the list?

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