Three Techniques to Not Panic in the Midst of Failure

14.02.2020 |

Episode #2 of the course Bouncing back from failure by Jordan Thibodeau and Joe Ternasky


“First, do no harm.” —Hippocratic oath


Welcome back, class!

Last time, we learned about the difference between finite and infinite games. In this lesson, we will learn about the chaos of failure and what we can do to curb our panic when it occurs.


A World Steeped in Chaos

The world is a chaotic place, and for us to function within it, we need to create a sense of order. We do this by making assumptions about our lives that create a sense of stability that we perceive as order. However, this order can be upturned when failure strikes. Failure can smash the order that we depend upon to make our lives manageable and open up a trap door into the world of chaos.


Delusions That Extend Our Stay in This Chaos

When something is ad hoc, it means that it is created or done out of necessity. As humans, we often try to escape chaos by implementing ad hoc fixes that temporarily restore order in life but increase the likelihood and severity of our next failure and prevent us from learning from the situation. We create these ad hoc fixes when our brains go into fight-or-flight mode in the midst of chaos, doing whatever’s necessary to minimize our reaction to failure. Thus, we tend to respond to adversity in a knee-jerk manner and make up delusions about why we are where we find ourselves, causing our situation to worsen. Here are a few delusions that can keep us trapped in chaos:

Blaming Others (“Psychological Projection”). It’s easy to blame others for your failures so you can absolve yourself from any personal responsibility. It might be nice to hear, “It wasn’t your poor attitude that caused you to get fired; it was your boss who was out to get you,” or, “It wasn’t you who caused your relationship to fail; it was your mean boyfriend who ruined everything.” But absolving yourself of all culpability in these sorts of scenarios will end up stalling your self-improvement in the end.

Self Blame. But assigning yourself all the blame turns yourself into the scapegoat and makes you attack your own abilities. This hurts your self-esteem, prevents you from learning from your failures, and increases the odds that you will experience failure in the future.

Victim Mentality. When you feel your emotions rising due to failure, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that the world is out to get you. The victim mentality creates a sense of powerlessness where you have zero power to control what happens in your life and you are at the whim of others. This mentality prolongs your stay in chaos.


Stop the Bleeding

Unfortunately, while you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, it can be impossible to diagnose what happened clearly until your mind is no longer clogged with the emotions of failure. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is to try to prevent failure from becoming worse by getting yourself back in the game emotionally. Later on, you can focus on diagnosing the issue. The following are three techniques you can use to escape the panic of failure:

Count to 30. Professors Jeffrey Osgood and Mark Muraven discovered that when you face situations that can make you angry, simply delaying your response to the event by 30 seconds will decrease the likelihood that you say something that makes your situation worse (something you will likely regret). So, before responding to a negative event, try to internally count to 30 before doing anything. Then, if it feels necessary, try to count back down to one. Practicing this technique will provide you with vital time to collect your thoughts and formulate the best plan moving forward.

Take Five. When you’re angry, you should consider taking a quick five-minute break. You could get coffee or speak to a friend—anything that allows you to gain distance from the stressful situation at hand. This break will allow you to refresh. Plus, if you speak to someone who’s removed from the situation, then you can voice your point of view and work through your feelings in a safe space.

“Oh Crap to Okay” Process. In Dr. Mark Goulston’s book, Just Listen, he created the “Oh Crap to Okay” process. This is a technique meant to help you quickly recenter yourself in the short term so you don’t exacerbate your failure.

1. Oh Crap—This is the reaction phase where you verbalize what you’re feeling. How does the situation make you feel? It’s best to think about this in the third person. Instead of saying, “I feel ashamed,” or, “I’m angry,” think, “I notice anger and shame inside of me.” This creates a degree of separation from your feelings.

2. Oh Jeez—As you breathe, think about how you are slowly releasing the emotions of the situation. Feel the calmness taking over your body. Take the time to reflect on how you can stop the situation from getting any worse.

3. Okay—This is the re-engage phase. Now it’s time to take the steps necessary to fix the problem so you can stop the bleeding.

Experiment with these techniques. They can help you move from “fight or flight” mode back to a position where you can act without making the situation worse.


To Do

1. Experiment with the “Count to 30,” “Take Five,” or “Oh Crap to Okay” processes.

2. If you like to write, then walk yourself through the “Oh Crap to Okay” process in writing. Be sure to record your answers in your bounce back journal.

3. Remember to keep a log of each time you run through the “Oh Crap to Okay” process. Through repetition, you’ll get better (and faster) at handling the chaos of failure.

In our next lesson, we will learn about the importance of cooling-off periods.


Bounceback Mentor


Recommended books

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Just Listen by Mark Goulston


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