Is it possible to look at challenges and failures as the foundation to personal growth and excellence? Sonia Vadlamani explains why it’s OK to fail sometimes and how to claim back power when you’re feeling defeated by life.


Although there are few certainties in this existence, unfortunately we do know this: life can defeat us sometimes. No matter how meticulously we plan things or try to predict every outcome, the possibility of failures and disappointment in life cannot be entirely ruled out.


Indeed, all of us find ourselves feeling defeated by life at some point. You may flunk an important exam or interview, a fight may ensue with a best friend who misunderstood your well-intended remark, or your boss may pass up what seemed like a brilliant idea in favor of a seemingly ridiculous suggestion by your colleague. Life is called the school of hard knocks for a reason, after all.


I know this from experience. I found myself at the end of my wits during my college years, when I realized the complexity of engineering, which my parents had pressurized me to pursue. No matter how hard I tried, the concepts seemed to elude my grasp and it looked like I’d have to repeat a year. For someone who belongs to a family of academics, being an underperformer was a subject of great humiliation and embarrassment for me and my parents, not to mention the high cost of education itself. 

Feeling defeated? Break free from the shackles of fear

Although I did have to take a re-exam for three subjects, it was actually this setback that helped me realize one of the greatest life lessons of my life. That we are not defined by our failures and defeats, but how we spring back, and the experiences we gather from these setbacks. Consequently, this realization enabled me to excel in my academic subjects as I tried harder and broadened my understanding of the subjects. The result? I passed the final grade with scholastic distinction.

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“If you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shining,” stated Guy Finley, the renowned philosopher and self-help writer. Indeed, if we give up without trying to push beyond our embarrassments or fear of failure, we’d never know what lies outside of our comfort zone and what we could truly achieve. When you’re feeling defeated it is essential to prevail and resume your power.


Feeling defeated: 9 ways to take back power

Although this may seem unimaginable when you’re feeling defeated, it is possible to overcome this terrible feeling and to reclaim your power. While some of the following ideas may offer instant results in terms of elevated mood and alleviated stress levels, the others require more consistent efforts over a longer duration of time. So, here are nine ways you can take back power and move forward when you are feeling defeated. 


1. Acceptance: allow yourself to feel

It’s important to lean into your feelings periodically and acknowledge to yourself that you are an ‘emotional creature’. In fact, being aware of your thoughts and labelling your emotions can improve your ability to manage negative emotional experiences, according to a 2007 study by Lieberman et al. 


Indeed, a proven way to improve your emotional wellness – especially when you’re feeling defeated – is to accept these feelings instead of suppressing or avoiding them, and consciously channel them in a productive and beneficial manner, thus developing emotional agility. 


Being emotionally agile implies one’s ability to sit with their feelings and thoughts, be they positive (for example, joy, hope, serenity) or negative (fear, anger, sadness). It means accepting feelings in a compassionate manner, without getting derailed or overwhelmed by them. A study by Frank Bond from the Goldsmiths University London revealed that emotional agility can help ease stress, improve accuracy and boost innovation and creativity in individuals.


2. Self-compassion: imagine what you’d say to a friend

Most of us readily extend kindness and warmth to others in their times of hardship yet fail to do the same with ourselves when we’re feeling defeated. According to Dr Kristin Neff, the psychologist who first created a scale to measure self-compassion as a construct, humans often mistakenly assume that compassion towards self induces weakness and has an adverse impact on our goals and productivity.


“A proven way to improve your emotional wellness – especially when you’re feeling defeated – is to accept these feelings instead of suppressing them.”

Dr Neff recommends practising self-compassion by treating oneself as they’d treat a friend. Positive self-talk plays an important role, especially during adverse situations. So, instead of saying “I’m so lame!” or “What an idiot I’ve made of myself” during a setback, instead, practise saying, “I’m so glad I tried my hand at something new” or, I’m proud of myself for doing this wholeheartedly”. 


3. Stop catastrophizing

Do you often find yourself jumping to wrong conclusions or blaming yourself for something when you really weren’t at fault? As sentient beings we always try to make sense of events around us, but sometimes our brains devise ‘shortcuts’ and create interpretations which are not entirely precise.


This tendency to catastrophize or assume the worst in an unpleasant situation is a result of cognitive distortion pattern known as magnification, wherein our brains blow one disturbing event out of proportion, giving rise to unfavorable conditions like depression and anxiety.


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Luckily, it’s possible to avoid this unhelpful thinking style and opt for more balanced ways of evaluating a situation. Instead of obsessing about what happened and what may further go wrong, take stock of the situation by consciously restructuring your thought patterns. Practising mindfulness can help you reframe your thoughts based on factual procession of events, resulting in improved decision-making.


4. Incorporate gratitude 

Gratitude plays an important role in improving one’s mental health, especially when you are feeling defeated by life. The simple act of listing down things you appreciate in your life in a gratitude journal can boost resilience and prevent toxic emotions, thus reducing the risk of conditions like stress and depression. What’s more, a study by Prathik Kini et al revealed that practising gratitude can have lasting effect on the brain – it can rewire it, equipping you to deal better with adversities in life.

Writing a gratitude journal can boost your resilience shutterstock/Sergey Saulyak


5. Shift your mindset/change perspective

When you’re feeling defeated by life, you could be misled into believing that you possess limited talents, also known as the fixed mindset. Psychologist Carol Dweck contrasted fixed mindset with growth mindset, wherein individuals believe that they can achieve their goals by honing their talents and advancing their skill set. 


Interestingly, those with growth or abundance mindset tend to achieve more, as they concentrate more on learning and taking action towards their goals. Developing a ‘can-do attitude’ allows you to look at obstacles as steppingstones or necessary doses of personal growth instead of failures.


6. Understand the power of ‘small wins’

It’s understandable that you may want to get back up on your feet and set out to chase lofty goals when you’re feeling defeated. Instead, it would be wiser to set small, incremental goals to ensure you achieve them without getting overwhelmed or frustrated. A study published by Harvard Business Review revealed that the quality of a person’s inner work life – or a mix of their emotions, perceptions, and purpose – was the most important driver of their creative pursuits and productivity. 


“Most of us readily extend kindness and warmth to others in their times of hardship yet fail to do the same with ourselves when we’re feeling defeated.”

Start by asking yourself if you can try breaking your goals into smaller sections called ‘systems’ and further into sets of actionable daily tasks that you can track periodically. Small wins tend to activate your brain’s circuitry, and the constant motivation results in release of dopamine and testosterone, thus boosting your confidence. Indeed, you may be amazed to find that these micro-successes executed daily can lead to major breakthroughs.


7. Take regular breaks

While taking time to pause when you’re working on something important may seem counterintuitive, researchers agree that taking regular breaks can improve productivity and prevent stress. A 2016 study by Kim, Park and Niu revealed that even micro-breaks or small interventions can prevent the onset of negative affective state of mind at the end of the workday. Indeed, taking small, regular breaks to chat with someone around or getting yourself a glass of water in midst of a busy day can avert the possibility of you feeling defeated in the long run.


8. Stay healthy with exercise

Not only does regular exercise strengthen your heart health and keep diseases at bay, but being physically active can even bring long-lasting change for your brain and mind. Working out regularly can make you more receptive to positive feelings like joy, boost your mood and motivation levels and relieve stress. Indeed, staying healthy through regular exercise and including wholesome, gut-friendly foods in your diet can help you overcome the blues, especially when you’re feeling defeated.

Working out makes you more receptive to positive feelings shutterstock/mimagephotography


9. Create your life vision

A foolproof way to regain power when you’re feeling defeated by the hardships you’ve faced is to understand your purpose in life and create your life vision accordingly. Jen Sincero, a success coach and the author of bestselling Badass Habits stresses on the importance of living fearlessly by ‘aligning’ one’s actions with their deepest desires and goals. Doing this allows you to make the shift from ‘wanting’ to ‘deciding’ to change your life for the better with utmost tenacity.


Takeaway: feeling defeated

It’s important to understand that pain and suffering from failures in life don’t define us, and that the ability to claim back power lies within us. Directing consistent efforts towards assuming this inherent power can help you avoid the mental trap of self-blame and frustration, allowing you to grow and realize your true potential. •

Main image: shutterstock/Overearth | The fine art of being: learn, practise, share

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Written by Sonia Vadlamani

bert.jpgFitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.




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