7 Tips for Coping with the Agony of Defeat

Tips for Managing Defeat

With the summer Olympics taking place once again, many people are drawn to the excitement of the competition as more than 11,000 elite athletes from around the globe come together to represent their countries. After years of focused training, discipline, and perseverance, most participants dream of winning gold, but only 339 of them will reach the top of the podium. That leaves 10,000-plus with dashed dreams.

In general, training to be THE best by beating others can be a recipe for unhappiness. Training to be YOUR best by helping others be their best is a recipe for happiness. Just look at Simone Biles, considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time, who withdrew from the gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Olympics. The gold medalist said the pressure to be the best was too much to overcome and left her in a tough place mentally. Although Biles didn’t compete in the team finals, she cheered on her teammates from the sidelines and said she was “super proud of these girls” after they earned the silver medal.

Training to be THE best by beating others can be a recipe for unhappiness. Training to be YOUR best by helping others be their best is a recipe for happiness. Click To Tweet

The vast majority of Olympic athletes will have to find a way to manage their disappointment, refocus, and learn something from their experience that helps them to be even better in the future.

In everyday life, we all face setbacks. How can you cope?

Failure is a Part of Life

Even though most people don’t have the intense pressure of competing on the world’s stage while millions of people watch, all of us have times in our lives when we fall short in one way or another. Whether it’s a competition loss, failed business endeavor, relationship misstep, or poor performance on a critical exam, failing to achieve an important goal can throw us into a tailspin as we face the consequences of having lost something that felt so important.

Although there’s nothing wrong with mourning a loss, some people can get stuck in a state of disappointment. You may feel like you’re a failure or become overwhelmed by a sense of shame. When this happens, negative emotions like these can make it very difficult to recover and move forward—especially if your identity is tied to winning.

7 Tips for Managing Defeat

What is missing for those who suffer like this is the understanding that many successes stem from various losses along the way. In other words, most people don’t cross the finish line on the first try, but they gain knowledge and experience as they press ahead. And you can too!

Here are 7 tips to help you get up and back into the game:

1. Acknowledge how you feel.

Being able to identify the emotions that arise when you don’t achieve a goal is an important step in overcoming the setback. Notice if you’re feeling sad and hopeless, anxious, frustrated, or angry. Whatever those feelings are, they are yours, and by recognizing them, you can work through your emotions more clearly. It’s helpful to talk to someone you trust about how you feel or write in a journal about it so you can process your disappointing experience. And, if you need more support, consider scheduling an appointment with a licensed psychotherapist to help you.

2. Turn bad days into good data.

With every failed attempt, there is an opportunity to learn something—or many things. Whether the lesson is about yourself, your technique, your habits, or preparation and planning, each setback can become an opportunity for growth if you pay attention to what you gained in the process of trying to reach your goal.

Turn bad days into good data. With every failed attempt, there is an opportunity to learn something—or many things. Click To Tweet

3. Manage your mindset.

Is your internal Debbie Downer or Nervous Norm holding you back? Feelings of depression can accompany defeat while being overly concerned and afraid of the future can lead to anxiety. When worries or negative messages are constantly rolling around your head, use a strategy Dr. Daniel Amen, neuropsychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, recommends to his own patients: Give your mind a name. And then talk back to it when it’s giving you discouraging messages that interfere with your ability to move forward.

4. Find the positives.

Despite the setback, think about the beneficial experiences you had along the way. It’s so easy for us to focus on the bad things that happen because our brains are wired to identify negativity in an effort to protect us from repeating mistakes. But you can override this function by also finding the positive things that occurred or good people you met throughout your endeavor. Take the time to write these down so you remember them for the future.

5. Take personal responsibility.

Fundamentally, you’re the only person in charge of yourself. If you made a bad decision, didn’t practice hard enough, or got distracted and off-track, own it—and don’t blame others. Take some time to analyze why you did what you did, acknowledge the error(s), identify what went wrong, and use that information to help you make better decisions each day.

6. Look for the micro-moments of happiness.

As you work through the challenges of a defeat, it’s normal to have some ups and downs; however, with sustained effort each day can get a little better. And even when some days feel like a struggle, you can boost your mood by paying attention to the little things that bring you a bit of joy. These are what Dr. Amen calls micro-moments of happiness. We’re often so busy or pre-occupied in one way or another that it’s easy to lose sight of the details each day that make us smile, but these moments add up and when we notice them it lifts our spirits which makes each day better.

7. Choose to move forward with courage and grace.

You may have spent a fair amount of time beating up yourself for what happened, but at some point, it is important to accept that you can’t change the past. Hanging onto the loss and disappointment for too long will prevent you from trying new things in the future. While it may seem safer, it can restrict your ability to use your talents or dreams to create a sense of greater meaningfulness in your life.

Instead of being anchored to your loss, work on forgiving yourself for what happened, because once you do this, you can release your feelings of defeat, dust yourself off, and start over again.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Hello and thank you for the 7 Tios for coping with failer . It has brought light to a very dark time in my life. Thank you V.H.

    Comment by Victor Hernandez — August 2, 2021 @ 5:08 AM

  2. This is the most profound thing I have seen written on this website since the beginning. The only thing I would add is that the human inability to see the future covers up the better thing that lies ahead.

    Comment by Donna Mansfield — August 2, 2021 @ 6:51 AM

  3. Pure Awesome 👏

    Comment by Rebecca Rolfe — August 2, 2021 @ 7:31 AM

  4. Well put, Dr. Amen, as always, and very much appreciated!

    Comment by Denise Caruselle — August 2, 2021 @ 8:05 AM

  5. Courage and grace. Courage and grace. Courage and grace. Good advice. Will try not to veer off this path too much.

    Comment by baj — August 2, 2021 @ 3:36 PM

  6. Outstanding !

    Comment by Donald Robb — August 2, 2021 @ 11:37 PM

  7. Enjoyed this message.

    Comment by Donald Robb — August 2, 2021 @ 11:38 PM

  8. Absolutely brilliant as always, Dr Amen. So obvious and yet impervious to so many.

    It is very much like the approach in MBCT.

    I learn so much from your books, your discussions (with Dr David Perlmutter and others), as well as from your ‘gold-nugget’ tips and advice. Thank you so very much.

    Comment by Sylvia — August 3, 2021 @ 12:18 AM

  9. I am 86 and unable to travel to Atlanta area for brain spect. I read online data sent to me via emails. These emails are so helpful during this time of restricted travel and gatherings. I am vaccinated but still very careful of public places due to my advanced age. Please continue to support those of us with mental issues who should not travel or cannot do so. Sincerely, a retired nurse with mental issues during the Covid pandemic . You are really needed so much and thank you 🙏

    Comment by Lilla E. Wuerpel — August 3, 2021 @ 6:41 AM

  10. Thank you for a great article. I hope everyone has a blessed day.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — August 3, 2021 @ 10:22 AM

  11. keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Flora Huso — August 13, 2021 @ 3:19 AM

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