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Why failure helps us to grow

Stefanie Schornsheim 1

You cannot avoid setbacks and failure. No one can. But there is a way to use setbacks to your advantage. Here is how failure helps you to grow.

School teaches us that failure is something to be afraid of or ashamed of. Just remember how you felt before a test or an exam. Those feelings were not particularly helpful. When suffering from mental health issues, it can be similar. The feeling of failing others for not functioning correctly will make your situation worse.

But especially when feeling anxious or depressed, it is not predictable how you’ll feel within the next hour, and you might have to cancel plans and stay at home.

Let’s look at how failure helps you to grow when you use it to your advantage.


Many people follow the „fail faster“ strategy when learning a new skill or creating a project. This means you need to figure out what works and what does not work more quickly to make progress visible faster.

Why not use this strategy for your mental health recovery as well?

For example, you’re looking for a therapist, but appointments are rare. You take the first one available, being thankful that you got whoever. But what if this is not the best match for you?

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I learned it the hard way. Being too anxious to start searching again, I stayed with my first therapist even though I never had a good feeling around him, and I couldn’t work with him in a good way. A part of me knew it was a setback, but I still wasted probably around 6-9 months.

This failure helped me understand what to look for in a therapist, so I found the perfect fit for me later on. But in hindsight, I wish I had realized this faster 😉

This is also true for different types of therapy. You might start with one but realize it does not feel helpful. Try a different approach next. And another one. And so on until you find the treatment that supports your development.

In other words: When you figure out what makes you fail, you can eliminate it from the equation and start growing. Failure teaches you what works and what does not work for you.


When something is not working out as expected, you might have noticed that you took it to heart too much and feel very vulnerable. Never make a failure about your value as a person. It’s not your soul that fails!

Your importance to the people around you, your loved ones, will not change when you fail. The impact you have on the life of other people won’t be less. Painful life lessons often lead to extensive growth because they teach you much about yourself. Those are valuable experiences and will make you even more compassionate.

One example from my time with anxiety: I had the goal to go out again and meet friends, so I made arrangements. But then I got a panic attack as soon as I wanted to step outside the apartment. FAIL. I blamed myself. It was horrible to call my friends and cancel the plans. I felt like I was not worthy of being friends with them.

Super toxic, right? So I had to learn not to take a setback too personally. One step is repeating exactly this to yourself. I used meditative writing to program myself to accept failure as a chance to grow. Take your notebook and repeat like a mantra over one full page:

„I am still myself. I am growing. I am taking one step after another. Tomorrow I am going to be one percent better than today.“

Do this every time you start blaming yourself again. You will notice a difference and even get yourself motivated to try again and again until you succeed.


Is there a standard in society when you have to be healed from mental health diseases? Sometimes it can feel like there is. For example, you read or hear about success stories from others and compare yourself to them. BUT their pain and issues are not yours. What feels unbearable to you might be easy for them or vice versa.

Everyone and every perception and, therefore, every healing process are different. It depends on so many things (for example, environment, relationships, family, friends, work, housing situation, money), so it’s impossible or at least highly unfair to compare your progress to the progress of another person.

So only compare YOUR progress from today to YOUR progress from yesterday. Aim to be always one percent better, celebrate every small win, and keep in mind that failure helps you to grow because you find out what does not work for you.

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