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7 Ways Mentally Strong People Bounce Back From Failure

Acknowledging disappointment but remaining self-compassionate.

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Setbacks, failures, and losses are a part of life.

Recently, for example, my southwest Florida community suffered a devastating and catastrophic loss due to Hurricane Ian. Entire islands and iconic landmarks were wiped off the map. People lost their homes, businesses, and loved ones. The damage has been beyond comprehension.

In moments like this, the shock and magnitude of the destruction can make it hard to bounce back, especially right away. In the immediate aftermath, simply taking it day by day, and relying on your community for social support, is often the best thing you can do to emerge from the rubble.

It takes time and truly depends on the magnitude of the loss or "failure"—but eventually, mentally strong people can use strategies, whether inherent or learned, to help themselves move through and recover from such adversities.

How Mentally Strong People Bounce Back

Research suggests that mentally strong people have certain characteristics and personality traits that make them better equipped to bounce back from failure. Emotional maturity, for instance, is particularly important for mental strength and resilience because it allows a person to see reality for what it is.

Conversely, emotionally immature people tend not to accept reality and instead re-write inconvenient facts so that they better align with their preexisting mindsets. Mentally strong people, by contrast, accept the consequences of their choices including the ability to move on.

Such inborn traits can certainly help. But everyone can boost their resilience during tough times by availing themselves of certain strategies, based on the following 7 things that mentally strong people do:

  1. Use acceptance. They realize that everyone has setbacks and perceived “failures”—such as divorces, lost jobs, etc.—and that they are a part of life. Some element of "failure" or setback is to be expected when taking risks and moving out of one’s comfort zone to, for instance, achieve a particular goal. They resist the urge to blame themselves excessively by accepting reality for what it is.
  2. Reframe setbacks. Mentally strong people are both open-minded and flexible about problem-solving and tend to avoid rigid thinking. They provide positive and resilient self-talk to get through their setbacks. For example, the late author Wayne Dyer reportedly said: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Changing your narrative about a setback allows for new cognitive reframes and self-narratives to be created. Inventor Thomas Edison, for example, reframed his “failed” experiments to create a new self-narrative: “I haven’t failed; I have only found 1,000 ways that do not work.” He believed that every failure brought him one step closer to finding the solution.
  3. Leverage the setback for future growth. They ask, "How could I have done this differently? What did I learn about what works, and what did I learn about what doesn't work?" Looking back at a recent breakup, for example, could teach someone to pay more attention to red flags or the intuition they set aside at the beginning of the relationship.
  4. Are honest with feelings and acknowledge disappointment. Mentally strong people do not bury their feelings, nor do they wallow in them. They acknowledge them and give themselves time to process the setback. Feelings of sadness, disappointment, devastation, or rejection are normal and nothing to be afraid of.
  5. Are optimistic. Mentally strong people tend to have an optimistic outlook on life, and studies have shown that there is a relationship between optimism and life satisfaction through self-control and grit. They know that there is no failure that can't be overcome, as long as they keep trying. For example, the late Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, a company he created. He later stated that “it was the best thing that ever happened." He used it as an opportunity to move in another direction, creating NeXT and Pixar. You can't always make sense of things in the moment—but as you connect the dots of your past, you may be able to see that there was a positive reason for your “failures.”
  6. Make meaning of their experiences and setbacks through a spiritual lens. Many mentally strong people lean on their spirituality as a source of strength. They realize that having a spiritual orientation can help them tap into a growth mindset. Resilience—the ability to bounce back from disappointments—along with spiritual or religious beliefs, can help make meaning of each experience. Myths and religious stories across cultures have explored how people overcome numerous obstacles, frequently with positive outcomes as a result. Thus, individual spiritual and religious frameworks can help promote both meaning and positive emotions such as gratitude over time.
  7. Are self-compassionate. To tap into self-compassion when you're feeling down, try asking: “What would I say to a good friend who experienced what I'm experiencing?" Additionally, mindfulness techniques can help promote self-compassion, as it helps someone acknowledge their feelings rather than push them away. Some mindfulness practices, for example, encourage adherents to internally acknowledge that "this is a moment of suffering" (Singer, 2015). Further, mindfulness can help someone remind themselves that they are not alone; indeed, countless people are feeling just as they are, right at this very moment.

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Copyright Dr. Tracy Hutchinson

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Childs E., White, T., & White, H. (2014). Personality traits modulate emotional and physiological responses to stress. Behavioral Pharmacology. 25, 493-502. doi:10.1097/FBP.000000000000006.

Everly, G., McCormack, D., & Strouse, D. (2012). , Seven Characteristics of Highly Resilient People: Insights from Navy SEALs to the 'Greatest Generation'.International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 14, 2, 137-143, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Oriol et al. (2020). Distinct Routes to Understand the Relationship Between Dispositional Optimism and Life Satisfaction: Self-Control and Grit, Positive Affect, Gratitude, and Meaning in Life. Frontiers in Psychology: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00907

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