When Life Feels Like One Long Failure

Feel like a failure? Like you don’t deserve happiness? That even if you could behappy, the rug would be yanked out from under you? You might be wrestling with something therapists call cognitive distortion.

Cognitive distortion happens when your mind imagines things that aren’t true — and then uses those inaccurate concepts to reinforce negative thinking or emotions. Examples include:

  • Black-and-white thinking (something is either a complete success or total failure).
  • Overgeneralization (overreacting to a single instance of defeat).
  • Jumping to conclusions (thinking you don’t deserve to be happy).
  • Catastrophizing (thinking that any happiness will be yanked away).

One key to redirecting your life? Reframe negative thought patterns.

Embrace what God says about you

Our human thoughts can be misleading. Cling to God’s truth: That you are His treasured possession. That you were created in Christ Jesus for good works. That He has something wonderful in store for you if you’ll put your life in His hands.

Give yourself grace to scale

The concept of scaling is used in the fitness world. It’s a way to modify the intensity of an activity so everyone can participate. For instance, maybe I can only do one push-up, but you can do eight. So, I scale back based on what I can do, and I don’t compare myself to you.

The application? Stay in your lane. Scale where you need to. Find — and welcome — moments of joy in every day. If something doesn’t go as planned, focus on the bigger picture and what you’ve learned. (Ever read Thomas Edison’s response to the person who commented about his failed light bulb experiments? “I have not failed,” Edison supposedly said. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”)

Even advanced athletes sometimes need to use lighter weights or run shorter distances due to injuries or other circumstances. They haven’t failed. Instead, they ebb and flow with life’s challenges. And that flexibility is an important part of reframing negative thoughts.

Strengthen your “reframing” flexibility

Butterflies are masters of using flexibility to keep on an upward path. Scientists found that butterflies create thrust and lift by capturing pockets of air between their wings with each flap. When the wings come together, the air presses out like a little rocket that pushes the butterfly in the opposite direction. Yes, rigid wings could have the same effect — but a butterfly’s flexible wings are 28% more efficient.

In a similar way, your surviving (and thriving!) mentally depends in part on how flexible you can be. How disciplined you are to reframe negative thoughts. How willing you are to strengthen your thrust and lift muscles.

Take it one day, one thought, one hope at a time. And dig deeper with Focus’ article “Bursting Negative Thought Bubbles” or a copy of When the Darkness Will Not Lift.

NOTE: If there’s more to your story — or you might be struggling with clinical depression — reach out for help. Consider working with a Christian clinician who’s specially trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Rational Living Therapy.