Bouncing Back After Defeat: How to Rebound from Failure

It’s normal to feel fear (hesitation, doubt, uncertainty) and pull back from a situation, or avoid it altogether. It’s common for people to not go after their goals because they are afraid of the failure that may come from taking bold action. But, the athletes and people who are thriving and achieving greatness are the ones who know that failure is a real possibility and they go for it anyways. To continue to be a high-performer you must keep putting yourself in situations where you may feel disappointment.

Pat Vellner surely felt disappointed after this year’s Rogue Invitational where he began to fail some of his final reps in Heavy Grace (30 clean and jerks at 225lbs). He went into the event in 2nd place and was going for it, to see if he could end up on top of the podium. He was on track until the final reps when he began to fall behind, as other competitors finished in front of him. His placement in this event took his overall placement to 4th, causing him to finish off the podium in one of the most important events of the year.

Pat took a risk, and pushed his limits instead of playing it safe. He went for the win and left it all out there, right to the point of failure. After the event, on his Instagram, he posted the quote “Only those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” by JFK. He stated how it stung, and that his weekend was far from perfect. But, he also stated that he was proud of the decision to go for it and that there were tons of positives to takeaways from the event.

His actions were in line with the type of person and athlete he aims to be. Surely, this failure will help him continue to have future success. Pat understands what it takes.

What if your view of failure is the thing getting in the way of your success?

Is there something you can learn from Pat and that JFK quote that can positively impact your own performance? I bet so. I don’t think anyone really likes failing, but we have to become more clear with what exactly we mean by “failure” and what our expectations are. It’s impossible NOT to fail if you’re going after big things in your sport or life. You can’t avoid it, but you can change your perspective, redefine it and use it to propel you forward. Sure disappointments hurt, but failure doesn’t have to be all negative.

3 Key Steps To Changing The Way You View Failure

1. Instead of the word “failure” use something more helpful like “stepping stone,” “learning lesson,” “growth moment,” “eye opener,” or “a way to help you clarify what’s working and what isn’t.”

2. When you are anticipating an upcoming event or situation that you don’t want to “fail” in, take 5-10 minutes to identify and specify exactly what would be considered a failure to you.

What would failure be?

What specifically would make you feel like a failure or that you failed?

3. After you’ve defined what exactly “failure” would be to you, write down what thoughts and behaviors you can control in that circumstance. How will you stay focused on what you can influence?

Consider your response, effort, attitude, execution, words, body language etc.

How you define failure matters. How you talk about, and think about failure matters. Failure can in fact be helpful, meaningful and a catalyst towards your greater achievements. It’s all about your perspective. Identify your outlook on failing, and understand if your thoughts are helping you or holding you back.

Beyond improving your perception of failure, you can also begin to practice failing, on purpose. You can intentionally put yourself in situations where you’ll look silly, be a beginner, make mistakes in front of others, struggle, lose, and set yourself up for disappointment. You can be the type of person who gets so comfortable with failure, that it becomes part of your process. Again, this isn’t failure, this is a stepping stone towards you gaining more experience, clarity and better skills. You’ll begin to feel more comfortable going for it, and you’ll actually ACHIEVE it more often, and quicker by practicing this. You’re choosing to fail, which is much different than feeling like you “have” to do something because someone is making you. Choose to seek failure.

When you do fail, mess up, or finish lower than you want, it’s critical that you’re able to bounce back quickly, especially if you’re in the middle of an event weekend. The athletes who are able to bounce back, will set themselves up to perform better in the next portion of the event or the next workout of the event. Here are some methods that will help you bounce back from a workout that didn’t go how you wanted it to.

  1. Get your emotions out if possible. Take 5-15 minutes to yourself or with someone you trust to state how you’re feeling.
  2. Take note on what you learned. Talk about what you could do differently or better from both a physical execution standpoint, and a mental performance standpoint.
  3. Get back to doing the next best thing. Determine whether that’s something for your recovery, nutrition, mindset, preparation and do that. Continue to work off of a plan that feels good to you, setting you up to be as ready as possible for the next event.

The best athletes have a plan for disappointment, because they know it’s part of being a top competitor. They have already talked through what helps them, they know what strategies to use, and their team is prepared to give them what they need in those moments. This type of mental preparation helps athletes and their team to move smoothly through setbacks and adapt well to bring about their best possible performance going forward.

Failure and rejection only have as much weight as you give them. You can perceive them as negative and therefore give them a stronger hold on you. Or, you can see them as positive, as effort and learning lessons, and you can actually be excited about them. You can begin to practice failure on purpose and you can implement strategies to bounce back quicker. As you get better at dealing with failure, you’ll increase confidence in your ability to excel. Practice your mindset around failure and success will start flowing your way.


Dawn Fletcher, is the owner of Driven Mind, a Peak Performance Company, that emphasizes mental training. She’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and CrossFit Level 3 Coach, who has a master’s degree in Kinesiology with a specialization in sport and exercise psychology.

She’s been coaching for over 17 years, helping thousands optimize their performance and human potential. Dawn’s been lucky enough to coach 30+ CrossFit Games Athletes, triathletes, weightlifters, coaches, entrepreneurs, executives, military service members and more. is one of the most comprehensive websites for athletes, leaders and high-achievers. She offers mental training programs, products, workshops, ebooks, speaking engagements and exclusive coaching options!

How to Connect with Dawn:

Personal Account: @dawnmfletcher on IG
Training – @drivenmindtraining on IG + FB + TikTok

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