9 Things To Do When You Feel Defeated

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When it comes to evaluating life’s ups and downs, especially those downs, I find this quote from Vivian Komori so helpful:

Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

Since life is rarely plain sailing, being able to bounce back after setbacks is a crucial skill.

Did you know that elite athletes judge their level of fitness not so much on their actual achievements as their recovery time?

It seems to me that we should look at ourselves in the same way…

…we should assess our ‘recovery time’ after we’ve hit one of those metaphorical brick walls that leaves us feeling discouraged.

Most of the time we have the strength and determination to get back on the horse and carry on where we left off.

Sometimes, though, encountering these obstacles doesn’t result in a temporary blip after which you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Instead, it hits you with a real wallop, leaving you feeling discouraged, down-hearted, depressed, and even utterly defeated, not sure what your next move should be.

Clawing your way back up seems too hard.

You’re overwhelmed.

Bouncing back feels impossible.

It’s a bit like the board game you may have played as a kid, Snakes & Ladders…

You make steady progress along the board with a few leg-ups from helpful ladders until you’re unlucky enough to encounter a snake and find yourself slithering backwards.  

Mostly, the setbacks (snakes) are brief (short).

You can get yourself back on track easily enough and maybe even go on to win, feeling smug that you’ve overcome the trials along the way.

But sometimes, when you can smell victory, you’re unlucky enough to land on a long snake that’ll take you right back to where you started.

The winning square then seems way too far off and defeat seems inevitable.

It’s oh-so-easy to just give up and duck out of the game altogether.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a game which better emulates real life experience!

The problem is that life’s not a game and, in reality, giving in to these negative responses to setbacks can be at best damaging and at worst destructive.

So, what can you do when you find yourself overwhelmed with these emotions?

The solution lies in focusing on the positives and shifting your perspective so that you can view each setback as a learning opportunity.

In that way, when you’re faced with the inevitable obstacles, you’ll be better able to carry on rolling the dice and playing the game without giving in to discouragement and defeat.

Ultimately, you’ll be a stronger person and better able to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Let’s look at some strategies you can use to help you reset your compass.

Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you feel less defeated and more empowered. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.

9 Tips For When You’re Feeling Defeated

1. Recognize that failure is a part of progress.

So, something didn’t go your way and now you’re feeling a bit mentally battered and bruised.

You need to change your mindset away from any feeling of failure and instead embrace what you’ve learnt from the mistake.

Remind yourself – regularly – that virtually nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without a number of false starts and setbacks.

It’s all part of the development process that ultimately results in something meaningful.

You need to recognize that it’s far better to do something less than perfectly than to do nothing perfectly.

Yes, when you’ve hit a bump in the road it’ll hurt for a while – that’s part of the potentially long and rocky process that ultimately ends with success. 

Truman Capote summed this up far better than I ever could when he said:

Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.

I know it sounds oxymoronic, but if you can successfully embrace the positive nature of failure, allow it to motivate you, and not to be discouraged or defeated by it, you’re on the road to success.

2. Focus on the next step, not the destination.

Sometimes we’re faced with challenges that seem beyond our abilities.

We look at a goal or dream and we struggle to imagine ourselves achieving it because it seems so far away.

To avoid becoming discouraged, try not to think about the destination you want to reach and the effort required to get there.

Instead, concentrate on the next step you have to take.

Focus on the action that will move you that bit closer to the end goal, but don’t worry about how much closer it got you.

Just focus on doing it well, to the best of your abilities.

Slow progress in the right direction is better than no progress at all.

Eventually, slow progress might turn into great strides as you begin to believe in yourself a little more and the finish line comes into sight.

3. Look on the bright side.

When you’re feeling discouraged, you need to make a conscious choice to be positive and optimistic.

Choosing the default ‘the whole world’s against me’ setting will only intensify the negative spiral you’re in.

It can be hard to adopt a determinedly positive attitude and at first you may need to put on an act, as if you’re kidding yourself and others around you.

You may feel that the phrase ‘fake it till you make it’ is overused, but it really can work.

Try it.

Over time you’ll find that your default setting will become more upbeat and less easily dented by disappointments.

4. Let it go.

Chances are that you’re burdened with quite a bit of anger over past mistakes you’ve made or injustices you’ve experienced.

Carrying all that negativity around with you will weigh you down and make it harder to be positive in the face of setbacks.

You’re likely to feel overwhelmed and inadequate.

You really do need to let these angry feelings go if you’re going to beat your demons.

They’re clearly not going to melt away magically and it will take effort from you to achieve this.

The place to start is by acknowledging your anger and your right to have those feelings.

Recognize, however, that it’s self-destructive to focus on such negative emotions.

There are a couple of strategies you can try.

Deep breathing can be an effective way of controlling anger, as can taking a time out.

Some people find journaling a great way to vent their frustrations. 

Do your best to move through the anger, rather than getting mired down in it and shift your focus onto your goals instead.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Why do we do this?

Most of us are guilty of it and there are few people who can genuinely say that they don’t waste valuable mental effort on such a pointless activity.

Sizing yourself up against your family, friends, or colleagues can only lead to one thing: discouragement and needless angst.

Remember that you’re only seeing the outside face that others choose to show to the world.

You’ve no idea what obstacles and setbacks they’ve had to endure to get where they are now.

And all may not be as rosy as it looks in that particular garden anyhow.

You are you.

You need only to focus on the hoops you’ll need to jump through to reach your own goals and be the best you can.

6. Prove your doubters wrong.

Do you feel discouraged because of something someone said?

Perhaps someone has ridiculed your dreams or told you that you’ll never amount to anything.

Or maybe you have taken some other comments more personally than you needed to and this has hurt your self-belief.

Either way, if you can shift your mindset from one that believes what other people say to one that is determined to prove them wrong, it can provide the energy and motivation to keep going.

While it may feel nice to put them in their place, don’t do it for this reason. Do it for yourself.

Prove them wrong by proving yourself right.

7. Take a step back and remember the world doesn’t revolve around you.

This is easier than you might think, although it does take a conscious effort, and it really is one of the basic keys to shifting your mindset from negative to positive.

Almost all of us are guilty of thinking that we’re the center of the universe.

That means we can only see events subjectively, from our own perspective.

Trouble is, when you’re playing the starring role in your own show, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you’ve taken a knock or things haven’t panned out the way you’d hoped.

It also allows those nagging doubts to come flooding in when you realize that you’re not the stellar act you’d previously thought.  

What can you do about this?

Try to reset your self-centered perspective by thinking about how you might help others instead.

Achieving something positive for them will help to restore your self-belief.

This doesn’t have to be anything huge. Even small gestures will help you to feel more positive and you’ll begin to climb out of that well of despondency.

Once you start thinking about what others need, you’ve succeeded in shifting your perspective away from yourself as the central character.

You’ll find it’ll help to lessen the burden of those gloomy feelings, defeat and discouragement.

8. Quit complaining – it doesn’t help.

When things don’t go our way, it’s all too easy to complain loudly to anyone who cares to listen.

Is this helpful and does it improve our state of mind?


The truth is that whining about where you are now won’t ever get you where you’d like to be.

It won’t make you happier and it’s really just a waste of time and energy that could be better spent on something more productive.

I have a personal example of how powerful not complaining can make you…

When I cycled from London to Paris in 2012 in a charity challenge, my right knee gave in to a very painful bursitis on early on day 2 of 4 days’ hard cycling.

I wasn’t even half way to my goal and still had a whole lot of miles ahead of me.

Quitting just wasn’t an option with all that sponsorship behind me.

Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t really tough to keep pedaling in spite of the pain (assisted by a veritable cocktail of medications, I’ll admit), but I did.

Although cycling alone (albeit with 100 others, just no one I knew) might seem like a disadvantage when things got so tough, in reality it made carrying on more achievable rather than less.


Because I didn’t have anyone to complain to.

Absolutely no moaning was possible, so I just got on with it, sang out-of-tune Disney songs up the (many) hills as the miles ticked painfully by till the time came for my victory loop around the Eiffel Tower.

I know that if there’d been anyone who’d listened to my woes, I’d have moaned and groaned, given in to the negative gremlins and quite possibly thrown in the towel altogether.

It was a great (if painful) life lesson that’s served me well since.

I was also given an invaluable piece of advice by one of my more inspiring teachers a long time ago.

He said that putting just a little of the energy you waste on complaining into fixing the problem, would pretty soon result in a solution.

He talked good sense.

Just the act of complaining undermines your equilibrium and allows despondency, discouragement and ultimately defeat to take over.

Avoid it.

If you quit whining and refuse to accept that you’re merely a victim, you’ll pretty soon realize just what an unstoppable force you can be in the face of adversity.

Try it!

9. Accept that now may be time to make a change.

When we’re wallowing in a pool of self-pity, downright discouraged and feeling defeated, it’s only natural to look for someone or something to blame.

Once we’ve identified the source of our misery, that’s when the complaining starts, railing against the injustice or injury.

And you already know about the dangers of complaining…

What we should be doing is looking within, considering how we’re feeling and getting a strategy in place to respond.

Maybe you need a change of heart or a change in your point of view or even a change in the way you go about things.

There may be nothing you can do to change external things, but you can alter the way you look at them.

Once you’ve changed your perspective, you’ll often find that those outside things you had no influence over start to change, too.

Then you’re primed for action to make a positive change, leaving discouragement and defeat way behind you.

Still not sure how to feel less defeated and more empowered instead? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

Speak to a therapist . Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to explore your thoughts and feelings surrounding the events that have left you feeling defeated so that you can work through it all.

BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it okay to feel defeated?

It is not only okay to feel defeated, it is normal. Upon encountering a major obstacle or experiencing a setback, most people will feel a bit down – not just about the situation but sometimes about themselves too.

It starts with disappointment. You wanted to achieve something but you haven’t yet managed to. That result may seem far away still and you are upset that you can’t yet have it.

Then there is self-doubt. You may question how capable you are and whether you can really do what you set out to do. You may think things like, “Am I strong enough to do this?” or, “Do I have what it takes to see this through?”

Then you might doubt the outcome you are aiming for. Do you really need to do it? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Isn’t there an easier choice that doesn’t require so much hard work and time?

And there are so many other feelings that might attach themselves to the feeling of being defeated by something: shame, regret, unworthiness, grief, and helplessness among others.

Whilst it is okay to feel defeated, you must try not to let the effects of a defeat linger for too long or it can cause bigger problems that are much harder to address in the long run.

What can you learn from defeat?

The first thing you can learn from defeat is that it is not always final. You may have lost the battle but you can still win the war. You may have failed at something this time around or progress may have ground to a halt in a goal you are striving for, but this moment does not have to mark the end of your attempts.

You can try again, and again, and again. You can keep trying until you either succeed or accept that you have given it your very best shot.

Of course, some defeats will be final. Sometimes you may only get one chance to do something. Sometimes you try so hard but still fall short of the outcome you hoped for. The second thing you can learn from defeat is that it is not the end of the world. Rarely does a defeat spell disaster. The sky will not fall, nor will the world stop turning.

Yes, a defeat can hurt a great deal, but when the dust has settled, you’ll see that you’re still in one piece, alive to fight another day. Your circumstances may now be worse than when you started, but if you’ve still got a roof over your head and food on the table, you’re doing okay.

The third thing you can learn from defeat is how not to do something. You tried, you failed, and now you know that you need to adjust your approach the next time. Look carefully at where and how things went wrong. Get down into the detail and consider the things you’d do differently if you were to have your time again.

Then actually try again if you’ve still got the chance and the fight left in you. Make the changes you have identified and see what the outcome is. You might still fall short, but you’ll learn even more ways not to do that thing, until you eventually perfect the process and achieve what you want to achieve.

Why is it hard to accept defeat?

Defeat can be hard to accept because it feels very personal. You are the one who has been defeated (or who feels defeated). You are the one who has failed. You are the one whose attempts were found wanting, whose skills and knowledge weren’t enough.

Defeat can make you question yourself. It can make you doubt your abilities.

When you feel utterly defeated in your attempts to do something, you might have to give up certain dreams or expectations you had for the future. This is hard to do if those things mean a lot to you.

In some ways it is good that defeat is often hard to accept. When you can’t accept a result as the final outcome of your efforts, you persevere with it and make renewed attempts to turn your dreams or goals into a reality.

In other ways it is not so good. Nobody wants to be or feel defeated and so we often look for some other person or thing to blame so that we don’t have to accept responsibility for the defeat. This isn’t a healthy mindset to adopt if the defeat is yours alone. Shifting blame alienates other people, it makes you seem ungracious, and it can scupper further attempts you might make because you don’t learn from your mistakes.

Why do I criticize myself for failing?

The tendency to be self-critical stems from low self-esteem. Self-esteem is essentially how much you like yourself. If you have low self-esteem, you don’t hold a very high opinion of yourself and so you feel it is okay to think or say harsh things about yourself.

Think about whether you would criticize a good friend if they failed at something. Would you ridicule them or point out all their flaws or call them a loser? No, of course you wouldn’t. You would be supportive, you would console them with kindness, and you’d stop them from berating themselves.

You wouldn’t be so hard on yourself if you had a favorable attitude toward who you are as a person. You’d give yourself a break, accept that you are an imperfect human being, and look for the silver lining or the lessons to be learned in the situation.

So if failure tends to lead to self-critical thoughts that persist long after the failure or setback you experience, you need to find ways to grow your self-esteem. This might require the assistance of a counselor who can listen to you and guide you to a healthier view of yourself through the use of mental exercises.

Why can’t I do anything right?

If it feels like you can’t do anything right, it’s essential that you reframe you experiences not as failures but as setbacks. Failures can feel final whereas a setback is merely a point on your continuing journey.

The truth is, you can do lots of things right, but you aren’t allowing your mind to recognize these things because it is too busy dwelling on all of the mistakes you might have made.

Nobody is perfect and to expect yourself to be perfect is utterly unrealistic. It is important that you snap out of this mindset and switch to one where you see and accept your flaws as part of the bigger picture in which you have strengths and talents too.

Whilst this is an issue that might require professional help to fully overcome, an easy way to get started is to practice self-awareness of your thoughts and focus. What are you thinking – is it positive or negative? If it’s negative, find something positive with which to counter the downbeat appraisal you have of yourself?

Keep checking in with yourself at regular intervals throughout the day. If you realize that you’ve been dwelling on something negative – a mistake, a failure, a perceived lack of skills or talents – keep pushing your mind back to a positive. The more you do this, the more your outlook will gradually change to one where you initially look for the positives and don’t view the negatives in such a bad light.

It is a good idea to seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to turn the feeling of defeat into one of victory.

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About The Author

Working as a freelance copywriter, Juliana is following a path well-trodden by her family, who seem to have 'wordsmithing' in their DNA. She'll turn her quill to anything from lifestyle and wellness articles to blog posts and SEO articles. All this is underpinned by a lifetime of travel, cultural exchange and her love of the richly expressive medium of the English language.