Exploring my emotions while dealing with failure

Veronika Nesverova - dealing with failure, exploring emotions

Tomorrow my passion project, the Malmö Workshop Festival, would have happened if it wasn’t cancelled. And today I’ll share with you my story of how I was dealing with my emotions during canceling it. An emotional journey, a wonderful opportunity to study my thinking. And so deep I dug.

Our thoughts create our emotions

Before we begin I want to explain a few concepts about emotions that I believe are true. Lately, the way I study and analyse my thoughts, emotions and actions has been hugely influenced by Brook Castillo and her The Life Coach School Podcast. Really recommend! (If you choose to listen start with the older episodes.) There I learned that all our emotions are created by our thoughts. All of them!

Here is an example: Somebody told you: “I don’t believe in your work! I think what you do is bullshit.” We will hear this and we create a thought about it.

And the thought could be for example “Oh no, somebody thinks I’m doing bullshit! Maybe I really am.” And we feel doubtful and sad.

Or it could be: “Who the hell do they think they are to tell me this!” and we feel angry.

Or: “That person is really confused and has no idea what they are talking about!” and we feel compassionate.

Or: “Finally somebody said it out loud and I can go and do something else!” and we feel relieved.

You get my point, right? A person saying words is a fact, it in itself doesn’t crete any emotion. It’s what we think about the situation what will determine what emotion we will feel. We are in charge of what we feel. Which doesn’t mean we should want to feel good all the time. Life is a balance of feeling good and feeling miserable. Sadness, grief, anger, fear, all those emotions can also serve us very well and should not be refused. They should be understood.

Now that I explained principle of how emotions are created let me get back to my personal story and how I was thinking about my own emotions when my passion project that I was working on for more than 2 months and that I gave my heart to was cancelled.

“What if we have to cancel?”

When we launched the event I felt excited and proud. It was a lot of work to prepare everything and I was truly and 100% believing that this was going to be a huge success. I was looking forward to meeting all the new people and looking forward to my reward in form of glad participants.

But a few days after the launch I realized that only a few participants signed up, much fewer than we counted with. I remember it was an evening, I was getting ready to go to bed when the thought stroke me for the first time: “What if we will have to cancel the festival?!” I was suddenly overpowered by fear, I was completely emotionally paralysed in this fear. And of course it felt awful and I cried.

Fear is good, you know? Because if you find out what exactly you fear you can account for it, you know what to focus on and you can create a strategy. From this moment on I knew that I need to focus all my effort into marketing. And so I did, I started fighting like a lion! I shot videos, pinged journalists, interviewed the people who were supposed to teach at the festival, did all sort of amazing stuff that I never got myself to do before. What a learning opportunity, this fear!

So I did all these marketing efforts, some of them way out of my comfort zone. And as the days passed and the sign-up trend really wasn’t improving I slowly started to realize the reality. From “Hm, maybe we really will have to cancel.” to “Shit, we WILL have to cancel!” Slowly, I stopped believing that we would make it. I felt sad about this but I allowed myself this sadness. Who wouldn’t feel sad when a project you gave your belief, energy and your passion into doesn’t work? My sadness was completely appropriate.

Hacking the confirmation bias

Now I’d like to discuss this from the perspective of confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a tendency we all have to favor information that confirm what we already believe.

This is a huge factor in personal life but also finance or science. If you believe that your experiment will generate a certain result you will unconsciously preferentially interpret the data in a way that it will fit the result you expected and ignore the data that doesn’t fit your expected result. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous confirmation bias is!

I’m trying to be aware of my confirmation bias and here it is where it really showed, especially once I knew I internally gave up on believing that we will find enough participants. That’s why I intentionally tried not to listen to the confirmations around me that were whispering: “I told you so, of course you’ll have to cancel.” Like when one of the teachers cancelled the workshop, when we created a video and it didn’t result in any new signups, when the email I sent to all the subscribers didn’t lead to any signups and when one of the participants cancelled.

Instead I tried to intentionally listen to the opposite bias. I imagined “If I was still believing that we were going to make it, that we were going to sell enough tickets, what confirmation bias would I have then?” What would be the confirmations telling me that we are on the good way? The fact that Sydsvenskan wanted to write about it, the fact that here and there people were actually signing up, the fact that all my friends were so supportive and gladly sharing the event with their friends and the never-ending hope coming from the partner organization.

A disbalance between thoughts and actions

From this moment on – when deep inside I stopped believing that we will make it to our goal – that’s when the real struggle started. Since I stopped believing, I knew that all my future marketing efforts will just be waste of time. And even more difficult was to keep marketing and not let it know in public that I have already stopped believing. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I just cancel the event after I stopped believing? Well I guess there was still a little sparkle of hope with me, kept alive by inputs from the outside – from the partner organization that didn’t give up, from my friends who kept believing in me and helping me. But also inputs from the inside – I just didn’t want to feel like a quitter. I’m a fighter and I’m going to fight until the end. But where’s the end? When are you just fighting the windmills, without any sense, for the sake of fighting? I’d find it extremely difficult to decide when to stop believing, not sure if it’s possible to affect it or maybe I just haven’t mastered my thoughts well enough yet. It is however possible to affect when we stop fighting in our actions. But even this decision is in my opinion extremely difficult, especially if you are trying to be a fighter and not a quitter.

As a last chance and with a tiny bit of hope left we have decided to reveal our cards. We publicly announced that we might have to cancel and urged people to sign up before a deadline. I felt rather relieved to finally be able to stop pretending in our marketing effort that everything was fine. But it also created a wave of compassionate and supportive messages from my friends. “Maybe you could try this and this?”, “Have you tried that? Maybe you could still completely change the design of the whole event?” And a human as I am for a short while I felt angry. “Don’t they know I have tried everything possible?” “Don’t they realize it’s almost impossible to completely change the whole concept in just one week?” Of course, I knew in the moment this reaction was inappropriate, my friends were only trying to help me!

Now when I am writing this text and really thinking about what happened inside of me then I realize why I felt angry. I wasn’t angry at them, I felt angry at myself for not wanting to receive any advice any more. I wanted to just cancel the event to be done with this emotional journey and I was angry at myself for wanting to cancel something that I once really wanted to happen.

After the final decision has been made

Well, we did cancel the event in the end. The event design was simply not made for a small group of people and continuing would leave our budget in red numbers which was a no no.

If you remember the theory of how emotions are created, I hope you will agree with me on this: The cancellation in itself is not sad. Events all over the world get cancelled all the time and I don’t feel sad about it! It’s my thoughts about cancelling the event that were causing this sadness. But sadness was just a small part of what I felt. The majority of what I felt was actually relief! A relief that finally I can allow myself to stop fighting. That this disbalance between my thoughts (stopped believing) and my actions (kept going) is finally over. I have not yet decided whether trying to hack your biased thinking and going against your thoughts with actions that don’t match is useful or not. Let me know if you have any opinion on this!

So how do I feel now about the whole thing? I feel content. The project has failed but I have not. I honestly know that I did my best. I feel glad that that the negative emotions are over thought. More than that I feel grateful for the experience and for that I once again have some empty time in my life that I can use for self-reflection. I feel ready to see what else I can do, I feel empowered knowing that no matter what kind of emotion my thoughts will create I can deal with it.

Do you also study your thinking? Do you also analyse your emotions and try to understand how and why they occur? I only started in the past couple of months. And now I finally understand what it means to learn to know oneself better. If you haven’t tried this yet, I’d suggest that you do. It’s so damn interesting!

Here is how you can start learning to understand your emotions:

  1. Pick something that happened in your life
  2. Try to list all the emotions that you felt, it’s usually not just one.
  3. Try to identify the underlying thought that caused each of the emotions.
  4. You can also think of what actions (things you did, what you said, your decisions) were originating from which of the emotions. Did you allow yourself to feel what you felt or did you try to get rid of the feeling?
  5. Which of the emotions are good for you and which didn’t serve you?

I’ll be happy if you let me know your thoughts about the topic as I’m excited to discuss this and learn more!