A Mindset to Overcome Failure

A Mindset to Overcome Failure

How do you answer “tell me about a time you failed”? Here are some tips and strategies for crafting a compelling answer.

We’ve all experienced the pleasure of some kind of achievement in life, from that dream girl accepting your request to go out to dinner, to the time you walked out after an interview thinking, “I nailed that!”

To increase your inner emotional need to perform at your absolute best in an interview, you have to call up that sense of achievement, which will help your brain create a more intense desire for success. When you do that, failure is not an option - this is exactly what I told Upjourney when asked about dealing with failure.

The human brain is the most powerful computer known. But it is surprisingly predictable and prone to systematic errors. Believe it or not, your brain is always trying to do its best for you. But when things work out differently, it’s often a case of you giving your brain the wrong direction.

Here’s a great example: imagine you get really nervous before interviews; your head fills with negative thoughts, and you just ‘know’ you are going to fall apart during the interview. With this mindset, what happens in the interview? You duly crumble and make a complete mess of it.

Stop thinking about what might go wrong and instead focus hard on what you want to happen directly after the interview. Imagine yourself walking out of the room, having been offered the job.

But when you mentally develop this scenario, you have to think really clearly. Build the image in your head of how you look striding out of the meeting room. Spend a couple of minutes building more and more detail into the image. Spend time switching from watching yourself proudly striding along, to looking out through your own eyes—switch back and forth a few times.

Once you have this clear image, add some sound; listen to your breathing and the sounds of your feet as you walk. Now build in touch: Are you walking on a hard floor or a soft one? Are you warm or cool? Now add in the smell of success. What can you smell as you walk along, having just been offered the job?

What you have now is a full multi-sensory perception of what interview success feels like. Feel the multi-sensory pride, confidence, and sheer positivity. That’s how you want to feel during the interview.

Tell your brain that you want to win

Losing is not an option. This is a proven technique taught to sportspeople by psychologists. Golfers imagine walking off the final hole, having won. Sprinters imagine crossing the finish line (first, of course).

Unfortunately, many interviewees find it hard not to dwell on past failures. Our brains make excuses by focusing on negative outcomes from the past, taking the negativity of previous interviews or failures, and magnifying our emotional response. As a result, our brains—always avoiding pain, remember—are less likely to try again.

Failure doesn’t exist

It's only a different outcome than the one we wanted.

No one gets everything right every time. Everyone makes mistakes, and all of us have experienced how it feels to fall short. When that happens, our brains often deploy apathy and excuses as defense mechanisms. They reduce the importance of attaining a goal (sour grapes), thereby making us less determined to try to achieve it again. Then they shift blame to anyone other than ourselves. We may decide that not reaching the goal was society’s fault, a parent’s, a coworker’s, or a friend’s.

Stop for a moment, and consider how differently you have felt reading this article. As you worked through your positive mental image, how did you feel then? And how do you feel thinking of past failures? I’ll wager they are very different feelings, right? But it’s still you, still your brain and you’re still reading this.

Here’s another important strategy to combat self-doubt. We now know that our bodies and brains work together. How you think alters how you behave and vice versa.

If you sit in an interview chair feeling small, nervous, and fearful, guess what happens? Your body will adopt a posture of hiding away from the fear. You’ll round your shoulders, lower your head, breathe more shallowly and even look down more often. When you physically look like this, your brain feels it and makes you feel even more nervous. It’s a vicious circle.

But if on the other hand, you were to sit proudly upright, chest out, chin up and eyes looking straight at the interviewer(s). This will make you feel a whole lot more confident. And when your brain senses this, it will again enhance the positivity, creating more of a virtuous circle.

Walk your talk in interviews without appearing too arrogant

Here’s another proven way to improve your interviewing skills; adopt the persona of someone who you perceive would be best in the interview. One example people use is to become Freddie Mercury of all people. He famously told EMI the following: “We [Queen] don’t need you [EMI], you need us.” And he firmly believed it too. That’s the key; you have to really walk your talk in interviews, without appearing too arrogant, of course.

During the interview, focus on the words you use as you talk. Avoid uncertainty by changing words like might, could, maybe, and hopefully, into much more positive responses like: “Will, definitely” and “without a doubt.”

Once again, your brain will hear what you’re saying, alter your emotions and posture, and help you actually be more positive.

In other words, your brain will do all it can to deliver what you believe.

Imagine, for example, that you want to land a new job. After several interviews, you lose confidence and start to focus on the negatives of each interview performance. Rather than admit that some component of the interview was ineffectual, your brain tries to save face. It floods you with memories of past failed interviews. If you failed in the past, why bother trying again?

Concentrate on the positive aspects of past interviews

A better train of thought is to concentrate on the positive aspects of past interviews, however small, and to recognize that as a positive outcome in line with your overall goal.

That way, you can communicate a different message to your brain. “OK, I didn’t get the job, but I did have a great answer to the question of where I wanted to be in 5-years,” or “they really did warm to me what I talked about my achievements.”

Overall, It’s not a revolutionary new strategy for getting a job, as it is a refinement of an ever-improving strategy. Don’t let your brain trick you into thinking that because you didn’t get that job you wanted, your entire interviewing ability is a flop because that’s exactly what your brain will do.


Let me conclude by mentioning marginal gains. When it comes to interview skills, this is another key consideration. The doctrine of marginal gains is all about small incremental improvements in any process, adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together.

When it comes you your interviewing prowess, don’t think of making one huge change to improve your performance, instead make many much smaller, easier to attain, improvements. Go from seeking to change one thing by 100% to changing 100 things each by 1%.

Found this blog post useful?

Why not get a FREE brand review to boost your brand communications...

About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

If you think there is value in this article then please, please share it, thank you.

Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

Explore our Brainsights

Behavioural Science & Shopper Psychology Workshops

Are you ready to unlock the power of Behavioural Science & transform your business with Shopper Psychology-based insights?

Read Story

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Cans get Revamp

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar cans are to be revamped with an alleged ‘sleek’ smooth new look. But why has Coke done this? Here’s some interesting science...

Read Story

Get the latest brainsights straight to your email box

We will never share your email address with third parties.
By subscribing you agree to with our Privacy Policy and provide consent to receive updates from our company.