My last blog post talked about failure, in a bit of a slap-you-in-the-face kind of way. Someone’s comment to me on my use of the word “failure” got me thinking a little more. True, the word has taken on a negative connotation and doesn’t elicit a positive feeling inside, nor does it immediately motivate (most) people. While I may have chosen a better word or title for my purpose in that last blog, it got me pondering more and more about what it means to fail. It means something very different for every person. We fail at things- probably hundreds (or more) of times per day. Every person will have a completely different perception and emotional response to each “failure”.
According to Webster’s Dictionary the word means “the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective”. So really, that depends on each person: it depends on their “objectives”, and their perception of whether they’ve met said objective. A failure could simply be going for a parking spot, and then realizing that a smart car was tucked into it. Amiright?
Our perception and fear of failure is what holds us exactly where we are
So why are we so afraid of failure? Why do we shy away from putting ourselves out there, from trying new things, or from challenging ourselves because we are afraid to “look bad” or not do something “right”? When I think about people that are “fearless” – this is exactly what I mean. People who try at things over and over again, with either no fear of failure, or they don’t allow that fear to stop them from trying.
It’s paradoxical, because in terms of fitness, we WANT to fail, over and over again. Because failure makes us physically stronger. In the gym I have to remind my clients every day not to be frustrated when we do exercises to near failure. Some become discouraged or angry because it’s challenging and they aren’t doing it “perfectly”. If I had clients doing exercises to the point that every rep was doable and looked perfect, they would actually NEVER see results or improvement, and in my mind, that would make me a poor trainer. There needs to be failure in order to push our own limits (my only caveat here is we are not talking about movement mechanics and form failure – this is a completely different discussion).
I admit I have the same struggles. When things are tough and I perceive myself as “sucking” at them (because I’m a perfectionist), I tend to want to avoid doing them. Sometimes things seem impossible to improve or become better at. But time and time again, I’ve proven myself wrong with persistence and practice. “Success” might not happen after the 2nd, 10th or 50th attempt. But I can tell you that although sometimes small, I can see progress in each attempt.
The problem with our stigma on this word is that it causes us to shy away from new, challenging things. Our perception and fear of failure is what holds us exactly where we are. It holds us stuck in an imaginary “comfort zone” that we’ve created for ourselves that is completely unique to our own mind. And I suppose that’s okay if you don’t want to go anywhere – but I haven’t met ONE person in my life who hasn’t wanted something better for themselves or to improve in some way.
So what can we do about it? How can we free ourselves from the fear of something that we’ve made up? What if “failure” was only a function of what you perceive to be happening? What if all it took was looking at things a little differently? I mean perceiving the way things occur to you differently. Here are a few strategies to use to start moving along the path of progress:
- Decide that “Failure” is something that you now desire. Recite this as often as possible: “I want to try again and again at things. Every time I fail, I learn something more. When I “achieve” my goal/objective, I immediately raise the bar higher. There is no ceiling to my progress. In each attempt and failure, I am growing.
- Remind yourself that perfection is a pipe dream. There is no perfection. There is only progress – and it is an infinite journey. When something becomes challenging for you and you become discouraged or begin to talk negatively to yourself (you know, the “I suck…” stuff), then stop yourself and be reminded that doing it is part of the journey. Each attempt most likely won’t be pretty. And even the BEST in their field make mistakes, miss targets all the time. The difference is they don’t stop.
- Fear is made up. To have fear of failure is to imagine a negative outcome to something that hasn’t even happened. Instead, remind yourself that nothing terrible can actually happen to you if you try. When something happens (anything!), ask yourself “how am I perceiving this? What is really happening here?” And you will realize that the fears and stories that you were concerned with are not really there.
So I want you to take away from this that you can change your fears when you recognize that you are perceiving things in some way. And the good thing is that the more you face these “fears” and go after things, the easier it becomes – which will actually make you unstoppable. Go after it!