For most of my life, I’ve sucked at failing. And sure, I know what you’re thinking who wants to be good at failing right? But my inability to fail was actually a big problem.
Every time I set a goal and didn’t achieve it, it would set me back. I would lose my confidence and wallow in self pity, cigarettes, and pot. Failure became the big scary thing that I wanted to avoid at all costs.
Then years later I came to understand that failure is a normal part of life, especially when you are trying to do something like start a business, lose weight, or become happier. From time to time despite our best efforts, we all slip up.
But even though I knew this, I still struggled with failure. Sure I didn’t wallow in drugs when I failed, but I still tried to avoid it like the plague. And then I started watching how other people failed.
Some of my clients would fall short of their goals and they would just give up. If they missed one day of food tracking, they wouldn’t do it for the week. If they missed one mindfulness task, they wouldn’t do any of them. And if they missed one workout, they would turn into sloths until they saw me again.
In each and every case, they saw these slips as signs of their not being good enough, evidence of their imperfection, and a good reason to throw in the towel.
But they weren’t all like that. Some clients would miss a day of food tracking, but they would write down what they remembered even if it was 5 days later, and when they missed mindfulness tasks, they’d still work on the ones they could.
You see the different was that these clients saw failure as a natural part of growth. They saw their slips as little bumps on the path that they had to pass if they we’re going to make progress.
And that’s why these ‘greatly failing’ clients ended up making huge changes in the long run. They changed because they knew how to fail.
Here are the keys to great failure (and success) that they taught me:
1. Slipping is normal:
It’s totally ok if you slip have a cookie, skip one workout, or miss a day of doing your habit. Don’t beat yourself up and feel like crap. Instead, accept that you slipped and get started again as soon as possible.
2. Determination is better than perfection:
Perfection is a high bar and one that is hard to reach. But great success isn’t made up of perfection; it’s made of determination. The more times you get back up after you stumble the stronger you become. So don’t stop! Even when it feels like you’ve made more mistakes than Richard Nixon.
3. You are a hero for trying:
I know you won’t get a participation award just for showing up to your life, but the fact that you have set an intention and tried is already a huge victory.
Many people just surrender to their lives and actively delude themselves. If you are reading this blog and have even attempted to change your life, that is a heroic effort. Don’t discount the merit of your attempts; instead wear them like a badge of honor.
4. Practice Failing:
Don’t just go over how everything is going to go right. Make a plan for when you make a mistake, because you will. Think about what you want to say to yourself in that moment. Even better write yourself a letter and then pull it out when the time is right.
5. Great Things Are Worth Doing Poorly
Excellence is important, but even more important is being willing to take imperfect action. While it may not look pretty, your feeble attempts are much more robust, then the death of your intentions. Be willing to make a mini fool of yourself. Every person who has done great things, has done other things very awkwardly.
The Call of The Failure
Ok are you ready to fail correctly? I hope so.
Just remember that the brother/sister hood of failure is vast and wonderful. When you try and fall short, you have lots of company.
I know that you can fail, but not let it stop you. I know you can pick yourself up and make the life you want to live, not by being perfect, but by being a perfectly imperfect you.
2 thoughts on “You Suck At Failing”
There are some professions where failing is directly taught. Acrobats, for example, are first taught how to fall before anything else.
Awesome. And I love George’s comment too! Last year I took one of our children to roller skating class. One of the first things they were taught was how to fall properly in skates. It felt profound as I don’t ever recall being taught how to do that!
Toku, you’ve inspired me to bring this into parenting big time. I’m not only going to model this, but share the grace of failing well with parents and my kids directly. Thank you very much!
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