Failure has, and always will be, a big part of my life. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t always losing at a game, or unable to complete a physical exercise, or struggling with something. I used to assume that it was a negative thing, and I would get depressed and bemoan my incompetence. I’d stop playing games I was bad at, I’d not compete in sports, and I’d assume that people who were better than me at activities had an inbuilt natural mechanism that I could never get.
It didn’t take long before I didn’t do much. I would just wrap myself up in my blanket and watch anime on my computer. I was safe, I was comfortable, but I wasn’t progressing. I wasn’t learning anything, I wasn’t meeting anyone, but most importantly I wasn’t failing at anything (although, in hindsight, I was failing at everything).
Today I fail all the time and it feels superb. I’m going to share with you three stories about my everyday failures to demonstrate why failure is one of the most powerful tools for success.
Exercising to fail
Whenever the topic of exercise is brought up, everyone seems to be an expert. Each with a different opinion about one thing or another. I am not an expert about fitness, however, I do enjoy going to the gym.
After about six weeks of going to the gym, I was really struggling to improve the amount of weight I could push using my chest. I would go and do my sets and complete them, but as soon as I added even 5kg more I was struggling to even push out a single rep. After some Googling, I found that you’re supposed to do two things that I wasn’t doing. The first was actually lower the weight of your personal best and increase the weight each set. The second was that you’re not supposed to be able to complete the set
By pushing yourself to the limit and just stopping short of damaging your body, you build muscle and strength more efficiently. By failing to complete the set you’ve actually progressed further. Isn’t that a weird thing to say? “The only way to progress is to fail,” is such a foreign concept for a lot of us, but extremely powerful once you incorporate it into your life.
Olivia Jacobs over at Positive Heath Wellness has an excellent guide on creating a Good Workout Regimen When You are Short on Time, check it out.
Gaming to fail
One of the things I hated to do was play sports, so I didn’t play. There was always someone bigger, faster, or better than me. As a result, I played a lot of computer games… unfortunately, I wasn’t great at those either. I remember playing hours and hours of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 and getting demolished by my cousins.
They were so good at Goldeneye that I couldn’t get a single kill when we played. I got incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t beat them, but instead of giving up, I started failing. Every match was the same, I’d fail, and I’d fail, and I’d fail. But each time I failed, I learned more and more about the game. I learned where the best guns were, where all the secret passages were, and where the body armour was. I learned how to aim properly, I learned the best routes to pick up the most ammo, and I began getting kills.
My cousins would still stomp on me, but instead of it being a complete whitewash, I’d get one kill, and then I’d get two kills. Soon I was getting half as many kills as them, and shortly after that I was winning a few matches, and then I was dominating all of the matches.
Whenever you feel you’ve failed, look at what you’ve learned. Frame things to look at how the defeat has made you better, or how a mistake could’ve been prevented or mitigated. But most importantly, if you want to play Goldeneye against me, you’d better have practised.
Socialising to fail
If it’s not clear from my past as a guy who was really good at Goldeneye and who watched a lot of anime, I wasn’t the best at socialising. I was shy and awkward, and I didn’t have any hobbies that I felt people were interested in. This meant that I didn’t have many friends, and I seemed determined to keep it that way.
Whenever I went to a social gathering, I was the guy that stood awkwardly near a wall (for protection) and watched the people having fun. I would say the wrong things constantly, either making people feel awkward or embarrassed, or I would talk for ages about something I liked without caring about what the other person thought about it.
From my lessons learned through Goldeneye, I started looking at social gatherings as a game (Of course, the win conditions in this game weren’t to kill everyone). Every interaction I had that made someone feel uncomfortable, or where I felt embarrassed, was like learning a new part of the game. I’d traded learning the location of the body armour for learning which jokes people love, I’d traded knowing how to aim properly for knowing how to complement properly, I traded me beating everyone else for helping everyone have a good time.
Failing to fail isn’t that bad either
From the majority of people that want to start their own businesses that I talk too, the main reason why they haven’t done so is “what if I fail?” To which I ask them, “so what if you do?” In the West, we live in a reality in which failure doesn’t have that many negative consequences. You may lose some money, you may get embarrassed, and you might have some people laughing at you. Even if you fail you’ll have learned something, developed a new skill, and not constantly be thinking “what if?”
Anyone that doesn’t want to be around you because you tried to do something isn’t worth your time. Anything that doesn’t require you to try isn’t worth your time. You owe it to yourself to progress and become better, and the best way to do that? Fail at something.
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