Have you ever failed at anything?
Of course you have. We all have. It started around the time we were learning to walk. It goes something like this – Stand up. Fall down. Stand up. Fall Down. Repeat as necessary until walking is achieved… As kids we seem hard wired to simply keep trying things. To attempt something over and over until we get it. From learning to walk to riding a bike. Playing the recorder to hitting a ball.
So why is it that as adults, we lose this ‘repeat as necessary’ approach and sometimes ‘fall down’ but don’t stand back up? What if we could change how we define failure so we begin to literally seek out opportunities to fail, as a path to achieving more of the goals we set for ourselves? I was reminded of this approach recently on a cold winter’s morning…
Those who know me well understand my drive to achieve. It makes me competitive in nature, whether it’s a social bike ride, a trail run with a mate or a competitive triathlon or game of squash, I like to win. Most of all, I like to beat myself. It’s one reason I love technology and apps like Strava or MapMyRun. I can easily track my performance against my last outing on the bike or the trails and see if I’ve scored another PR (personal record). Whether I’m cycling with friends or delivering a keynote, my aim every time I do something is to do it just a little bit better than last time. This is such a great way to live life because with a string of small improvements on a regular basis, you can improve considerably over a longer stretch of time. While this all sounds simple and wonderful (and it can be) in some cases our definition of success can actually lead to repeated failure and a destructive spiral of self doubt, avoidance behaviour and lack of achievement.
Those who know me well also know that I really enjoy cycling. My wife thinks I’m obsessed, and perhaps she’s right. Due in no small part to my 4am wake up calls, leaving home in the dark and single digit temperatures, driving 40 minutes to meet up with my crew, only to grind away for hours in the cold on a bicycle with a seat more suited to hammering in nails than cushioning my buttocks. Perhaps I am obsessed, but I do love it. One of the things I love about cycling is the lessons it contains for business and success in general. One of my favoured cycling routes includes a segment affectionately known as Razorback. While the entire circuit is just over 30kms, the best section (in my opinion) climbs the Blackall Range, rising to around 450 metres above sea level at its crest. Most of the climbing takes place on Razorback, ascending roughly 300 metres in vertical height over a distance of just 3km. Doesn’t sound like much as I type it, but some sections have a gradient as steep as 20% which basically means you climb 20 metres in height for every 100 metres travelled – tough going on a bicycle and not many local riders even attempt it, let alone get to the top without a break!
A few weeks ago I tackled it for the first time with a friend of mine. I managed to make the summit with only 2 short stops for breath. Apart from the feeling of nausea at the top I was psyched! A few days ago I decided to attempt it again, with the goal of making the climb without stopping. Whether it was the single digit temperatures, the less-than-perfect sleep I had the night before or something else. I stopped twice, three times and then eventually admitted ‘defeat’ less than 800 metres from the top. Initially I was gutted. How could this be? Surely I should have been able to improve on last time? I had failed. Dismally.
Or had I?
This is a problem faced by us all on an all too frequent basis. We set our sights on a target or outcome and, when we don’t achieve it, we tell ourselves (and others) that we failed. Bombed. Capitulated. Whatever terminology you want to give it there’s nothing positive about the feeling we get when it happens. There’s a way to change this though and to make our failings our pathway to success in business, sport, relationships and anything we strive to improve in.
Look at it this way. What if I’d stayed in bed that day? I could have cited a lack of sleep as a good reason not to cycle because I was feeling ‘off’. I could have used the weather and the cold temperatures as a plausible reason for hitting the snooze button a few more times. If I had stayed in bed that day would my cycling have improved at all? Perhaps. Maybe I just needed a recovery day! In reality the answer is more likely ‘no’. By getting out of bed and failing… failing to make it to the top, I in fact achieved plenty. I got to catch up with a few cycling companions and have a laugh or two along the way. I got to encourage someone else to have a crack and be a part of them making it to the top of Razorback. I saw the sun come up on a beautiful, clear, winter’s day and pause to reflect on the amazing life I’m fortunate enough to live. The greatest thing I achieved is something too many of us overlook on a daily basis in our business and personal lives – I participated.
By simply participating that day, I rode over 75% of the way to the top! Instead of focusing on what we did do though, we tend to be transfixed on what we didn’t achieve. We agonise over the opportunities missed, deals lost, time wasted, money gone instead of what we already have but take for granted. I’m sure you’re familiar with the adage ‘what we focus on we get more of’? I’m guessing if you’re anything like me you don’t want more rejection, debt, lost time or missed opportunities. So why focus on them?
Here’s a pro tip. Take a moment at the end of every day to make a mental list of the things you have achieved, obtained, improved, learned, experienced or advanced. Next, write them down somewhere you can refer back to later. Pretty soon you’ll have an incredibly powerful list of what you have done. Over time you’ll start seeing more of those things show up in your life and create a lasting state of gratefulness that’ll make you happier, calmer and more attractive to success. So go ahead, start embracing your failures and pretty soon you’ll be failing your way to the top!
P.S. If you’re a cyclist (road, mountain or social, it doesn’t matter) you should join me on Strava. Simply download the app and create an account to start tracking your progress. You can use your smartphone to log your sessions and then share them with your friends around the globe. My Strava name is ‘Warrick Bidwell’ so go ahead and follow me and I’ll return the favour! Warrick