6th Mar 2010
Upside of Failure
No one likes to be wrong. It hurts. You repeated “Achilles, Achilles, Achilles” in your head while raising your hand in 7th grade math class. No, Timmy. Pythagoras created that theorem. And a pile of bricks lands on your ego. It will be a while before you muster the courage to raise that hand again, even if you’re dead certain of the answer.
But why does this happen? This is the human condition. We’re wired not to fail. Scientists say it’s inversely connected to our need for achievement. Dr. Martin Fishbein’s expectancy-value theory predicts that, “when more than one behaviour is possible, the behaviour chosen will be the one with the largest combination of expected success and value.” In plain english, we choose to do what we think we will succeed at.
Failing makes us stronger.
Go right now and do as many pushups as you can. It might be 5 or 100. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is do them until your muscles fail. I have $20 here that says your thoughts will make you quit before your muscles actually stop working. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
The harder something becomes the less likely we are to see the value on the other side. We tend to avoid starting — or finishing — things that feel like they won’t succeed. What we’re really doing is failing ourselves by quitting too soon.
Did you fail, or quit?
Chances are very high that your thoughts stopped you before your muscles did. That’s quitting and it doesn’t feel good. If you push yourself to complete muscle failure, then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next, you’ll be very sore, and you’ll get stronger. It’s a fact, and it feels good.
It’s not only your muscles that get stronger with repeated failure. Your mind got stronger when you answered that math question wrong (now you know it’s Pythagoras). Your character gets stronger with failure, too. And that’s the crux of this post.
When we push to our real limits — not the limits we think we have — we learn a little something about ourselves. We learn not only where our limits really are, but how to surpass them. Then, just like our muscles, our character starts to grow. Arguably, knowing your limits is the most powerful knowledge of all.
“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” ˜ Lance Armstrong
Ten years from now when you look back on what you’re doing today, do you want to look back and know you did everything you could, or that you quit? All the great leaders, athletes, companies, and visionaries failed. Repeatedly. Just have a look at history and you’ll see plenty of mistakes and failures in their stories. The difference is the people and organizations that succeed see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. They aren’t afraid of it. You shouldn’t be either.
The next time you fail don’t take it personally. You’ve found a limit. Maybe your own. Embrace that moment when it happens. Learn from it. You’ve gained something that people who try and quit can never have. By pushing to that limit you’ve done something few people ever will. The pain will subside and when it does, get up, dust yourself off and try again. Then soon, maybe on the next try, success will be yours.