Fail your way to success

Failure Teaches Your Brain How to Succeed

In life and business I have often heard sayings like “Fail your way to success” or “I have just found 1000 ways that don’t work.” These sayings have often been more intimidating than inspiring to me. At the start of a project, the last thing that I want to focus on is the potential failure.

Today I was at the gym and I finally got why failure is a key ingredient in success. (Thanks to some awesome advice from my instructor.) Before I can fully explain it, let me give you a little background on me and athleticism. I have been going to the gym for about 3 months now very consistently. I have been loving the circuit training and how much stronger I am getting. I still STRUGGLE to do anything on my hands (push ups, plank, burpees, etc.) despite getting stronger everywhere else. I just can’t do it and when the instructions say 12 burpees, I do 6 updowns and feel pretty good about myself. I feel like I am pushing myself to the max and yet I don’t get sore at all and don’t seem to be progressing. Today I took the plunge and decided to ask the hard question to my instructor Gavin. “Is there something just wrong with me or is this a mental block?” He was quick to tell me what I guess I already knew, this is a mental block. But then he said “You need to fail more.” There it was again! This ode to failure that I just don’t totally get. I have a rough history with failing at athleticism and I go to the gym to feel successful about my fitness. Isn’t it enough of a failure that I can’t do 2 push ups?

I was always the last kid chosen on the playground for ANY sport. In junior high, I used to pretend to not care about volleyball in PE and would just stand there as the ball bounced in front of me. I guess I would rather have people assume that I thought I was too cool for volleyball than to see how bad I really was. The first time my husband and I went jogging together, he was watching me and said “Stop it, you are so funny!” but I wasn’t joking. I do admittedly look a lot like Phoebe from Friends when I run.

My brain is programed to keep me safe and comfortable and I have a lot of insecurity about athleticism. It feels like stretching myself physically is against my brain’s recommended programming.

Rather than just brush off Gavin’s advice today, I stayed after and asked for more clarification. I asked him “How do I overcome this mental block?” He again responded by telling me “You need to fail more often.” Perhaps it was the skeptical look on my face that led him to elaborate. He told me that if I push myself to the point where I physically fail doing push ups, I am telling my mind what I want. If I fail, I am telling my mind that I want to do more push ups than my current capacity and my brain will go to work building more muscle, strengthening tissue and getting me what I want. My failure teaches my brain what I am aiming for. If I continue to stay on the edge of my comfort zone, I am training my brain that I want to stay comfortable.

I realized how easy it is to do this in business as well. Staying in my comfort zone is safe. Expanding my audience, developing new products, trying new marketing methods or narrowing my niche are all great ways to grow. And they are risky. What if I fail?  Instead of letting my fear of failure intimidate me, I can apply this same principle to tell my mind that I want to grow. My new project might end in failure. But then I can go to work evaluating my process, strengthening my approach and creating new solutions. My failure might just tell my brain that I’m ready for more.

I recently asked my team “What would you do if you couldn’t fail?” Maybe I need to ask myself that question again. With this new understanding of failure, my answers might be different.  The idea of “Fail your way to success” isn’t going to scare me anymore. I’m realizing that it is not the failure itself that makes us successful. It is what our minds do when we learn what we really want that drives us to succeed.

So What do YOU Think?