How often does fear of failure prevent you from taking step towards what you truly want, or even from trying something new?
This week in CrossFit I hit a new PR in “clusters,” after initially failing at that same weight.
It was a big moment, a feeling of elation that I rarely experience. Lifting the bar overhead, I shouted “I GOT IT!!” and jumped up and down like Oprah Winfrey had just given me a new car.
A voice within told me to leave it there. End on a high note. After all, I had failed at that weight earlier. This was a great way to end the class. On a high note.
Instead, I pushed a little further. I added just 2.5 pounds to the bar, for one final attempt.
I couldn’t get it. In fact, I fell back, landing on my ass. I was ok. I wasn’t hurt.
In fact, I was smiling and laughing.
I shook it off and called it a day. I didn’t let the failure ruing my vibe or my flow.
Reflecting later, I realized that in many ways that failure, and how I responded to it, was a more important moment for me than the high of the PR.
The Risk of Not Embracing Failure
When I was growing up, anything less than a perfect score on a test was met with the question:
What happened to the other points?
Although lip service was given to the idea that “nobody is perfect,” excellence — indeed perfection — was clearly expected.
This created a deeply conditioned belief that effort is meaningless unless you succeed. Results, not effort, was all that mattered.
I’ve seen in my own life and in my clients how this type of conditioning can create success at the start, but eventually lead to stagnation in life.
Many high achievers reach a level of success and then become paralyzed when it comes taking further risk, or exploring new territory. We often believe we must learn more, or get more credentials, before attempting something new.
The idea of attempting something and failing is counter to everything we’ve been conditioned to believe.
If you don’t expand yourself beyond what is familiar and comfortable, you don’t grow. And when it doesn’t feel safe to explore the unfamiliar — because of your entrenched beliefs about what failure means — you’ll stay in your lane.
You won’t venture into new experiences. You won’t take risks. You won’t push your edge.
And you won’t grow.
Not only does this lead to stagnation, but also it leads to a discontent with life.
We need to have new experiences to feel alive. We need adventure and risk. We need to feel the freedom to fail.
How to Shift Deeply Conditioned Beliefs About Failure
I’ve found that when a belief is deeply conditioned, mantras and affirmations are insufficient to rewire the pathways that create that belief. A entrenched belief is like a big string ball tied in knots. The knots must be untied one at time to unravel the ball.
This can only be done through a tangible, lived experience.
I try to create these experiences in spaces where it is safe to fail.
CrossFit. Flying trapeze. Trampoline. Publishing a daily blog.
Each time I create an experience where I can give myself permission to fail, I untie another knot in the ball.
When I see that I’m ok even after a failure, I untie another knot in the ball.
When I can find joy even in a failure, I untie another knot in the ball.
When I can celebrate myself for attempting something even knowing that I might fail, I untie another knot in the ball.
Each experience of failure in a safe space unties the knots of the deep conditioning that keep us from taking risks we need to continue growing.
There are times when results and outcomes are important, but we lose the joy of life when we stick with what is safe and familiar.
Where can you give yourself permission to fail?