If Failure is Not An Option, You Won’t Fail
“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, Return of the Jedi
I have recently learned a back handspring, and a front flip, among some other more complex gymnastics moves. Every time I want to try one without my coach to spot me, he considers whether I’m ready, nods and says, “Alright, give it a shot. The chance of seriously injuring yourself is probably less than 60/40.” He is joking, sort of, but it is true that many of the stunts I attempt are actually quite dangerous. And that is why I don’t mess up. Without safety nets, I can’t afford to fail.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t really have this mindset. Many of the clients at my gym try to lift one weight, succeed or fail, and never try to go higher. They find a weight that they know they can lift and never really attempt to push their limits. Then, they wonder why they aren’t getting any stronger.
People seem to have a real problem with discomfort and uncertainty. In fitness, there is always that terrible fear when handling a new, heavier weight that you won’t make it, that you’ll fail and be crushed. That fear pushes you to work harder, and thus get stronger; failure is not an option so you won’t fail. But you have to be willing to work with that fear, accept it, and let it push you. When you’re trying to pull yourself under a bar that weighs as much as you do, there is the very real possibility of dropping it on your head, and humans don’t like to be underneath things that weigh a lot. But the consequences of failure push you to succeed.
Of course, weightlifting is generally pretty safe (fewer injuries occur during weightlifting that in other sports like soccer). The sense of impending doom you get from handling a new weight is really irrational, but it can help push you. More significant is that feeling of uncertainty and fear of failure you get when you’re actually about to do something that might really hurt you.
Be Willing to Commit Yourself Totally, or Don’t Even Try
I will occasionally put myself in situations that will result in injury should I fail, just to force myself not to fail. I do it intelligently, with proper progression, but at a certain point, you must simply trust yourself and give it a shot. The consequences of a failed back handspring include a faceplant, and you can’t really do it halfway and ‘build up to it.’ You have to jump as hard as you can backwards, or not at all.
I had a friend in martial arts who was trying to learn a backflip. His method for learning this, as well as many other stunts, was to find a completely safe way to practice something approximating it. He figured that once he mastered that, he’d naturally develop a backflip. He would have me lock elbows with him and then roll over my back. My method for learning backflips was to jump backwards into a foam pit, then a trampoline, then a pad, then the floor. He was afraid to commit to launching himself into the air and giving up any control. I was willing to take the risk and commit to a jump. You never know until you really try.
The Safety Nets Hold You Back
When I was finally ready to move off the trampoline in learning front handsprings, my coach set me up with a thin mat and told me to jump really hard and plant my hands. The first time, I failed, landing awkwardly on my butt and jarring my neck. The second time, I succeeded handily. The reason I failed the first time was because I was used to the assistance of the trampoline, and didn’t push as hard as I needed to. Once I realized I had to give it my all, I managed the stunt easily.
Life is a lot like that. Even if you have the ability to do something, allowing yourself the safety nets and assistance will prevent you from unleashing your true capabilities. Sometimes, in order to get better at something, you must pull the mats out from underneath yourself and learn to give it your all. If you want to make a career change, but never really get around to it, it might be because your current job gives you a safety net. You know you can always fall back, and the uncertainty of taking a job risk is more intimidating than staying in your current, unsatisfying career. If, however, you quit your current job, you give yourself no choice but to fully commit to your new endeavor.
So, if you know you can do something, and keep trying but never follow through, check to see what kind of safety nets you’ve still got set up underneath you. Maybe you don’t eliminate all of them, but take out enough that failing would really hurt, and give it another shot. More than likely, once you know you cannot afford to fail, you will get the job done. You might even surprise yourself and put so much power into it that you go flying further than you imagined (like I did when I really nailed my front handspring).
What goals do you currently have for yourself that you aren’t living up to? Is it because you know you don’t really have to? Do you want it badly enough to commit totally and remove any option of failure?