Today I want to talk a little bit about failure, as it seems to be a common theme that’s coming up for some of my clients lately. Life is just happening to them! One is super busy at work right now and feels like she can’t get her usual 45-60 minute workouts in when she’s not training with me in person. Another has been dealing with a nagging injury and is limited in her movement options: she can’t do all the exercises she’s been used to doing, and some of the classes she enjoys taking aren’t conducive to the fastest path to recovery. Another has a lot of personal family appointments and obligations lately, and she’s finding she only has time for three workouts per week instead of her usual five.
These ladies sure are dedicated, but when the thought of veering off plan even the teeniest bit presents itself, some of them are having a really hard time handling it!
The other day I challenged one of my gals to really think about what’s so bad about not sticking to her exact plan. I asked her what the worst that could happen is.
Her response? “It means I will have failed.”
Let’s dissect this a little bit. Who will she have failed? Certainly not me! And is this really a FAILURE? Or is it just a setback?
I love this topic, and I love coaching my clients through it! 🙂
When it comes to failure, there are two different kinds of mindsets to consider:
The first mindset is a linear mindset. Those who fall into this category don’t think there will be any setbacks in their journey. They believe that the path to their desired outcome (ie weight loss, improved nutrition, career advancement, etc.) is a straight line onward and upward, or smooth sailing. If something goes wrong, they can’t even believe it, and their reaction typically looks something like, “An obstacle?! WTF! Now what am I supposed to do? This isn’t even fair.” It’s kind of victim culture-ish, no?
The second mindset is a peak and valley mindset. Those who fall into this category actually anticipate that setbacks will happen along their journey. They believe that the path to their desired outcome will have its ups and downs, and they actually know that SOMETHING that isn’t ideal is bound to come up, even if they don’t know exactly what. These folks tend to embrace the challenges and persist through them. If something goes wrong, their reaction typically looks something like “An obstacle? Oh yeah, here it is. Let’s tackle it.” This growth mindset is much more attractive, isn’t it?
The key to shifting from a victim to growth mindset here is resiliency. When faced with setbacks, resiliency is THE tool that will help you handle them. Resiliency is what will prevent you from getting bogged down in that “I’m a failure” feeling, and it most certainly is going to be what helps you level up when something comes up.
Below, I’ve listed out the five action steps that help me build resiliency, accept setbacks when they come up, and prevent obstacles from having any power over me and my path forward (or backward!). These five steps always help me level up with positive action instead of dwelling on the setback itself.
Honor your feelings.
First, know that it’s okay to sit with your feelings for a while. Anytime I’ve been injured, I’ve definitely been frustrated and upset at first, and that’s OKAY. It won’t do any good to paint over your emotions with a smile if you simply aren’t ready, so take some time to engage in self-care activities that will boost your mood like going for a leisure walk, getting a massage, or spending time with a friend. Give yourself some time to accept your feelings, process, and reflect, but the key is that you don’t want to remain in a place of frustration or negativity for TOO long.
Practice realistic optimism.
I say realistic optimism because there is a difference between believing you will be able to turn things around and succeed and believing you will be able to turn things around and succeed EASILY. In the face of failure, an unrealistic optimist will just assume the world will reward them for thinking positively about the situation, whereas a realistic optimist will recognize that overcoming certain obstacles will require some serious thought and consideration.
For example, about a year ago, I was having rejection after rejection with the ideas I’d pitch in my corporate wellness job. When I started thinking about how I might be able to leave the 9-5 world, I didn’t assume it would all be peachy. It took MONTHS (almost a year!) of careful planning and strategizing before I was able to take my leap of faith and set myself up for success. I didn’t just sugarcoat things and expect everything to work out.
When practicing realistic optimism, there are a couple of go to phrases that I like to use to help me not get bogged down in a place of feeling stuck.
- “I feel _____ about this, but I’m grateful for _____.”
- “WHEN something happens, I can bounce back. I know I can handle it.”
- “I have a choice in the situation. Plan A was not the only way.”
Separate the setback from your identity.
This one is KEY. When something goes wrong, you simply can’t make it personal. Just because you haven’t found the way with something yet doesn’t make you a failure. Are you trying? Are you showing up? Are you doing your best with the circumstances that you have? THESE are the things that speak more to your character than the setback itself.
My client who is working out three times a week instead of five times is not a failure because of it. My friend who decided to prioritize sleep instead of waking up for bootcamp class last week doesn’t suck. My own worth is not dictated by the number of people who decided to purchase my Master Your Meal Prep program last month.
An easy way to disassociate the situation from your identity is to ask yourself if you would talk to your mom, sister, or best friend the way you are speaking to yourself in your head. Would you call any of them failures if their bosses told them they were on the right path toward getting a promotion but they just weren’t quite there yet? Would you call any of them failures if they were working on their nutrition but something came up and they veered off course a little? No way! Because you know their worth isn’t tied to these things. You need to tell yourself the same.
Question the lessons learned.
Once you feel like you are in a better place to move forward, reflect on the obstacles that came up for you. When my clients tell me they didn’t do well or that they “failed” at a weekly goal they set for themselves, I coach them to reframe the situation in a more positive way because there always, ALWAYS a lesson learned. Remember, failure is actually wonderful feedback for the next time we try about what things worked well and what things didn’t work so well.
When you have a setback, remove all judgment, and then ask yourself:
–> Was the situation completely out of my control?
–> How can I adjust or take a new course of action to avoid making the same mistake next time?
–> What might have produced a better outcome?
–> How am I better from this?
–> What’s at least one thing I can learn from this?
The answers might not come to you right away, which is totally fine! The important thing is to realize that the lessons learned are actually precisely what make you more successful in the long run. It’s like how Michael Jordan is known for saying that even though he’s missed more than 9,000 shots in his career, lost almost 300 games, and has been trusted 26 times to take the game winning shot and missed, these repeated failures are why he’s succeeded and is such a well-known athlete today.
Make a plan and act.
Finally, after sitting with your feelings a bit and reflecting on the lessons learned, focus on what your next steps will be. Take your new knowledge, make a plan, and then ACT! Even if that plan means taking one small step in the next direction, it’s a step, isn’t it? People with a growth mindset don’t just have a plan A, but they have a plan B and a plan C. When something goes wrong, they readjust, pivot, and keep going. Action can sometimes be the scariest part, but you always have realistic optimism to fall back on (you DO have the tools to handle whatever comes your way). And remember, action always begets more action.
Life’s setbacks present themselves in both big and small form, but regardless of what your setback is, these five strategies should hopefully help you build the resiliency necessary to bounce back from whatever is thrown at you. Remember, just because we experience failures doesn’t mean we are failures.
Failure is just a story that we tell ourselves.
And there’s always somewhere else to go.
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