“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
When training in the martial arts, you will at some point fail to do something. And this is a good thing. One should go so far as to hope to fail throughout their training career. It is failure that makes us stronger, smarter, more technical martial arts. But it’s not just about failing. It’s about failing better, failing in such a way that you learn from it and adapt quickly to address the problem that led to the failure.
In my 16 years in the martial arts, I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of failures, failures to learn quickly, failures to defend one’s self, failures to complete a set of physical exercises, etc. The ones who bounce back the quickest are the ones that fail better.
Here are 7 ways to fail better that came from an article recently published in Psychology Today that I’ve put in perspective for martial artists:
1. Lighten Up
Most people who bounce back from setbacks have a sense of humor. They know when they’re taking things and themselves too seriously. I’ve seen students who were so paralyzed by fear of failure that they handicap themselves, sabotaging themselves by providing reasons for why they fail and will continue to fail at something. There is a certain logic to it, because, hey, if something prevented you from doing your best, you can’t be said to have failed, right? Humour is about stepping back for fresh perspective. Many believe that it’s something you’re born with, but we can become better at seeing the lighter side by sheer exposure to that way of thinking. And it does take the edge off of failure. After all, an embarrassment today makes for an entertaining story tomorrow.
2. Join the Club
Misery loves company. There’s can be value in commiseration. Some students will speak to others who have similar training problems. The positive side to this is that it can give them the impulse and insight to do something about it. They train together to work through their difficulties and try to find the right questions to ask in order to get the best direction from instructors. That being said, any such discussion should be positively oriented, seeking to find solutions, as opposed to pure commiseration of one’s difficulties, which may only serve to build the walls surrounding the problem.
3. Feel Guilt, Not Shame
The difference between guilt and shame is the reason we assign as to why failure occurs, notes Richard Robins, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. Guilt says it’s “something I did.” But shame means feeling failure occurred because of “something I am” — in which case, you expect failure and don’t act to avoid it.
But the cycle of learned helplessness can be broken. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure,” think “I’m a normal person who made a mistake I can learn from.” If your perpetual explanation for your failures is simply, “I suck,” you might need to practice looking outward and ask yourself, “What other things — things that aren’t about me — might have caused this failure to perform?”
On the other hand, if your story is, “It’s never about me,” you may need to seek out some aspects of the problem you can do something about. Because let’s face it, you do mess up, everyone does. In which case you need to own the failure, see what you can learn from it, and move on.
4. Cultivate Optimism
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” said Hamlet. Paying attention to the positive infuses you with hope, creating a climate in which your failures lose their sting and a belief that things will get better if you work at it prevails.
5. Scale Down Your Expectations for Yourself
When we succeed, we tend to just ratchet up our expectations for ourselves and not get much of pleasure out of it. But when we fail, it’s much harder to ratchet down our expectations for ourselves. “That might be what failing well is,” says psychologist Jonathan Haidt. “A willingness to lower our sights when that’s realistically required.” If failure is about failing to meet goals you set for yourself, then one way to avoid failing is to revise those now-outdated goals. That way, instead of failing on a stage you once mastered, you’re still succeeding on a more modest stage.
6. Don’t Blame Yourself
Self-blame is corrosive. Blaming yourself for the every training problem you ever encounter makes you metabolize failure badly. This makes you get down on yourself and your training. The more you blame yourself for problems, the worse you feel about your training, the less you’ll grow past those problems. And it’s a vicious circle. By contrast, students who accept their difficulties and believe in their abilities to work through them, usually do so. The stronger that belief, the faster they’ll adapt and learn to fix them.
7. Embrace Failure
Failure is an opportunity to grow. Seize it and appreciate how much it can teach you.