Why Do We Fail ?
One of my favorite sayings is,“The man who says he can and the man who says he cannot are both usually right” -Henry Ford.This entire piece might be a rant full of similar sayings, actually. Westside Barbell and a lot of other gyms habitually practice and believe in never letting their athletes fail to complete a lift. And there is a good reason for that. They constantly want their lifters to succeed in lifting whatever weight they attempt. If they fail to lift a certain weight, they believe it will negatively impact the athlete by getting in their head. And they’re certainly right in many aspects. Missing a weight can not only hurt your confidence and mental state, but often times it can also injure you as well. So they have good reasons to proactively prevent their athletes from never failing a weight. But this is not only something prevalent in weightlifting or sports, but in every aspect of life. Why do we fail? Often times we fail because we already have the idea and notion in our head that we will. But isn’t that insane? Why would you tell yourself you can’t do it before or as you are trying to succeed? It’s so evil and self-destructive, but we have all done it before and many of us constantly do it. It’s the main reason that we never strive for something big like trying to open our own business, or applying for an important position or job. We tell ourselves we can’t before we even try. So in essence, you’re right every single time you tell yourself you can’t and then don’t try.
Any experienced trainer, coach, or nutritionist will tell you that a lot of the time their job to a client or athlete is to do the job of a therapist. Every single day I coach and give cues to a group of athletes I will come across one who is hesitant to perform a movement/workout at a weight because they’re not confident they can do it. But a majority of that time I am actually sure they can do it, and I need to convince them that they can and should. I do so because I know their abilities and know they most likely will not injure themselves trying, which is paramount. I do the same thing when a client is telling me they “just can’t lose that weight”. My response COULD be “well then why are you even here, and why are you paying me to help you if you don’t think its possible?” But it’s not, because it’s not true, and it’s certainly not going to help their confidence which is already low. I either immediately offer another wise-sounding quote or I just directly tell them that it isn’t true and they definitely can do it, and that I am going to help them.
So where does that voice in your head come from? There’s a little red devil that sits on your shoulder and tries convincing you you can’t do it, and you’re not good enough. Unless you have schizophrenia or a multiple personality disorder, it’s not actually another person telling you this. It’s you and only you, but it probably came from someone in the past telling you that you couldn’t do something. Maybe it was a jealous or pessimistic friend in grade school who said you couldn’t be a good athlete. Maybe a teacher was lecturing your class that none of you are going to be successful unless you study harder and quit clowning around. Maybe mom or dad said you’re not going to be the next Michael Jordan like you wished, so stop playing basketball and get inside and finish your homework. You might not remember these specific moments, and you don’t have to. They bury into your subconscious and come up when you contemplate or are about to do something difficult. These things are trying to save you from potential embarrassment, pain of loss, and criticism from other people. They are trying to save you from you telling yourself you are inadequate. So in one aspect, your subconscious is looking out for you and has your best interests in mind (no pun intended)! But guess what, it isn’t looking out for you. It doesn’t have your best interests in mind. You know why? Because you consciously wanted to succeed at this thing, remember? Your subconscious is trying to keep you from reaching the sky, keeping you down here on earth. Earth is a great place to be, but it’s nowhere near as good as being so high up you can look down at it and be amongst the stars.
We tell ourselves we cannot do something in order to avoid the attempt. In psychology we have a term called primary emotions. Primary emotions are the most fundamental and direct, initial reaction to a situation or moment such as guilt and shame (a positive primary emotion would be joy). These are the driving primary emotions we fear experiencing when we don’t succeed. But what many people don’t learn until later in life is that regret is a far greater thing to fear than shame and guilt. People will avoid shame and guilt by not taking a chance at something, but later in life they can experience far more regret for not trying. No one wants to ever look back on life with the regret of never knowing if they could have succeeded at what they never tried.
So what happens to most of us when we actually do fail to win or succeed at something? Does life cease to continue? Do all the people we know spit at us and insult us? No. Life continues on at the same pace, and the pain of loss usually doesn’t last long. We realize that we spent far too much time fearing we would lose, and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad. In fact, if we had spent half the time we did fearing or doubting, on preparing to win and telling ourselves we can, we probably could have succeeded.
What can we do that increases our confidence and chances to succeed?
1. You can actually win or do better than you expected to perform which will increase your confidence next time.
2. Tell yourself you can do it.
These things will dramatically increase your likelihood of succeeding. That is why you often hear athletes who say they visualize their winning performance before doing so. They visualize themselves winning because they are literally seeing themselves succeed, and it helps tell them that they can do it, that is how they are going to do it, and that they actually will do it. They have taken every single step mentally to ensure they can succeed. Athletes and competitors at high levels visualize and tell themselves they will win so well that it is not just something they are saying to pump them up and get them motivated, it is truth to them.
There are men and women who have responsibilities and duties that actually can kill them or someone they care about if they do not succeed. In this case, life actually can stop if they do not win and do what they planned. So for these men and women, their mental readiness and self-confidence needs to be extremely high. At such a high level, they have already proven themselves through selection processes and rigorous training while those who quit were weeded out, and those who couldn’t meet the training standards were deemed unfit for the job. This is training that has pushed their limits physically and mentally, and when they pass they increase their confidence and abilities in themselves to confront and tackle difficult situations. Since they are so well prepared, they often have such a high confidence in their abilities and toughness that they are able to endure almost any situation. There is not only the self-truth of, “I can” but also, “I will and I must”. They have so much successful momentum behind them that stopping them is impossible. At best, an impossible situation can only slow them down and make them say, “If I somehow do fail, I will keep trying and keep pushing forward until the objective is completed”. This is why people around the world marvel at the selection process and war stories of elite military units and its operators. It is hard for many to comprehend and fathom how tough they are and have to become to accomplish the things they do.
This helps explain why people pay $50 to sometimes thousands of dollars to participate in military-inspired events like Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, GORUCK Challenges, and SEALFIT classes. Many people find it fun after the pain and suffering is over with, but most people do it in order to be able to find out about themselves and how they react and operate under extreme stress, and to improve themselves. They want to know if they would be able to keep up and finish something that looks challenging and grueling. These companies and organizations always encourage their participants to continue on and keep going, because they ultimately like seeing someone being able to overcome self-doubt and difficulty and become stronger after they finish.
If you want to succeed at something, you have to want it bad enough. If you want to get into great shape, you have to want it, and you have to want it bad. Some of you might be genetically gifted enough to make a ton of progress without that much work. But even if you are genetically gifted, you’ll still never be truly great. You’ll still have to work. For the rest of you who simply have goals to be good, you’re still going to have to work just as hard. You need to believe that you can do it above and before everything else. If you don’t, you will simply be doing everything in doubt and your goals will most likely never reach fruition. It’s going to take work. You’re going to have to miss out on some fun. You’re going to have to dedicate a lot of time outside the gym. You’re going to be hungry for the things you’re not eating, and hungry for the goals you want to accomplish. You’re going to need people to support you, and if no one is then you’re going to have to tell yourself that much more that you can. If reading this paragraph is putting doubts in your head, then I have some hard news for you: you don’t want it bad enough. That’s the truth. That thought shouldn’t be in your head when you read this, and if it is, scroll right back up and read this from the beginning. This paragraph should make you say to yourself “I do want it bad enough. I am willing to sacrifice some of who I am right now and start acting more like who I want to be.” You can hire all of the professionals you want to make you the proper meals, put you through great workouts, give you all these amazing supplements, and ensure you’re sleeping and living right. But if you don’t want it enough in the first place, it won’t matter. And I can’t change that. You can’t say I made you think that. It was there all along, I just forced it into conversation. But the good news is that you can change that. You can always start telling yourself you can.
So if you don’t have any momentum like this behind you, start building some. Most of us have successes we can think about to reinforce our positive thoughts. And if you don’t feel like you have enough, you can slowly build upon them by succeeding in smaller things. They will add up and give more confidence. You’ll be able to use those wins to help you believe yourself when you say and think “I can”. That snowball will keep rolling and getting bigger and you’ll tackle something you still had some doubt. Eventually that snowball will be rolling so fast and large that your thoughts will be “I’m going to crush this”. And guess what, most of the time you will. And if for some reason you don’t, the next thought in your mind will be “that can’t stop me, it won’t stop me. I will push forward and I will succeed”. Don’t ever be afraid to fail.
“It is not our inadequacies that scare us, it is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that we fear.” -Maryanne Williamson