Fear of Failure: finding health in the mistakes we make.
Every single second we start again This is a buddhist way of looking at life, life being what is happening right now, I mean now. No, now! Okay okay, you get it.
If all we have is the now then failure is impossible: we just have a continual opportunity to succeed. Staying present doesn’t remove responsibility for past actions, our mistakes exist as part of our story and as information and reason to help us improve. Both the past and the future have the capacity to trap us with fear – fear from reliving our past and fear of repeating previous mistakes and new disappointments.
But If we could build the perfect tool to bring our attention to the present and help keep us in line with what we would like to achieve, what do you think it would look like? Probably something like failure. Nothing peaks our awareness like a mistake does. Or at least nothing else could, if we would let it.
Before I go on I want to point out that this is all stemming from a bunch of conversations I have been having with friends, clients, my mom and myself. For a couple years now, I have been trying really hard to stop trying to be right. I have a tendency to not allow much room for failure in my life because it makes me feel shame and weakness. I don’t want to delve into where I think this comes from personally but I do want to talk about why this can stop us from achieving anything of worth in this world, including physical fitness. I am not a philosopher, nor am i a psychologist, this is just my opinions based on my own example and those of people around me.
When we fail at creating a new habit, we still succeed in finding a way that didn’t work. Make sense?
People come to me for help in improving their physical health and fitness. They do this with the assumption that I have learned something about what works….and what doesn’t. And I would like to think that this assumption is correct – I have learned both from other peoples mistakes, as well as from a boat load of my own!
Any knowledge we as humans have has come from different types of trial and error, empirical or otherwise. If we didn’t keep track and find worth in the errors then we would never come to any truths about anything. I have experimented with a whole slew of nutritional regimens, fad diets, supplements and health hacks in the name of trial and error. I won’t call it science because a study of 1 person isn’t really all that useful for the general public. But self experimentation on top of study has done a lot of good for me in search of a deeper understanding of what is complete garbage and what might be true.
Given the little knowledge i have, it has become apparent over the years that the clients that benefit the most from it are the ones who are open to try a bunch of things and accept that some of them won’t work.
I am beginning to understand more that the story about our self that we tell ourselves and others should be fluid. The more rigid it is and the more intensely we cling to it the more fragile it becomes and the more susceptible we are to anything that threatens it.
Failure is the brightest red flag we have as to how volatile our self story is. If you identify yourself as someone who is strong, trustworthy and capable, someone who takes care of everyone and acts as a source of guidance for others then it might very well be that a mistake or two could break the bonds that these characterizations hold for you. We may avoid attempting anything challenging in order to maintain our image.
Or maybe its the opposite and you already see yourself as incapable. I have seen the highs and lows of people who suffer from a lack of self confidence. They often come in with an intense spark of motivation, and outlandish personal goals. These are almost always the ones that disappear as soon as there is a lull in progress or motivation (which may even be my fault!). The self story they have of themselves is not the self confident superstar, it is one of self doubt yet high expectations. The version of themselves they came in here as is the one they seek to be but are using as a disguise to try and fool themselves and me. Fake it till you make it…more like break it. And now this most recent failure compounds the ones they keep inside them as proof that they will never succeed.
I am both of these examples. I kind of expect we all are to varying degrees. I avoid failing because I want to be seen as someone who is successful (live in the future that doesn’t exist) and I also fear failure because I have failed at certain things enough times that I don’t want to deal with the feelings again (live in the past that doesn’t exist anymore). Sometimes this gets me nowhere. Meaning my present is without challenge and fulfillment. But other times I dive in and have the most meaningful times of my life.
All of our stories are meaningful, but how we interpret them should be in flux. Rigidity in any one story is not helpful. I think we can remain strong, confident and positive without identifying as just that. And we can hold fragility and fear as ways to grow compassion and kindness without identifying as those traits.
Allowing room for bad days, missed opportunities and glaring mistakes might be what helps us grow the most.
How much time do you spend rewatching movies you dislike? Probably next to zero, right? I hope…you weirdo. Yet most of us relive the disappointing memories we have of loss or pain or failure. We internalize it rather than letting it be something that happened that we accept and move on from. So now we live with fear of dealing with disappointment which may stop us from trying something positive and enriching. I like this Mark Twain quote –
“Some of my biggest disappointments never happened“
How true is that for most of us? And if that is true then so is the opposite. What has fear stopped us from accomplishing?
Back to the idea that every second we start again. Many lineages of Buddhism believe that there is no such thing as mistakes. Not so much denial of what happened but that every moment allows us to try again to be our best. No mistakes means that we forgive and move on and to practice loving kindness to ourselves and others. Acceptance of our mistake, allows us to be present and brave enough to try again.
So maybe our failures are blessings, something we can use as a tool to guide us in our way to fulfilling our goals rather than something that diminishes our self worth. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the words Abandon all hope, you who enter here are inscribed on the portal above the gates to hell. I would like to have that inscribed above the door to my studio. I just want people to come in and do the work without expectation. No matter how well or poorly the session goes, it is done and you can go on with your day having accepted that you attempted to better your health and may or may not have done so. Again, this doesn’t remove responsibility from the client or from myself in failing to make it a successful session, but it does inform us as to what we can change for the next one. I am honestly ecstatic when people show up even if they end up leaving early because they are physically burnt out or emotionally drained.
These ancient buddhist ideas are beautiful and full of wisdom but life is complex and we all have disjointed behavioural and though patterns that we need to unlearn. This takes a lot of practice and effort. If you show up here and I know how hard just getting out of bed may be for you, then you have accomplished something. Lets start there.
I recently started a 60 day ab challenge (see our Instagram page for details if you would like to join). Some people who said they would start haven’t yet. Doesn’t matter. Maybe today is the day. Others have done every single day but one…and I know it annoys them that they missed one. Who cares, today is another day!
If you are hesitating starting to exercise or improving your eating habits because you are worried about not maintaining it..I get it. Forever is daunting! But who said you weren’t allowed to stop or hit pause? We all need room for the flux of life. It doesn’t matter if you stop, the more often you start – the more time you spend trying to be healthy. And thus the more healthy you will be.
Want to Stay Young? – Seek Struggle
In my opinion, If you want to grow old but maintain an agile, stable and strong body, youthful skin and a sharp mind; you have to struggle a little bit. or “make an effort.” In a way its about creating stress, but just the right amount.