Failing - Is It The Worst Thing That Can Happen?

'Failure is not an option'

A saying that is very often thrown around in all aspects of life, but it can commonly be heard in the sport and fitness world. Whilst it is a great form of motivation to view success as the only option, we all know that this isn't necessarily realistic.

The word failure itself is perceived as a negative immediately upon hearing it as it is ingrained in our brains from an early age that success is the only positive outcome, and failure is always the worst possible result. In the world of sport, failing is inevitable. No one athlete or team can be 100% successful at all times - even the greats have 'lost'; Usain Bolt, Anthony Joshua and Michael Phelps to name a few. They may be some of the best in their sport but they are also humans, just like the rest of us.

At any level, it is important for individuals and teams to lose or fail. It is the only way to truly learn from your mistakes and work to be better in your sport. This doesn't make it any easier to accept, especially for athletes whose sole focus is to be the best that they can be.

The same can be applied to any form of fitness in the gym. It's difficult to make progress without failing - you have to give it a go (and probably fail the first time) to be able to eventually do it. That applies to increasing the weight of a lift, getting one more rep or shaving a few seconds off your PB. The only way to know your maximum capabilities is to push yourself, so as long as you are safe, ditch the fear and give it a go and you might be surprised by how strong you are! No fitness journey is constant upward progress, there are always ups and downs. Some days you might not be able to do half the things you could do yesterday, and that's normal!

So how should you deal with failure?

My first piece of advice is to understand that everyone fails - even the best! Don't let it get to you and make you give up. Don't just stop working out completely just because you've 'failed' your new year resolution to go to the gym everyday. Push the disappointment in yourself behind you and move on! A great saying is that 'you wouldn't slash all of your tyres if you got a puncture in one of them, so why have that mentality when it comes to health and fitness goals?', and I think this is completely true. Whilst Personal Training I see many people give up simply because of one small failure or setback, but if everyone did this there would be no one in the industry. Just because you have failed at one element, doesn't mean you are awful at everything. If one lift has decreased but another has increased, focus on the positives!

It's important to not make the feeling of frustration and disappointment permanent. Don't dwell on the failure; give yourself a time limit to reflect and learn, then move on. Frustration with failure is natural, so give yourself time to feel that emotion but have a cut off so that it doesn't affect your future performance negatively. In some sports you have no time to give to reflecting on what went wrong, you just have to move on immediately or it will impact your whole performance, so put this into practice by giving yourself some boundaries.

Once you have managed to come up with an action plan to deal with the failure, it is time to turn to what you can gain from the failure. There are always some positives that can be taken from a perceived negative. Failure gives you mental toughness and builds character. You can't be humble and grateful for success if you know nothing else, so when you do succeed, it will be so much sweeter!

Another great bonus of failure is that it allows for you to reassess your goals to see if they are realistic. The action plan from here is to decide why you failed and in what circumstances. Was it close to success? Was it uncharacteristic? Is success within your capabilities? If you decide that it was an anomaly, close enough to success to be achievable in the future or it was still progress from your previous result and therefore you are moving in the right direction, then maybe your goals can remain. But if you were way off the mark and are consistently not achieving your goal, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate and form some more achievable goals. In the industry as a Personal Trainer and coach, I try to use the SMARTER principle when goal setting with clients, whether that's in the gym or through coaching. The acronym stands for the following:

S - Specific. The goals can't be vague such as 'get fit', as this doesn't give you much focus.

M - Measurable. 'Get better in the gym' is not a measurable goal. A goal should have an element that can be measured for success, such as to get stronger in a lift by 10kg.

A - Achievable.

R - Realistic. Is it within your capabilities? If not, you might face failure repeatedly which can be demotivating.

T - Time Bound. To challenge and require effort a goal must have a realistic time frame.

E - Enjoyable. No explanation needed - if you don't enjoy it, you won't do it!

R - Resourceful. A goal to improve squat strength without access to a squat rack is an inappropriate goal. Use what is available to you.

By using these principles to set goals it ensures that success is likely, although still allows room for failure, which is such an important part of learning and progressing in sport and fitness. If you are often dissuaded from fitness because of failure, or even the fear of failure, get in touch to see how we can help. Sometimes a little coaching and support can go a long way to build confidence in your abilities in the gym and help you bounce back from a setback.

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