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Jump in with Me…

It’s half-time! Two quarters have passed with two more to go in the final game of the basketball season…oh, and I should mention this is the championship game!  This is the game our team has worked for all season.  The score reads 48-37… and my team is definitely on the wrong side of that scoreboard.  What do we need to do??  Change up our defense?  Communicate better?  Work harder?  Rebound more?  Stop turning the ball over?  There are endless options on the list of improvements headed into the second half!  What will Coach say?  How many of those things is he going to tell us to fix?  So, there I sit, surrounded by all of my frustrated teammates as they are anxiously going through their own list of improvements in their minds.  If this is what it means to master the art of failing, please hand out our trophies now!

Eventually, coach walks in…silent…doesn’t talk for what seemed like a lifetime of 2 minutes.  Silence is never good, right?  Just buckle up and get ready for this thumping of a halftime talk at this point. 

Out of his mouth comes,

“The team that shoots the ball more, wins this game…the fear of failing to miss will guarantee us a defeat.”

Wait a Minute…

What?!  He’s not going to yell at us for all the things we need to fix?  I take a couple of deep breathes and realize that victory is actually within sight. 

He’s right!  Coach went on to explain that both teams aren’t actually playing that great, but our opposing team was taking many more opportunities to score than we had.  Furthermore, he pointed out that because most of our players weren’t shooting that great, we chose to pass the ball more than shoot it because we didn’t want to fail – we didn’t want to miss.  We were hoping that someone else would take the shot for us. 

…Now would probably be a good time to disclose to you that this was the championship game of my 8th grade basketball career and my dad was the coach… I know, I know … super high stakes. 

Let me spare you the rest of the details and cut to the chase… we came back like underdogs do and won that basketball game!  How? We shot that leather ball more than we ever have in our lives, and it made itself in the hoop enough times to give us the win.  Yes, I am proud!


Why Did I Just Tell You That Story?

Because, although, that story was no massive event that landed itself in national news or altered history…that one half-time speech changed everything for me.  From that day on, how I perceived failure would never be the same.  It was the beginning of learning how to master the art of failing in my life. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines failure as: the omission of occurrence or performance as well as a state of inability to perform a normal function.

In other words, it is the very absence of the thing you want to see happen.  When failure happens, we are often times flooded with feelings of overwhelming disappointment, debilitating anxiety, and a lack of motivation to continue whatever it is that we seemingly can’t seem to find success in. 

The truth of the matter is that in life, failure is inevitable.  Right?  It is unavoidable.  So, instead of focusing on the reality of what our failures are, what would happen if we decided to focus on HOW we fail?  What if our failure became the very mechanism that predicted our coming success?  Is it possible to fail forward?  What if we mastered the art of failing and learned how to turn it into our secret weapon?

HINT: It Is More Simple Than You Might Think.  

Before we get there, let’s take a look at what Dr. Jessica Witt of Purdue University found when studying the perception of failure.  She took a group of non-football athletes and had them all kick 10 field goals.  What she found was that the players’ performance directly affected their perception of the size of the goal.  After a series of missed kicks, the athletes perceived the goal post to be significantly taller and more narrow than before.  Whereas, the successful kicks made the post appear larger-than-life for the participants.  In other words, failure automatically distorts your perception of your goals and makes them seem less attainable.  

This subjective perception is going to be key for learning how to master failure in the future. 

Failure has an interesting way of affecting us.  Not only does it have an initial effect and distort our perceptions, but it also has residual implications.  It often makes us believe that we are helpless, which causes an emotional wound to occur and next thing you know, we feel like there is nothing we can do to succeed.  Suddenly, our minds are telling us to give up.  This almost immediately creates a fear of failure and causes an increase in performance anxiety where the pressure to succeed overtakes the mind and makes us overthink something that we likely already know how to do (remember my basketball story?).


How to Master the Art of Failing

The 1st STEP: Change HOW You View Failure.

As John Maxwell puts it, “your attitude towards failure determines your altitude after failure.” 

Perception is everything.  Instead of viewing failure as a lack in success, see it as the next stepping stone that is getting you closer to where you need be. 

Remember that subjective perception that the athletes experienced in the missed field goal study?  In the same way that a negative/positive outcome can influence your perception, your perception can conversely influence the outcome as well.  This is where our brains become really fascinating!

Studies show that the way you are able to visualize an outcome before it happens has a greater influence on seeing those results than your past attempts at failing.  Brain studies reveal that one’s thoughts…that is, their opinions and ideas…produce the SAME mental instructions as actions!  Mental imagery, or visualization, impacts many cognitive processes in the brain, such as, motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory.  What this means is that the brain is actually getting trained for real performance during visualization!

Isn’t it wild to think that our imagination, essentially, has the power to influence our behaviors and outcomes?

The best part about this reality is that we all have absolutely everything we need within us already to integrate this into our everyday lives. It just takes a little self-awareness and intentionality to choose to view our circumstances in a new way. 

For example…let’s run through some practical scenarios…

  • You miss the basketball shot, tell yourself, “next time it’s going in the hoop.  I’m going to keep shooting to increase my chances of scoring.”  Then imagine yourself taking that game-winning shot and hearing the swoosh of the hoop as the ball goes through the net.
  • Maybe you didn’t get offered the job that you interviewed for, tell yourself, “I just got one step closer to a job.  I increased my interviewing skills and I’m confident that the right job opportunity is soon headed my way.  Today, I am more prepared than I’ve ever been.”  Then visualize yourself being offered and accepting a job.  What will the handshake feel like?  What clothes will you be wearing?
  • Perhaps you got a lower score on a recent exam that you took.  Tell yourself, “My final grade is never dependent on just one test grade.  Now, I know the areas I need to focus on as well as what my teacher is looking for on exams.  I look forward to the next test I get to take in this class.”  Then watch yourself in your mind sitting down and answering questions on the next exam and receiving the results of a passing grade. 
  • Chances are you had a business venture fail if you are an entrepreneur.  Tell yourself, “Now, I know all of the things not do to again when operating a new business.  I am a more experienced business owner because of this difficult situation.”  Then daydream about the possibilities of what a new business could look like for you with exploding success on multiple platforms. 


The 2nd STEP:

Never Give Up. Just Keep Trying. Fail over and over and over Again. 

As the great Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

I’m fairly confident none of us remember him for his failures either, but rather, as one of the greatest if not the most successful basketball player of all time.  Why?  He simply learned to master the art of failing.  Michael Jordan did not let his 9,000 shots define him or his 300 losses derail him.  He just kept showing up day in and day out for practices and games and never quit.  If he didn’t let his failures stop him, neither should we. 

Often times, not only are we facing obvious fears but we begin to experience doubt or feelings of uncertainty in the attempt of success. Know that feeling uncertain does not disqualify you. The way to wield this weapon is to do it afraid.  To do it when you are anxious. T o do it when you are uncertain.  Keep trying no matter what. 

As motivation to master the art of failing, I’ll leave you with one of the greatest quotes on failure and success from President Theodore Roosevelt, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumph, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

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