Posts Tagged failure

New Year’s Resolution? Uh, Try Again!

Did you already blow your New Year’s resolution? Didn’t even bother to make one this year? You’re not alone, but it’s not too late.

According to a study by the University of Scranton, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2014:

  • 25% of people who make New Year’s resolutions maintain them less than one week
  • another 4% make it just one more week
  • by the end of the first month, 36% have given up
  • at six months, just 46% are still adhering to the promises they made to themselves at the beginning of the year
  • only 8 percent remain committed to their resolutions for the entire year.

Fewer than half of us even try.

If you have beaten the odds, and your resolution remains intact, congratulations! Don’t quit. If you haven’t made a resolution or it hasn’t worked out for you, hope is not lost, if you don’t let failure intimidate you into a resolution-free year.

While the beginning of the year is a good time to start a self-improvement mission, it’s not the only time, and just because you dropped the ball early, the game can continue, if you pick it back up. 300-plus days is too long to wait to try again.

First, we need to acknowledge that failure isn’t exclusive to us. The statistics above bear that out. When we try something that is new to us, like dieting or budgeting our money, we’re stepping away from the comfort of familiarity, we’re pushing our boundaries and we’re exposing ourselves to failure. These are good things, because they help us grow and enhance our experiences.

In strength-training parlance, this is called the last set (* explanation below), and I’ve been teaching my son about it. When you have pushed yourself hard in previous sets, it’s tempting to take it easy on the last set, which is exactly the wrong thing to do, because the last set is when the most development happens. The last set should have a success rate of less than 50%. This is when you add more weight than you know you can lift, and though you’ve never done it before, you convince yourself that you can lift it.

Patrick gets mad when he doesn’t get all the reps in his last set, but I assure him that he accomplished more by trying and failing than he would have by lifting a comfortable weight. Besides, he can try again during the next workout. When he does get all of the reps, the sense of accomplishment motivates future workouts. He experiences growth and success when he exposes himself to failure.

Second, we need to accept that failure isn’t synonymous with defeat. Famous inventor Thomas Edison was fond of saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If you didn’t exercise three times per week, like you said you would at the beginning of the year, don’t give up. Just figure out why you didn’t exercise as consistently as you would like. Do you need to do a better job of scheduling your time? Do you need to go to bed earlier? Do you need to work on your motivation? Repeat the cycle of planning, trying, evaluating and trying again, until you are successful.

Lastly, find some way of optimizing accountability. Many of us find it much easier to make excuses to ourselves than to make them to others. I’m guilty of this one, so I tell my wife what I have resolved to do, and you better believe that she holds me accountable. Not only will she quiz me about my progress toward my goals, she has trained our kids to do it too. I often write, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know that someone is going to ask me about it during dinner that night, and it’s a lot more pleasant to talk about progress than it is to make excuses.

If you are more comfortable keeping your resolutions private, it’s still important to optimize accountability. Writing down your goals and tracking your progress in writing is a very good way to do this, and my good friend Jeff Beals has some excellent advice to help with this, in his recent column, This Is Why You Don’t Accomplish All Your Goals.

New Year’s resolutions have helped many achieve goals that were previously out of their reach and to achieve them more quickly than they otherwise would have. The self-improvement opportunity that a resolution provides is much too powerful to limit to an annual event or to abandon because of an early mistake. Make this year as good as it can possibly be by resolving to do something that you know you need to do.

* Most strength-training sessions consist of sets of repetitions of a particular exercise, with short rests between. As an example, an athlete might do two sets of ten repetitions of a leg press, i.e. he does ten leg presses followed by a break, followed by ten more leg presses.


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Pride, Pain in the Friday Night Lights


Earlier this month, I had the peculiar experience of seeing my son live out a dream that went unfulfilled for me when I was his age. Patrick was announced as a starter in his first varsity football game, in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd that held many of his friends and family.

I was ecstatic for him, but it’s easier for me to identify with the guys on the sidelines. Like them, my dream was to hear my name called over the speakers by the announcer and to run out on that football field, before those fans and under those lights. I vividly remember playing that scene in my mind, as I rode hills on my bicycle in the predawn stillness before my morning weight-lifting sessions.

Though it provided plenty of motivation, the dream for me was never realized. Instead of my years of intense training being rewarded in grand fashion, in front of friends and family, my dream of being a high school football star died quietly in an Omaha orthopedist’s office with my parents as the only witnesses.

This juxtaposition of heart-warming success and heart-wrenching failure plays out not only on athletic fields, but in offices, classrooms and elsewhere every day. Some succeed, while others fail. Dreams are fulfilled, and dreams are crushed. Some of these dreams are abandoned, while others are reconstructed.

On the football field, the drama is amplified, literally under a bright light. You practice and train beside your teammates, always trying to find your place in the hierarchy. You compete together, but also against each other for those precious few spots. Some are going to win, and because there are winners, there also have to be losers.

It’s the same way in life. We don’t get the job for which we feel we are perfect or we’re passed over for a promotion. A love interest leaves us in puzzled rejection. The invite gets lost in the mail.

Failure and disappointment are part of life, and fear of them can be crippling, unless you can put them in context. If we learn from it, failure is an event that will pass, rather than a condition that will last.

Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” Failure gives you a chance to evaluate yourself and your approach, and adjust or even change direction. The experience makes you more likely to succeed somewhere further down the line.

In his last year of youth baseball, Patrick played at a high level, but rode the bench a lot. It was frustrating and disappointing for him. Like his football teammates, he did everything the coach asked, but someone at his position was better than he. Ultimately, at the end of the season, he and half his teammates were cut from the team. That experience hurt, but it also helped him understand losing in a competitive situation, and ironically, it pushed him toward success in football.

Though he enjoyed baseball, most of that enjoyment came from playing with his friends on that team. Without that option, he decided to hang up the cleats. Because high-level baseball required so much dedication throughout the spring and summer, he had already disciplined himself to sacrifice, and he simply shifted the focus to football training. I’m convinced that shift in focus enabled him to earn that starting spot on the football team, and had he not been cut from the baseball team, he would not be a starter on the varsity football team.

Despite my best efforts, I never experienced athletic success, but I attribute a lot of the success that I have experienced since to my pursuit of that dream. My dream drove me, disciplined me and taught me more about myself and my place in life than anything else in my childhood.

That’s the value of dreams. They give you a reason to believe and achieve. They encourage you to push yourself harder and further than you think you can go. They incite passion. They nurture dedication.

Don’t be afraid to dream, and don’t be afraid to fail. You never know what you might achieve.

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Good Job, but It’s Not Enough

Every August, football fields across the nation come to life, as young men take their dreams to the 50-yard line. It’s a time of eagerness and aspiration for those players, but a time of resignation and disappointment for the few unable to play. I was one of those, and though my football odyssey ended in failure, it taught me lessons that have proven invaluable in adulthood.

My severely underdeveloped right leg likely would have made me a bench-warmer anyway, but I was convinced that I could play high school football. My imagination, of course, made me more than a bench-warmer – I was going to be a gridiron god, and that belief drove me to train relentlessly for four straight years.

While my friends were catching the last few minutes of sleep before morning weights, I was pedaling my bike up hills outside of town in the predawn stillness. I was at the weight room door, an hour into my workout, when the coach opened it. On days the weight room was closed, I climbed the locked gate at the track to run stadium steps, and then looked for an unlocked door to the weight room.

I squeezed every possible ounce of strength and endurance out of my imperfect body, but it wasn’t enough. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t enough – that I was crazy to risk my future health to play on a team that would be lucky to win more than a handful of games – that playing football didn’t mean that much to my social status or future potential – but I was a teenager, and convinced that I could correct any injustice.

Each August, from 1985 to 1987, I reported for the mandatory sports physical, and each August, a responsible physician refused to clear me for participation. In 1987, I visited three physicians, and received the same result each time: we are impressed with what you’ve done with your body, but it would be irresponsible to allow you to expose yourself to potential injury. In 1985 and 1986, that news didn’t sting so badly, because I still had opportunity, but when it was officially over in 1987, I was devastated. My quest was over, and I didn’t have anything to show for it – or so I thought.

What I learned during those four years of training has carried me through the past 26 years. As an entrepreneur who has seen good, great and not-so-good times, I have leaned on the tenacity, persistence and discipline that I developed in those early-morning solitary workouts. When no one is watching, and I’m accountable only to myself, I think back to my moonlight bike rides when I could have chosen to stop and go back home, and no one but I would know, and I work an extra hour. When it seems like no one believes in the likelihood of my success, I remain committed. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that failure is nothing to be afraid of. If you totally commit yourself to a goal, doing everything within your power to succeed, like I did with football, and you still fail, it means that you pushed the limits, and that’s a good thing.

Too many of us fear failure, and it keeps us from pushing our limits and realizing our potential. We want to be assured of success, but any successful person will tell you assurance of success is only possible when you are limiting your aspirations. It’s on the outer fringes of our abilities that we experience our greatest successes and expose ourselves to our greatest failures.

I never played a single down of high school football, and that failure has had absolutely no negative impact on my life. In fact, as my body has aged, I see the wisdom in those physicians refusing to sign off on my physical. Though I never played, football taught me valuable life lessons that I might not have learned otherwise, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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