Try to Fail

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When did you last try something challenging and fail?  In our modern risk-averse, success-driven society failure is not an option.  Failure at work might get us the sack.  Failure in our personal life is seen as making us a lesser person.  Yet failure is a key building block in greater success.

In my last few sessions I have been helping my clients to fail!  Not big failure and not repeatedly, but little challenges to find out where their current limits are.  In fact if viewed correctly they can even be deemed new successes.  The challenge might be running until you can’t run any more or press ups to failure.  This gives us a new benchmark to assess improvements and it is also a challenge of mental strength and perseverance.

Over the years I have coached sport to many children ranging from average school level players to junior internationals.  It is normally very clear which children have been encouraged to test themselves and sometimes fail and those who have been shielded from failure and applauded for every minor task completed.

If I have to teach a new skill the children fall into two categories.  The first group try once or twice then give up and try to blame me for asking them to do something impossible.  The second group keep trying and if they continue to fail ask me what they’re doing wrong.  They then try again and may not even succeed in the session, but you often catch site of them trying it again when warming up or in down-time in other training sessions.

I can assure you that without exception, the children who have played at the higher levels are those that can tolerate failing repeatedly and strive to compete a challenge.  They often don’t enjoy the failing of a task, but they accept that they will only get better by failing until they succeed.  I believe this might also be why virtually all of the international sportsmen and women I have met are very humble, whilst also having a quiet self-confidence.  They embrace failure on a daily basis so know exactly the value of success and are full aware of their own shortcomings.  This is a great recipe for keeping you grounded.

One interesting thing to note is that those with less sporting ability are not always those who give up after the first attempt.  I have trained many people, adults and children, who are less athletically gifted but will keep trying at something difficult.  They may never succeed, but in trying they do improve and they are always more likely to achieve.  Quitters will always fail to achieve things of value.  In the case of sports and children, I have found the less gifted who have perseverance can be late bloomers and have gone on to have success of their own in later life.

So when did you last try something and fail?  If you want your fitness to improve you need to push yourself to failure on occasions in order to challenge your body to its limits.  Don’t do it every session, but by doing it every so often your body will adapt and become better for it.  This is a lesson for life as a whole.


Jamie Johnston is a Personal Trainer in Birmingham.


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