By Joan Swart, PsyD, Open Forest
This past week I watched many strong women compete in the national powerlifting championship. The sport requires each athlete to attempt three lifts each in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, respectively. The ideal is to complete nine out of the nine lifts successfully. Of course, a careful assessment of one’s ability and physical and mental level on the day is necessary to select the best weights that are achievable but challenging to get the best possible score, and, hopefully, a few personal records too. The many successful lifts and records were fantastic, but the few failed attempts made me think how one shouldn’t let failure scare you from trying again, even as the disappointment feels intense at the time.
“It’s not the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.”
So, it is not only the athlete’s ability and training over the past months and years that influence their judgment but their overall situation and how well they can cope with all types of challenges. The old poker saying, “It’s not the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand,” is valid here as well.
It’s not only about the confidence to try in the first place, but also the resilience and determination to give everything the next attempt, or go back and adjust the training plan and preparations to overcome the handicap. Cognitive scientists tell us that our thoughts play a powerful role in our feelings and behavior. Failure is an unpleasant experience, so our first instinct is to try and avoid it in the simplest way possible, not trying again.
Just a few bad repetitions can reinforce the idea that we are not good enough, that we will never succeed, despite our best efforts, and that others are judging or dismissing us. If you think that, you are most likely wrong. To fail a couple of times does not make a person a failure.
“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived.”
Failure shouldn’t define a person. If mistakes and defeat are not allowed to become a habit or justification to quit or surrender, it is a valuable part of our journey to growth. Sometimes it is inevitable. We only must do the best with the hand that we are dealt. Not spend our energy on trying to escape or avoid the fear of failing, but invest in making a valiant effort, putting effort into reaching our goals, which will slowly dissipate the anxiety and insecurity that failure so readily cause.
“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived” is how the saying goes. Do not be afraid of it as it is a part of your road to success. Achievement without setbacks will eventually become hollow and meaningless. As the light is defined by the dark, each win is brightened by the challenges overcome. So, next time you fail a lift, make a mistake or are disappointed, take a deep breath, get up, brace yourself, and try again! It is worth it!