If You Want to Succeed, Learn to Fail

Written by:

Damect Dominguez

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We have all failed before. We’ve missed deadlines, screwed up in college, passed up great opportunities and not finished a WOD under a time cap. A lot of you may think that the word ‘failure’ is a bit extreme in these instances, and something like ‘mistake’ may be more appropriate. Whatever you want to call it, some of the greatest success stories in CrossFit and other walks from life come from people who have failed again and again. What’s separated them from others is that they refused to quit in spite of these failures. In fact, many of them would credit these failures as great opportunities to learn and build from, which helped them become the athlete/author/politician/etc. that they are today. Failure, it seems, is of crucial importance.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

-Michael Jordan

How then? How can being unsuccessful, screwing up, making mistakes and missing opportunities translate to improvement and success? Moreover, how can you use failure to your benefit?

We generally view failure as a negative concept—it’s engrained in our minds from an early age that this is something we want to avoid. But that’s obviously an unrealistic expectation. We will fail, as MJ kindly reminds us. It’s how you view those failures that determine whether you learn from them, or fall back because of them.

“Why do we fall down Mr. Wayne? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.”

-Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins

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Failing is a wonderful life lesson, if we put a positive spin on it. Some people use failure to light a fire under their ass in order to redeem themselves and ensure that the pain of what they experienced never happens again. This year’s Regionals saw the two of the fittest women from the 2013 Games—Sam Briggs and Lindsey Valenzuela—miss out on a return trip to Carson. The emotion that spilled forth from these women when they realized their fate is a great indicator that there is NO WAY that either of them want to finish 4th ever again, and I’d wager we will see both of them come back with a monstrous vengeance next year.

Failure can also serve as a great tool for improvement. It will highlight weaknesses and problems you may have in multiple areas of your life, often in an incredibly powerful way. Rich Froning, 3-time CrossFit Games champ, could easily have had 4 titles to his name were it not for his inefficiencies in climbing up a rope in 2010. That year, he finished second. Froning credits those failed rope climbs for making him the legend that he is today. That failure brought a powerful lesson to Froning, one which required a direct response if he ever wanted to achieve his goals of becoming the Fittest Man on Earth.

For most of us, we are taught a new lesson—or reminded of an existing one—every time we step foot in the box. The lifts and WODS that make up the programming of a CrossFit box are filled with opportunities for failure—as it’s intention dictates. Everyone has a movement they utterly despise, and it’s often because athletes struggle with the technicalities of it. This usually results in the resounding crash of the barbell, shortly followed by the embarrassing thud from your backside hitting the floor. But it’s only embarrassing if you let it be. No one is going to judge you for trying to hit a lift and failing, it’s a sign that you are stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to find new limits in the hope of becoming a better athlete—especially if you keep trying and trying.

On heavy days, if you have not failed you have not gone heavy enough, especially if it is a one-rep max day or a three-rep max day. You need to find your limits, otherwise you’re probably undershooting yourself.”

-Pat Barber, coach and athlete at NorCal CrossFit

Sometimes though, the lesson isn’t as clear as one may hope. Sometimes, one must keep taking failures, again and again, with no apparent end in sight. But it is the process that can actually help guide you and provide a great sense of clarity to the things that are of greatest importance to you—you can’t afford to divert your attention to things that are inconsequential to your ultimate goal(s). J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels and multi-millionaire, was once a staggeringly poor, unemployed, divorced mother living on welfare in Edinburgh, Scotland. However, rock bottom for Rowling provided the impetus for her to focus all of her attention to the idea she had and desire to be an author, which saw her catapult herself into fame and fortune.

“Had I really succeeded in anything else, I may not have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive.”

JK Rowling, speaking at her Harvard commencement speech in 2008.

Failure, therefore, can teach you a great deal about what areas of life (or athleticism!) that require your attention, force you to focus on what is truly important, and reveal qualities about yourself through adversity that you simply can’t find any other way. In regards to CrossFit (and in life, though I won’t presume to be a coach in this arena), failure is not something one should shy away from. It is to be embraced whole-heartedly and welcomed, for without it, you may never truly find success.

Photo courtesy of Runar Eilertsen/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

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