Why Failure Might Not Be "an Option", But is Invaluable in Competition.
One of the things I love about working with competitors is that I too am an amateur competitor on my own personal journey. This allows me to have a deeper connection with my clients to understand their journeys. Recently, I was faced with a moment of truth that I'd been dreading ever since starting Prime2Perform; my own return to competition. With lockdowns, illnesses, etc., it had been 3 years since I last competed in a Latin ballroom dancesport competition. In my mind, I had more to lose now on the competition floor than ever before. After all, now I make a living helping competitors be more mentally focused and stronger performers. I'd been reveling in the safety of the sidelines, being able to share my knowledge without having to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. But that time of comfort was about to end as my dance partner and I realized we only had one or two more competitions left in the year before the Australian Dancesport Championships in December and we'd yet to set foot on a competition floor. Due to various setbacks in training, we hadn't practiced much under pressure. Muscle memory was shaky and stamina very low. Still, time had run out and we had to make the uncomfortable choice to get out on the floor now or risk jumping straight into the national championships with no competition experience. Needless to say, my anxiety was boiling over as I tried to use every tool I have to stay calm. "What if I didn't succeed?" "What would that say about my work?" Without even realizing it, I started building mental hurdles for myself by thinking failure was no longer an option for me and perfection was mandatory in order to maintain my business image.
Well, guess what? By competition standards, we failed. Big time. We didn't win. The next day was spent wallowing, fretting and angsting. "Am I fraud?" "What will my clients think?"
But then, thankfully, my education and training started speaking louder than my bruised ego. I remembered what I have repeated over and over to my clients. First, to be successful, you have to let go of the traditional meaning of the word "failure"and redefine what it really means to you as a competitor. Second, competition is a marathon not a sprint. If you base your worth and enjoyment as a competitor on your results alone, you will never make it. You need failure to be a winner.
The word "failure" has a negative connotation, a stigma, in our language because it means the opposite of success. But as a competitor, failure is crucial because without it, we can't progress. Failure is immensely beneficial to development because it provides information about how to progress. The stories of successful athletes, entrepreneurs, actors, etc., are littered with examples of failure and how it motivated them to be better. Tennis star Serena Williams once said she hated losing more than she loved winning. "If anything, you know, I think losing makes me feel more motivated."
When my clients first come to me, many of them report feeling shame in failure. The degree of shame we feel is a good indicator of how we were raised and how much criticism or support we received when we made mistakes. In addition, many driven, ambitious people are perfectionists. But rigid perfectionism and intense, toxic fear of failure often end up backfiring, especially in competition. In desperate attempts to avoid that uncomfortable feeling, we develop dysfunctional defense mechanisms such as harsh self-criticism or extreme anxiety. Which, in turn, causes us to experience the one thing we're trying so hard to avoid; we fail because we're trying too hard not to fail. What I work on with my clients is learning not to fear failure, but embrace it. Once that happens, failure is put into the proper context of what it really is; a learning tool and nothing more. It's not proof of incompetency nor is it a shameful experience. It's a barometer telling us where we need to go in order to achieve success. Professionally, there are many times I stopped fearing failure and was liberated to focus my energy more productively instead of wasting it trying to avoid feeling temporarily uncomfortable.
So here are some things to remember:
FAILURE IS AN IMPORTANT AND UNAVOIDABLE PART OF LIFE AND COMPETITION.
In order to have winners, you have to have losers. For every NFL team that won the Superbowl, there were 31 other teams that lost that year. For every team that won the Australian Grand Final, there were 17 other teams that worked hard but failed. That's how competition works and if you don't make peace with that, you will be destroyed before you can ever taste success.
SHOOT FOR YOUR PERSONAL BEST AND YOU WILL BE LESS FRUSTRATED.
It's a given that to be a competitor, you have to want to win. But what if you make it about setting personal goals for yourself in each competition and striving to accomplish those goals? Then the control over your "success "is in your hands and not those of a judge or a stronger opponent. What you'll find is winning will often come as a bonus when you achieve your personal goals.
USE SETBACKS AS PERSONAL MOTIVATION.
Success builds your confidence and reinforces your belief that you can perform well and meet the challenges before you. But it also breeds complacency. Sooner or later, you come up against a competitor who is better than you. If you haven't continued to grow, chances are you won't be able to beat that competitor. If you've been knocked back a few times by failure, you've likely worked harder on your skills and are more prepared to face a stronger competitor.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, HAVE AN UNSHAKEABLE BELIEF IN YOURSELF.
There has been a lot of research into what contributes to the success of professional athletes. Here are a few of those findings:
1). Elite athletes are highly committed to excel and are eager to learn, even if failure is the teacher, and show amazing determination when it comes to self-improvement.
2) They are supremely confident in themselves and their skills and take responsibility for their performances, whether good or bad.
3) They show exceptional emotional control and are able to handle stress, pressure and yes, even failure effectively. They are competent and self-motivated.
The bottomline is that by fearing failure, you set yourself up to fail. Winston Churchill said it well when he said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
In my case, failure showed me exactly what I need to work on before December. Had I not gotten out there and failed, I would have been ignorant to my deficiencies. Personally, I'll take failure that leads to enlightenment over ignorance any day! 😉
I'd love to hear your thoughts!