I’m not a huge fan of the failing is good for you movement. It’s become a romanticized view that suggests you have to fail in order to succeed.
The idea behind it is that each time you fail an opportunity to learn from your mistakes appears. I can’t really argue with that, it’s true. However, what it doesn’t take into account is that we stink at recognizing the mistakes that we’ve made. Most of us are blinded by our own psychology and cognitive biases like the status-quo bias, confirmation bias, and current moment bias.
We rationalize our failures by using excuses such as; “I just don’t have the time to workout.” I busted my ass at work today and I’m totally stressed so I deserve that cheesecake and pizza.”
Instead of learning from failure we often end up letting it define who we are as a person. “I’ve failed, therefore I am a failure.” Or never fully understanding why we screwed things up in the first place. Thus, repeating the same behavior over and over again magically anticipating a different outcome.
All we end up doing is practicing the suck and reinforcing it. Nothing changes and we basically just keep getting suckier.
Ever wonder why you date the same dummies time after time or can never seem to stick to your diet?
EMBRACING MY SUCK
The first time I tried to do a backflip I nearly killed myself. I was indoor rock climbing with a friend of mine that could do one off a wall and I was totally jealous. After watching him do about 3 or 4 in a row I decided that it was a great idea to try one myself. I didn’t plan on using a wall like this guy – I figured I was athletic enough and could jump high enough to just do it on the ground.
I was wrong and I nearly broke my neck. Somehow in mid air I failed to remember that in order to back flip you actually have to flip over. I landed on the side of face, neck, shoulder, and heard every bone in my spine crack. Luckily I wasn’t hurt, except for my pride of course. This was about 8 years ago.
I recently started taking tumbling classes at a free running studio to redeem myself. Ok, not really to redeem myself but learning how to do a backflip has been on my LimitlessQUEST ever since that debacle.
The tumbling classes have been great and the primary reason is beacause I’m in an environment where it’s ok to “suck.” We’re all beginners with so gymnastics experience what-so-ever.
During the classes I’m laser focused, try extremely hard, and work diligently on the nuances of the skills that we are trying to learn.
As part of the classes you get access to the studio during open gym to practice your skills or lack of skills in my case. Open gym is filled with a bunch of Ninja’s. Not real Ninja’s (that would be awesome) but they might as well be.
These guys and gals are parkouring it up, flipping and jumping off of everything, and displaying some insane bodyweight strength like this. It seem like everyone has a gymnastics background or has been doing this for years. Basically, they’re awesome and I suck.
I don’t like doing things I suck at. I have to be good at everything. If I feel like I suck at something I’ll do one of a few things.
- Completely avoid it so I don’t embarrass myself
- Do it alone until I get decent enough at it so I don’t embarrass myself
- Never try very hard at it so that I have a built in excuse for not being good at it
And that’s exactly what I’ve noticed when I go to the open gym. I work my ass of in the classes but when on my own filled with a room of pro’s I usually am off to the side by myself so that no one can see the beginner stuff that I’m working on. Basically trying my best to conceal my suckiness.
Maybe this is something that you do to. Do you suck at cooking? Do you suck at dancing? Do you suck at working out? Do you suck at talking to girls (or guys)? And because of that suck do you avoid those things?
Today’s article is all about how to embrace your suck, the suckiness that comes with trying something new, and getting comfortable with but not romanticizing failure.
P.S. I use the word suck or some variation of the word 32 times in today’s article. If that bothers you I suggest to stop reading now.
WHAT DO YOU SUCK AT?
Before jumping into the meat and potato’s of this article I’d love for you to do me a favor. Open up a document on your computer, notes on your phone, or grab a pen and piece of paper.
Take a few moments to jot down a couple of things that you feel you suck at. Think about some things you constantly tell yourself that you’re not good at, have always wanted to do but feel you’re not ready to do, good enough, or knowledgeable enough to get started with.
To help you out a bit here is my list:
- Language learning
That’s it for now. We’ll be coming back to it later.
SHRINK THE CHANGE
If you suck at something but really want to be good at it the best path to take is the one with the least amount of resistance. You have to grab that low hanging fruit.
One way that you can do this is by shrinking the change you have to make in order to get started getting better at it. For example, lets say that you suck at eating healthier and really want to start so that you can get into better shape and look good naked.
Instead of trying to overhaul your diet and change everything at once why not just make one small change that you’re confident you can do consistently for the next 2 weeks? Would you be more confident in your ability to go 100% Paleo tomorrow and maintain that for the next 3 months or to start eating vegetables with every meal?
Way less daunting and overwhelming right?
Refer back to your suck list. Pick one of those things and come up with one and just one change you can make right now that will make a big difference? What is one step you can take that will get you closer to your goal?
- Want to start eating healthier? How about trying to include a serving of protein with each meal.
- Want to start exercising more? How about trying just 10 minutes per day 3 to 4 days this week.
- Want to learn another language? How about just concentrating on the 10 most used words in that language and mastering those first?
- Want to start a blog? Don’t worry about what you’re going to name, if anyone will like it, or the fancy certifications you’ll need in order to be considered an “expert.” Open up a word document right now and just start writing.
What can you do right now?
BECOMING LESS “SUCKY” TAKES PRACTICE
Researchers from MIT have shown that the brain learns more after success than it does from failure. When you start to get something right repeatedly, the more likely you are to keep getting it right.
What do those last two sentences sound like to you? – Practice! Practice! Practice!
In this post we learned that natural talent and intelligence is overrated and Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck reinforced this in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Basic qualities such as intelligence, talents, ability, success, and creativity are not fixed traits. All of us have the capability of improving, growing, and achieving things we might have originally thought of as out of our control.
But to improvement is going to take practice!
When I first started this blog my writing was atrocious (some might say it still is) 🙂 – But I kept practicing. I committed to publishing 3 articles per week and writing at least 500 words every day. I like to think that over time the quality of writing here has become progressively better.
Expect to make mistakes but don’t embrace them. A lot of what we consider “suckiness” is in how we conceptualize it. For example, I got a D on my math test therefore I am not good at math. Or, I undercooked my chicken therefore I’m just not a good cook.
Would you expect someone else to get it perfect on their first try? Of course not, so why are you doing it to yourself?
WHAT CAN YOU CONTROL?
In her book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sarah Lewis tells us about the Archers Paradox.
The archer draws their bow and points it toward their target trying to account for things outside of their control (wind, sound, etc…) They’re striving to control things that they can’t control. They can hold that bow tight, point that area straight, and pull back that string with precision but if the wind wants to blow 10 miles per hour harder when they release there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.
Do you do this with your health? Are you putting a bullseye on a specific weight you want to weigh – forgetting all about the outside factors that can influence you meeting that goal?
- Work keeping you late
- The kids needing extra attention
- The vacation you’re leaving for in 3 weeks
- The barmitzfah right around the corner
Go ahead and set a specific outcome based goal like losing 20 pounds but after you’ve done that establish the behaviors, the things you actually can control that will help you reach your goal.
Print out a 30 day calendar and pick one behavior you can start practicing right now that will help you get closer to a goal of yours. For the next 2 weeks practice that behavior every single day – for every day you practice draw a line through the calendar. For everyday you do not, just leave it blank.
FEAL THE SUCK AND DO IT ANYWAY
When you feel like you suck at something you probably get a little anxious about it. But that might be a good thing.
I first learned about the concept of Optimal Anxiety through Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson. When there’s not enough anxiety motivation is low and little action is taken. When anxiety is too high you begin to panic, get upset, and either no action is taken or an insane amount of tazmanian devil action is taken. Eventually leaving you burned out and misreable.
But then there’s that sweet spot right in the middle. This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. Flow is that moment when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing that you forget about yourself. What you are doing seems effortless and natural. You’ll often hear athletes say they’re not sure how they performed so well, “I was just in the zone.” Musicians often get there and you might here them say, “I couldn’t even hear the crowd, almost like they weren’t even there.”
Some other ways to describe Flow:
- lose yourself
- feeling it
- zone out
It almost sounds like a state of unconsciousness. But in reality it is a heightened state of consciousness where your awareness is a such a heightened state that it feels like you are completely on another level. I know you have all felt it before.
Mihaly tells us that in order to experience flow it needs to have the following characteristics.
- require skill
- be challenging
- no ulterior motives
Getting into a flow state when you suck at something can be tough. It’s not usually enjoyable at first because… well… you suck at it, and flow requires skill – which you don’t have yet. But you can do it by voluntarily showing up and taking that one small step.
You can make the suck more enjoyable the same way I made learning to do a backflip more fun. Take a class or recruit some friends that are at your same level or slightly above and happy to support you as you learn.
With your lack of skills at first you may be failing quite a bit. However, Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tsensky tell us that near wins have a profound effect on the way that we think. Those close calls, might have beens, and frustrating failures turn into motivation to work harder to improve on those near misses.
ONE MORE TIME. WHAT DO YOU SUCK AT?
We admire people that overcome great struggles, aka, “the suck.” Why not be one of those people?
Revisit that list of things you suck and pick one that you would like to improve on? Decide on one small step or change you can make today that will help you get a little bit better. Print out that 30 day calendar and practice that one step every day for the next 30 days.
If it helps, I’ve decided that I need to learn how to speak Russian. Over the next 30 days I’m committed to learning the 100 most used phrased in Russian language. I’ll be practicing using some tips and tricks I learned from my man Benny for 30 minutes every day this month.
How will you embrace you suck? Share in the comments below. Lets help support each other as we become less sucky 🙂
P.S. After sucking for a couple of weeks here’s my backflip.
Photo: Mooki Fail