Failure. What words come to mind when you think of failure? Are the words positive or negative? Are they "feeling" words, or are they analytical? I'll bet most of your words have a negative connotation and describe an emotion.
Failure is uncomfortable, messy, possibly embarrassing, and definitely not perfect; therefore, failure never feels good. Some have learned to tolerate it, but most avoid it at all costs.
Now, think of the word success and a time when you succeeded; think of the joy and fun you had. Let the experience rush in. What words come to mind? What did you learn? That is probably a bit harder to answer. We tend to learn less from success. Success is rewarding, warm, fuzzy, and fun, but we don't learn much.
The most successful people learn to embrace failure. But how? How in the world are we meant to learn to like something that feels so awful? We put so much time, effort, energy, and resources into our goals; how is it supposed to be ok if we fail? How do we escape the emotional muck and appreciate what we just learned? Answer: The Failure Flowchart.
The best way I have found to train my brain to appreciate failure is to analyze what happened, learn from the experience, and know that I will be even more ready for my next attempt at my goal. Dissecting the situation and searching for something to learn has always helped me to move on from the emotional side of failure and embrace what I learned from the experience.
Sally is usually a strong and confident swimmer. Recently she has had bike and run PRs in her races, but her swim has been stagnant. In her upcoming triathlon, she wants to set a PR in the swim.
After months of tough training in the pool, some open water sessions, and even buying her first wetsuit, the race director cancels the swim because the water temp is below a temp deemed safe by USAT.
Sally must allow herself to be dissatisfied and disappointed. Feeling this way means she cares about the time, effort, and energy she invested into her goal. She cares; she tried; and that matters. Don't blow off these feelings.
Sally asks herself, "Was this in my control?" Could she have done something to prevent the swim from being canceled? No. She doesn't control the weather or the USAT standards for a safe swim. Now, she needs to let it go. The goal was not achieved in this race, and she needs to accept that. This process often takes some time.
Henry is a strong and confident swimmer. Recently, he had bike and run PRs in his races, but his swim has been stagnant. In his upcoming triathlon, he wanted to set a PR in the swim.
Henry prioritized swimming and even purchased his first wetsuit the week of the race. During the swim, he panicked and felt like he could not breathe.
Henry allows himself to feel dissatisfied and disappointed. Again, this is important and shows that he cares about the time and effort he put into achieving his goals. Was the failure controllable? Absolutely! He went out and purchased a wet suit the week of the race and did not even bother to swim in it beforehand. He also did not do anything to ensure that he was truly comfortable in the water. He used brand-new equipment, panicked, and did not have any way to calm himself down.
What can he do next time to be better? He can practice swimming in his wetsuit and talk to his coach about ways that he can become more comfortable in the water. Thinking back, purchasing the wetsuit so close to a race was clearly not a great idea, but Henry had no clue that he would panic in the water.
Henry thought he was comfortable in the swim. As much as this sucked, Henry is thankful for what he learned, and now he can work to become completely comfortable and confident in the water.
In his next race, Henry had, by far, his best swim ever with less effort! He got out of the water and felt great heading onto the bike. Because he had made great improvements in the water, he completed the race with a PR in the swim and the bike as well! Henry admits that the initial failure hurt, but he is grateful for the experience because he learned so much.
It is important to remember that the failure flowchart should not take away the pain of failure. Failure will hurt, and it is supposed to; it means that we care about the goals we set. When failure stops hurting, then we no longer care about our goals.
Coach Sydney brings more than 20 years of swimming experience to Team MPI as both a swimmer and coach. As a swimmer, she was a Colorado State Champion, State Record Holder, and All-American. She moved on to compete for the University of North Texas, an NCAA Division I team, qualifying for National Invite and Conference USA Championships. As a coach, Sydney has coaching experience at the NCAA Division I level with UNT.