Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Appreciate Your Failures

In my 20's, I certainly did not like to fail, nor did I find any appreciation of the concept of failing. Today, however, I have a growing admiration for failure. If you haven't failed, you haven't tried. If you do fail, at least you know what doesn't work. The more you fail, the more you know about what doesn't work. And the more failures you have (subsequent to the number of attempts you make, of course), the more successes you will ultimately accrue!

The same holds true with both fitness and nutrition/cooking. With fitness, driving your intensity up to the point of failure every once in a while stimulates your metabolic systems to a level they aren't used to reaching, thereby creating change and growth. Maxing out to failure on, say dead lifts, may not be enjoyable on that last, lightheaded repetition, but that max weight and subsequent failure have primed you to do better the next time you do them. (Can you tell that's what I did today? Failure #1 (with a PR attached to it!)) The ability to approach your workout without fear, anxiety or apprehension as to it's difficulty level is the key to "super-fitness". It's something a lot of people struggle with. There's an ongoing joke at the gym I train at: "how many times do you have to pee before you start a hard workout?" The standard answer for a select group of brilliant and incredibly strong women is "a lot"! But we do it (both pee a lot and train hard) - and they're stronger and better for it. No fear of failure, once you get started.

With cooking...ah, the fear of failure again..."that's why I don't cook - I don't know how". No, rather, we're simply afraid of failing. What happens if it doesn't work out or if it's terrible? 1-800-PIZZA HUT! But really, every time you fail in the kitchen, you learn something that no cookbook can teach you: what not to do! If you fail at the same thing enough, you'll eventually get it - or, you'll look up the process and correct what you're doing wrong. The best education is hands on/immersion. Sometimes, especially in the kitchen, having no fear of failure can create the most profound growth. Just today, I was dreaming up a healthy peanut butter and jelly flavored pudding dessert. I thought a puree of peanut butter, seedless black grapes, yogurt and cottage cheese, sweetened with a bit of honey or agave would be fantabulous! After assembling and pureeing the choice ingredients, the flavor was certainly there - but it was too runny and I wasn't sure if it would set up. I knew flour and cornstarch weren't the answer (from past failures), but Google told me to try a bit of plain gelatin dissolved in boiling water. And I had gelatin! I also had those little 8 oz shaker cups I use to make mini-protein powder mixes in the morning. So I nuked the water to boiling, added the gelatin, put the lid on it and started to shake it up. Are there any science-geniuses out there that have been thinking..."DON'T PUT THE LID ON IT!" since I typed the words "put the lid on it"? Yep, it exploded sticky boiling gelatin water all over me, the cat, the cabinets, the stainless steel front of the dishwasher, the TV and the floor (Failure #2). Heck, it's probably on the ceiling as well, but I won't know until it dries and turns yellow with age. My point to this is that one serious failure that took me 20 minutes to clean up and left me with runny PBJ pudding (still), taught me a lesson I'll never forget. Sure, I was upset with the mess, but later was laughing at my own stupidity.

I guess the point is that our fears truly hold back our full potential with just about everything in life. I am solely speaking from within the realm of health, but the concept applies to our careers, our relationships, our faiths, and so on. We need to figure out a way to humble ourselves and look for ways to fail, and after the failure, embrace the emotion of accomplishment versus embarrassment. I know there are several books written on this topic. But from a health perspective - drive yourself to failure every once in a while. The surge of energy and pride in the volume of effort you put into that failure should be reward enough!

1 comment:

Marc said...

Failure is an EXPECTED part of increasing performance. Learning to type faster, learning to drive a race car faster, learning to lift heavier, or finish Fran faster. They all involved "failure" in so much as its just not "perfection". Failure is just another necessary part of the process to growth. Get comfortable with it, and learn to use it.

I think the women at the gym do a better job of that then the men do. In general, the women are fearless, the guys try to avoid the workouts they don't like. I think that is a large part of why the women, as a group, are progressing so quickly. Keep it up ladies!