Pillar #2: Fail Forward

“We all have it within ourselves to push through.”

If you haven’t read my last article, this is the second post of a four-part series. In this post, we are going to focus on the second pillar of the athlete mindset, what it means to Fail Forward. We’ll see how failing forward is an essential part of the progress process.

Great athletes commit to a vision and work tirelessly towards it, pushing through failure after failure.

Athletes embrace failure as part of learning and development. For most people, this is not always the case. We often view failure as a bad thing, something we should avoid at all costs.

On the surface, the whole “fail forward” mindset seems to come innately to athletes, but it’s definitely not something you either have or don’t have from birth. It can be and is developed over time. We put athletes’ achievements in the spotlight, true. But this is is especially true when those achievements occurred in the face of extraordinary adversity, or in other words when an athlete had to fail forward to get there.

It’s safe to say that athletes showcase extraordinary resilience through sport. However, we need to acknowledge that it’s not because some people are resilient and some are not. We are all resilient, it is an innate trait. Case in point, all humans pick themselves up when they’ve been knocked down, it doesn’t matter if it’s on the playing field or in the grocery store. Our capacity to be resilient is a direct result of the experiences we’ve endured in our lives. We are all survivors, and we can overcome the struggles life gives us.

You may not have heard this before,

A step backward is still a step forward if you never stop working towards your goals, it’s just the next step you need to take.

It’s critical that we understand the depth of this statement. The notion that setbacks are not in fact setbacks, but learning opportunities, gives you a profound competitive edge. With this knowledge, we can all become more resilient, and failure becomes part of the progress process.

Failure is part of progress, but all too often we get hung up on our performance metrics if we fail to achieve them. When you don’t meet your expectations, your self-confidence is the sacrifice. So let go of the parameters. Focus on progress over performance. Fixate on your goals, not the amount of time it takes to achieve them. Knowing and trusting that failure is part of the “progress process” is the key to maintaining self-esteem and forward momentum. We can choose perspectives like this one to help us become more resilient and develop our ability to continually fail forward.

Where does fear fit into the equation?

Fear of failure is reasonable; it’s human nature to feel vulnerable when we increase the risk of failure. However, we can sideline our fear of failure because we know failure is part of the process. We can learn to let go of our apprehensions by increasing our tolerance. Practice leaning into your personal edge; the unknown; your “uncomfortable.”

Sure, when you are pushing your limits, there’s risk involved, and you’re likely to fail. Still, it’s in this space that growth, learning, progress and the “magic of life” coexist. It will become increasingly normal and comfortable to perform at your edge.

Keep in mind that to fail forward does not mean to fail fast or fail often. Sure, failing fast will accelerate learning and avoid wasted time; however, rapid failure promotes the idea that people will give up too quickly and not try hard enough to achieve a goal. It’s easy to fixate on performance metrics, but we need to step back from the parameters of metrics to see overall progress. Fail mindfully and be aware of the lessons learned and your responsibility to share those learnings.

With this in mind, when you set goals, make sure you aim high because you’ll often surprise yourself with what you’re capable of. It’s incredible what is possible when you expose yourself to vulnerability and failure. In the next article, I’ll write about what it means to have a possible vs. impossible mindset.

Until next time,

Mike Shaw


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