Just for the Health of It

Learn to fail

“It’s not about how hard you can hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.  How much you can take and keep moving forward!”

This quote from the fictional bad-to-the-bone character, Rocky Balboa, is one of my favorites of all time. It can be applied to almost any situation in life, because it is extremely hard to navigate through life without failing. For some, failure is a scary thing. No one wants to admit they couldn’t do something the first time. Often, this fear of failure is unhealthy, because it holds us back from reaching our true potential.

In the world of fitness, goal setting is everything—I have touched on this in previous articles. However, setting a goal is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you can reach your goal, feel a great sense of intrinsic reward, and set a new goal. The alternative, however, is not so rewarding: you could fail.

You either lift the weight you set out to, or you don’t. You either cut your mile time, or you don’t.  You jump higher, sprint faster, or cut some weight—or you don’t.

Naturally, most people consider failing a failure. They give up and say they can’t just because they failed once. However, I urge you to begin viewing failure in a different, more positive light.

I believe that if you’re failing, you’re doing something right. Sure, meeting or exceeding a goal is always nice, but many people set goals that they know they can attain. If you set a conservative goal that you know will be easy to reach, are you improving? Maybe in some ways, but you aren’t leaving your comfort zone and you definitely aren’t pushing yourself to your limits physically and mentally. Set goals that you know will be hard to reach—goals that you may not reach at first. When you fail and fail again, you are only setting yourself up for sweeter success.

To demonstrate what this may feel like in practice, I will quickly allude to a personal anecdote. This year, I have set a goal to squat a certain amount of weight for one maximum repetition. To reach that goal, my squat will have to increase by almost 15 percent. I will have to hit numerous personal bests along the way to reach my goal.

Last week, I was attempting a personal best that would bring me closer to my ultimate goal. I got under the bar, squatted to parallel, and attempted to drive the weight up. I failed. I had to tip backwards, rolling the heavy bar off my back. Instead of giving up, though, I got the bar back on the rack, regrouped, mentally prepared, and hit the same weight I had just failed with for a clean rep.

Obviously this is not meant as self-glorification; it’s meant to illustrate the fact that failure is not a bad thing. Failure should only increase your motivation to reach your goals. If you take away one thing from this week’s installment, realize that failure is okay—even necessary. I promise that if you’re failing, you’re working towards much sweeter success in the future. Don’t become so caught up in always reaching goals and impressing yourself and those around you by reaching them. Understand that failure is a part of life and a part of your fitness endeavors. When you realize these things, you will free yourself of mental limitations. Failing will make you a better version of yourself, so learn to fail.