When you’re starting on a new path or even thinking about it what often trips us up is the fear of what? Failure. We say, “but what if I can’t do it?” “What if it won’t work?” “Why bother even trying?” If you have these thoughts running through your head, my friend, you’ll want to listen in to today’s episode on how to make failure impossible.
The other day I went for a run with my husband. This is a rarity because we have two young kids and normally, one of us is home while the other is out. But we were running through the woods and decided to go into the local track. I haven’t run consistently in years, but I’m always game to keep things interesting so we decided to run a couple laps. As I was running on the track I remembered something. The mile. How many of you remember running the mile in high school? It was one of those events like the ropes course or swimming that were a rite of passage for PE. Phys Ed. At that time, I was playing both lacrosse and field hockey so I was eating healthy, running a lot, sprinting, doing longer distance runs – so I was in really good shape. The day came and I remember running the mile in 6 minutes and either 10 or 20 seconds. It wasn’t easy and I pushed myself to get there.
So I’m with Jay on this track and I think, “hmmm, how fast am I going?” I’m not really pushing myself but I’m super curious about my time so I look at my watch as I go around the track and it was 2 minutes and 4 seconds for the first lap. That would be an 8 minute 16 second mile at that pace. I ran around a second time and I was at 1 minute and 58 seconds. As I huffed and puffed off the track to run the rest of our run, it got me to thinking, “what if I tried to beat my time in the 6 minute mile?” As I started thinking more about this idea I realized that it may not be possible, but what really struck me was that even if it was going to take longer than I wanted or expected, it wouldn’t matter. Why was that? Because I would be running, training myself, running faster, pushing harder, being intentional about rest, recovery and performing like an athlete.
When we set goals or have a dream of something that we think we’d like to do, we often crush it before we ever give it a try because of the F word. Fear and the other F word. Failure. We’ve gotten used to doing things pretty well or being relatively good at something and to try something where we don’t think we’re likely to succeed seems crazy. But what if you changed your perspective around failure? What if you realized that it’s not only about where you end up, it’s also about who you would become along the way? How would you think about failure then? If I were to try to run a faster time than I did when I was in high school, it would mean that I’m going to be working on my body consistently and in new and different ways. I already exercise every day, but this would be different. This would have a specific target of speed and it would then become less about achieving the goal but more about what happened by trying to achieve the goal. This is how you make failure impossible. I would be improving my body, my health, and my mental endurance just by trying.
Every quarter I set some big goals for myself. Lots and lots of big goals. I work on one at a time and sometimes 2 but I try to push myself to dream and think about a long list of experiences I’d like to have or skills I’d like to develop. Do you think that the path to hit these goals look like a straight line? Heck, no. Not only that – if I want to really get good at something, it better not. This is my second belief about failure – it’s necessary for me to get to amazing.
The Talent Code and Deep Practice
In Daniel Coyle’s book, “The Talent Code”, he explains how greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Specifically, he speaks about myelin, the insulation that wraps around nerve fibers that enables you to fire this circuit more quickly and accurately. Struggle is required. When you conduct something he calls “deep practice” you are firing your circuits, fixing mistakes, and then firing it over and over again. When you do this, you are biologically creating the myelin needed for you to create a neural broadband that connects the movement, thought or feelings. These movements, thoughts or feelings are electrical charges running through a chain of neurons – which is our nerve fiber. Each “failure” we have, if we don’t let it stop us, and instead work through them, allows us to get better and better each time. When things are handed to us and they’re easy, our myelin doesn’t grow. The great athletes, artists, or those excelling in a particular field are using this myelin-based way of wiring so that they get better and better. Knowing this, how would you now view failure, stumbling, or messing up? It’s all a stepping stone to greatness.
It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be
All of this makes sense, but how do we ensure that we’re failing at the right things? We don’t mind failure if we know what direction we’re heading towards, but what if we aren’t sure where we are going? What if we don’t desire to fail forward in this direction? This is where his second concept comes into play. Daniel Coyle calls this “Ignition”. It’s the passion, desire, hunger and need to make this happen. While most of the examples he uses are people who are coming from humble beginnings, tragedy, or a lot of uncertainty – and it’s true that pain is one great motivator to drive you to keep practicing – I’m also interested in how to have the drive even when you have a good or great life already.
We all understand when you’re in a bad situation and you’re trying to get to good, but what happens when you feel like life is already good, great even? This is when you have to raise your standards even more. Most of the people I coach have a great life already. They have great jobs, MBAs or masters in something, families that love them, and a great work ethic. What I’ve realized is that this is where so many people get stuck. Myself included. Worried about rocking the boat, you start to just plateau because you don’t know what else to go after. The next promotion may not be interesting or desirable so what do you do?
You dream even bigger. You dream of a career move, a way to give back or impact the world, to spend more time with family and friends, or starting a business. You dream and dream and dream until you realize that this life right here right now is great, but you can now see something even more amazing and it can also be yours. Hunger, drive, passion and zeal all start to come back into play because you now have something to work towards. You now have a big circuit you can wrap that myelin around and it’s going to take persistence and time to keep wrapping that myelin around this new, big change. What’s the next step?
The third component in Daniel Coyle’s talent code method is master coaching. He realized that the right coach combined with the “ignition” and “deep practice” could accelerate the learning and myelin development process even more. The coach would need to have depth of knowledge, skilled perception, the ability to direct as needed, and honesty to be able to grow talent at even faster speeds. This is not a one-size fits all approach, but it does mean that talent doesn’t grow alone. Whenever I have any big goals, I look for help from a person or a coach to achieve them. Why? Because I know through experience that the ability for someone to direct me as I’m moving through failures will help me move forward even faster. The right encouragement, reframe, nudge or suggestions at the right time keep my circuits and yours firing again and again so that the learning curve becomes an exponential one.
So I’ve just set this goal to see if I can run a mile close to or at the one I ran when I was in high school. I’ll keep you posted on my progress over the next two months. Either way, you know what I’ll be doing, right? Stumbling, trying again, keeping the passion alive, and getting a coach. This mindset has completely changed the way I look at failure and struggle. With the relentless determination to not give up, true failure is no longer a possibility.
Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s podcast! Right now, I’m offering up a few complimentary sessions for a 30 minute life design coaching session. Most of us are so busy making a living that we don’t spend any time designing our lives. Here’s your chance to change that. You can go to www.mayempson.com/contact to fill out the form and schedule your session!