Ep #23: Want Success? Learn to Fail

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | Want Success? Learn to Fail
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The process of growing and evolving requires setting some goals, trying new things, and stretching yourself a little, and you can bet a dollar you are going to fail along the way. And yet, so many of us are still afraid of failure. We would prefer to not try at all because you can’t fail if you don’t try. But is that really how you want to live?

Failure is unavoidable. If you are going to stretch yourself and try something new, rest assured you are going to fail. You aren’t going to get something from the outset, nor will you succeed straight away either. Failure is simply part of the process. If that sounds scary, you don’t want to miss this episode, because I’m shaking up your views on failure.

In this episode, I’m sharing what failure really is, why we’re so afraid of it, and how to start seeing failure differently so it can help you instead of stifle you. I’m showing you why succeeding begins with failing, how to be your own safety net, and a challenge to help you start being more willing to fail.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make this show better for you. Want to get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out? Share this podcast with a friend by texting a show link, sharing a screenshot, or posting a link on your social media, and help other busy working moms feel better and change things up.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • Some characteristics of failure.
  • The only real failure that truly exists.
  • The problem with taking a black-and-white approach to failure.
  • Why failure is not who you are.
  • The key characteristic of super successful people.
  • How to embrace your failure as information to course correct, change your approach, and try again.
  • The benefits of seeing failure as a process versus an endpoint.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #23. Want to know how to succeed? It starts by failing. Let me make it less cringy for you.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, I know this may sound just a little funny. But I’m actually really excited to talk to you today, about failure. And, here is why: I looked at what we had been talking about over the last couple of weeks. And in the last few episodes, we have talked about evolving your identity and becoming your next best version.

Then we talked about setting goals and going after them for real, and going all in on yourself. Then we talked about perfectionism, and the safety and dangers of being a perfectionist. And the idea of practicing excellence-ism instead, which is still a hard word for me to say, but all the same. So, today, to bring this full circle, I think it’s only fitting that we talk about failure.

While in most cases, failure has a negative connotation, my hope is that I can help you see failure in a different way. And maybe, even walk away from this episode ready to go and seek out failure. Yes, go look for it. So, go with me on this one, for just a minute.

If you’re going to become your next best self, there is no way in hell, you’re going to do it without failing; there is just absolutely no way around it. But the thing is, so many of you, and I included myself in here for a while, are very afraid of failure, and you avoid it like the plague. Let me simply offer, that by avoiding failure, while yes, you keep yourself safe, you also keep yourself stagnant.

But that’s not why you’re here on this earth, right? You are not here to plod along at your nine-to-five grind, and do the same thing every day and just be fine. My hope is that you were aiming for better than fine; I know I am. A large part of my reason for being here, and starting this podcast, was to show you that there is so much more out there for you, if you are willing to go for it. If you are looking to do more, be more, grow, and see what you’re really capable of doing. You absolutely can.

The process of evolving and growing requires setting some goals, trying new things, stretching yourself a little. And, you can bet $1 you’re going to fail along the way. If that sounds scary to you, I’m glad you’re listening. Because we get to shake up your views on failure. So, yes, while on the subject of failure, and even the word “failure” itself carries a negative connotation, my hope is that by the end of today, I can maybe, just maybe, help you see failure is not such a bad thing, after all; because of what is on the other side of it.

Here’s what we’re gonna talk about today: We’re going to talk about what failure really is, why we’re so afraid of it, how to see failure differently so that it can help you instead of stifle you. And then, a challenge. Okay, so many of you know this already, but I want to get really explicit about the characteristics of failure, so you can embrace them.

So sure, if you look it up, you’re gonna find all kinds of definitions of failure; you’ll see a lack of success, or the omission of expected action. But let’s go a little deeper and define failure by its characteristics. First and foremost, failure is unavoidable. If you’re going to stretch yourself and try something new, rest assured, you’re gonna fail.

When you try something new and different, you’re not going to get it right from the get-go, you just won’t. And because of that, you’re not going to succeed from the outset. That is simply part of the process.

For my perfectionists out there who are cringing, I got you. Here’s the thing: Consider failure a data point. This is how I want you to think of it; failure as a data point. That tells you something didn’t go as planned, something didn’t go according to expectation. It is a piece of data that tells you something didn’t work. That’s it. Failure tells you to try something different.

And this is a key feature of failure; it is simply data telling you something didn’t work. But often, this is where you get really tripped up. So, if you try to do something and it fails, don’t keep repeating yourself with the same action that caused the failure in the first place.

Let’s flip back to Einstein, right? He was pretty smart guy. He said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So, don’t do that; it’s wasted time and energy. Instead, welcome and even maybe, embrace your failure as information. It’s data that tells you what is not working.

And then, you can use that data in order to course-correct, change your approach and try again. That’s it. Don’t make it any more complicated than that.

So, here’s another way to view failure: While the failure itself may come down to a test grade, or a number on the scale, a win or lose, or whether or not you get the job, those are isolated events that are part of a larger process.

Rather than getting entirely bogged down in the final outcome, think of failure as a process instead. So, maybe you applied for a job or a promotion, and you didn’t get it. Maybe you tried really hard to change your routine, in order to incorporate exercise into your days, and you just didn’t follow through.

Or, maybe you tried to change your diet. It lasted for a few days, and then ultimately, you reverted back to fast food and takeout. So, whatever it is, think of a failure you’ve had. The ultimate failure, it’s an isolated event that’s part of a bigger process. If you haven’t been following the plan for exercise that you set out for yourself, look at that process.

Have you been going to bed early enough? Have you decided ahead of time what your workout will be? Did you lay out your clothes? Did you have the steps laid out for yourself?

If you haven’t been following through on your nutrition; did you shop and buy the foods you need? Did you write out a meal plan for yourself? Did you give yourself time to cook?

If you didn’t get the job; were there holes in your resume? Are there experiences, certifications, or training that you don’t have yet? Where, in the process, is there room for improvement?

So, do you see here? The failure itself, it’s one event or one single outcome, but it’s part of a much larger process. It’s not just that you failed to work out, or that you failed to eat a salad, or you didn’t get the job. Instead, it is the process and the steps leading up to that goal that were out of whack. So, really let this sink in for a minute.

Because too often, if you take a very black-and-white approach to failure, you will stop before you get to your goal. But if you can see it as a process instead of an endpoint, here’s what happens: It gives you room to improve and course-correct.

What I’m asking you to do, is take a big picture view of things; zoom out and adjust your process. And, I say this because I see the opposite so commonly. You, instead, put yourself under a microscope to see nothing but the failure itself.

So, when you look at the bigger picture, you can change and refine your approach, and get a different outcome next time. Meaning, you can make a plan to get up at 5:30. Put on the gym clothes that you laid out the night before. And head downstairs to do your 30-minute workout, that you’ve decided ahead of time.

That’s a different process than hitting snooze, getting up late, not knowing what your morning workout is going to be; those will feel very different.

So, ask yourself, does your process set you up for success? Think about innovation as an example. This is a really great example. So, in the book, Creative Confidence, which is written by the Kelley brothers of IDEO™. Read the book, it is really interesting. One of their mottos is, “Failure sucks, but in instructs,” and it is absolutely true. They talk about failure in relation to design and innovation.

That’s, partly, why I think engineers, innovators, inventors, this is why I think we can all learn something from them, for real. So, think about innovation, and even inventions. The whole idea is to start with a prototype, knowing full well that that original prototype is not going to be the final product, right?

In order to get to the iPhone™, there had to be loads and loads of prototypes that were not the iPhone. There were loads of iterations that were not nearly as cool, or small, or user friendly. And there had to be a ton of failures along the way, in order to get the iPhone that you use today.

So, what is innovation? It is trying and failing, over and over and over again. Until you got an iPhone. Until you have the Tesla®. Until you have Netflix®. I’ve really tried to adopt an innovation approach myself. You just have to try something, take some action, see what fails, fully expecting failure, to find out what works.

And then, you do more of what works, less of what doesn’t, and refine your process until you get where you want to be. I love that. Another key characteristic of failure is that it is not who you are. Failure is not who you are. So, think about it. There is an enormous difference between thinking to yourself, “I am a failure,” versus, “I failed at something.”

When something does not go as intended, and when you’re feeling inclined to call yourself a failure, stop yourself and ask one of my most favorite questions: What am I making this mean? Anyone who has coached with me will attest to this. I ask this question often, whether it’s related to a failure, an argument with your partner, the number on the scale; what am I making this mean?

It is a really, really great question. And whenever you find yourself going down a negative spiral, pull this one out and answer this question for yourself. So, here’s why?

Getting an F on your test; that’s the circumstance. Not waking up for your workout; also, a circumstance. Eating cheesecake for dinner; also, a circumstance. Not getting the job; also, a circumstance. So, circumstances, they are simply facts.

Remember, they are always neutral; circumstances are neither good nor bad until you have a thought about them. So, when something happens that you consider a failure, go back to your thoughts. There it is, again. Go back to your thoughts and answer; what are you making this circumstance mean?

When you eat the cheesecake for dinner, instead of the salad and tilapia fillet that you planned for yourself, what are you making this mean? Whatever you make it mean, that’s your thought. So, in this example, maybe you choose to think that, after you eat the cheesecake, “I stink at this. I cannot follow through with my diet. I have zero willpower. I am not good enough.”

Notice those sentences; they are all thoughts. And they are your interpretation of the circumstance, or the fact, that you ate cheesecake for dinner. But let me offer you this, and you know this already, every thought is your choice. You thinking, “I cannot follow through with my diet,” that is your choice.

So, to take it a step further, ask my next favorite question: When you have cheesecake for dinner, and you think to yourself, “I cannot follow through with my diet,” how does it feel? How does it feel when you think that thought? Do you feel frustrated, sad, hopeless, unworthy, ashamed? Whatever it is, make the connection.

Take whatever it is you think you failed at, ask what you’re making it mean, and then you’ll land on your thought. And then, take that thought, and ask yourself: How does it feel to think that way? I know I say this often, but this exercise that I’m talking you through right here, this is powerful stuff. This is how you create awareness.

This is how you wake up and see the impact that your brain and your thoughts have on everything that happens in your life. And here’s the key point to note here; it is not your fear of failure that is the problem, instead it’s the fear of how you will feel when you fail that is the problem. It’s how you think you’ll feel when you fail, that keeps you from moving forward.

And that, is most definitely holding you back. And if you’re shaking your head thinking to yourself, “Okay, there she goes again, talking about those thoughts and feelings.” Yeah, I am. I’m going there again, because it really does come back to your thoughts and feelings, always.

It is your fear of feeling the feelings associated with failure that are keeping you stuck. So, really think about this. So often, it’s the fear of feeling a certain way that keeps you stuck. That is just your primitive brain doing its job of keeping you comfortable. So, remember, your brain likes the familiar, it likes comfort, and its goal is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

The pain of failure, it is real, and it is not for the faint of heart. Your brain knows that, and it will do everything in its power to convince you to play it safe and not try. So, if you want to be comfortably safe, even if that comfortably safe is resulting in you living in a body you don’t want. or stuck in a job that is sucking you dry, or wondering ‘what if’ for the rest of your life, don’t try.

You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? Let me say that again; you can’t fail if you don’t try. But is that really how you want to live? I know that is not what I’m looking for. Because you have an evolved brain, and you are capable of thinking about your thinking, that’s that whole metacognition stuff there, you can do a deeper dive and pick this apart.

I’ve asked this before, and this is another place where this question applies: What is the worst thing that happens if you try something, fail, and then feel embarrassed, or ashamed, disappointed, inadequate, humiliated? What happens? Here it is, you feel it. You feel the negative emotion.

That’s it, you feel the yuck, and you get on with your life. You carry it around with you and allow that negative feeling to be there for as long as it takes to process, and you keep going. It is no more complicated than that; I promise.

Your ability to try, fail, feel the negative emotions, and try again, will determine your success. And here’s the irony of all this; you avoid trying things because you don’t want to feel the feelings that come with failure. But you have 100% control over the feelings that you have when you fail. It’s really fascinating.

If you want to think of it even more simply, think of it this way. Everything you do or don’t do is because of how you think it will make you feel. So, think about this for yourself. Why haven’t you applied for the job? Why haven’t you started your passion project? Like, writing the book, or painting the masterpiece? Or, recording your video? Why haven’t you tried to lose weight or start exercising?

What happens if it doesn’t go as planned? What happens if you try make a mistake, maybe you mess up and you fail, you feel something, you feel something, that’s it. If you’re willing to feel the feelings, take care of yourself, and not make the failure itself mean that you are a failure, then you’re on to something. And, this is how you build trust in yourself.

I said this in a previous podcast about happiness, that happiness is an inside job. Well, so is failure. You can only be a failure if you let yourself feel like a failure, is really true. I read this somewhere and I want to share, because I applied it to myself as I was building my business and freaking out about putting myself out there, putting my content out there for other people to see and critique.

Consider this, there is someone out there doing exactly what you want to be doing, right now. That person may not be as smart, have as many credentials, be as witty, or be as funny as you, but they are doing what you want to be doing. And the only reason they are doing it right now and you are not, is because that person was willing to feel things that you were not willing to feel.

Okay, so think about that. Really, really think about that for a minute. That person was willing to feel things that you are not yet willing to feel. And, that person most definitely kept going. So, answer this for yourself: What is it that you are not willing to feel that is holding you back?

And again, when you do this, do it from a place of curiosity and kindness. Not like, “What the heck, Carrie? Why can’t you just put on your webinar, or make more videos like so-and-so is doing?” No, no. The point here is not to beat yourself up, instead the point is to get really honest, ask yourself some hard questions, and then answer them.

I would argue that people who succeed at anything, business, career transition, weight loss, exercise, name your big change, people who succeed are willing to feel the negative emotion associated with failure. And more importantly, when they encounter failure, they don’t make it mean that they are a failure.

They don’t identify as a failure; they simply realize, “I failed at something. Something did not go the way I thought.” And then, they feel disappointment and shame, or whatever negative emotion comes up, and use that information to take a different approach next time. Again, there is an enormous difference between ‘I failed at something’ versus ‘I am a failure’.

It’s creating space. It’s the same as saying ‘I am sad’ versus ‘I feel sad’. When you create that space and refuse to identify by your failure, that gives you the authority to change it and try something different. And one other important thing to know about failure here, and I say this because I see it frequently, no one cares about your failure as much as you do.

Really, you are your own worst critic. It’s really true. So, say you apply for the job, and you don’t get it. Or, you put out a blog post and no one reads it. You have a webinar and exactly zero people show up. Or, you try to run for 30 minutes, and you poop out after five. No one cares. And no one will make a bigger deal of it than you will.

We make ourselves into a much bigger deal than we need to. But I promise you, the people around you, they are busy worrying about their own lives, their own fears, and their own failures, to be overly preoccupied with your own. And I do not mean this in a snarky, sarcastic, mean kind of way, but rather in a, let’s try to keep some perspective kind of way.

We tend to magnify and blow things up, and make our failures into a much larger thing than anyone else ever will. So, if you are at all worried about what other people think, I hear you and it’s noted. But remember, your opinion about yourself is the one that matters most, okay? Yours.

Here is the alternative way I am proposing that you think about failure. So, go with me on this, okay? Instead of thinking of failure as an endpoint, think of it as a turning point, seriously. So, so often we see failure as the end, we see it as final. But instead, I’m going to call on the famous words by John Maxwell and encourage you to “fail forward”.

Meaning, you use the failure as an opportunity, instead of game over. So, if you haven’t read or listen to any of John Maxwell’s materials, please check them out. He shared this, and I want to share it here because it really blew my mind, and it was so good.

In his short book, Fail Forward, he shared that the difference between those who achieve and those who remain average, is the way you perceive and respond to failure. The way you perceive and respond to failure. This is actually really great news.

Because both of these are entirely within your control; your perception and response to any failure is 100% within your control. It has been shown, over and over in the literature, that the key characteristic of super successful people is this tenacity. When I think of tenacity, I think of standing up in the face of failure and continuing on.

This is what I mean; if you intentionally work to change your perspective, and view failure as an opportunity to reevaluate and try again, this leads to perseverance. If you do not let the failure be final, and you do not let it stop you, then you persevere. And that perseverance, it leads to experience, confidence, and tenacity.

So, think about it. When you set a goal, take a risk, and take action, it’s a guarantee you’re going to make some mistakes. Those mistakes give you experience. This experience gives you confidence. And that confidence will fuel further action. So, part of having confidence comes from your belief in yourself.

I say it often, because it’s true: Confidence is having your own back. When you bomb an interview or a lecture, or you totally blow your meal plan for the day, or you didn’t go to the gym at all last week, you trust yourself to come back the next day. You keep showing up. You learn.

You feel the negative emotion associated with mistakes, and you realize that you came out on the other side still standing. That the world did not end because you didn’t lose weight, or get the job, or whatever it is you were aiming for. And in that process, those mistakes give you life experience. Those experiences give you confidence, because you’ve learned a thing or two, about a thing or two.

And from that place of confidence, you take further action. Because you know if you fail, you’ve got yourself covered. You trust yourself that you don’t make the failure mean anything about you. So, I want to share this analogy that I learned, and I think it makes good sense here.

Think about a trapeze artist, what happens if she falls? During practice, there is a net underneath her to catch her. And so, think of that net as having your own back. When you go practice your flips, and you repeatedly fall on the net and realize you are okay, something really cool happens. Instead of worrying about what happens when you fall, and if the net is really going to protect you, you can start focusing your energy on catching the bar after you slip.

Do you see? Once you know you’ve got yourself and you’re not going to beat yourself up about your failure, and you’ll be kind to yourself and recognize that, as a human, you’re gonna mess up, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

When you really, deeply understand and believe that you can focus on the task in front of you, you can worry less about failing, and put more of your energy into succeeding; you are your own safety net here. I really, really love this concept.

The other cool thing about this, is when you go and take action, it feels good. So often, people don’t risk failure because they have set too low of expectations for themselves. But when you set a goal, you raise your expectation of yourself. And then, you go and try something.

Taking action feels really, really good, even if it’s not perfect. And when you’ve managed your mind and practiced taking care of yourself, when you fail, you will be more likely to try again and take more action. Often you realize that the failure wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be. And it just feels good to do something, no matter how small; it is entirely liberating.

One other thing to know about failure; a few negative outcomes do not equal failure. Giving up is what equals failure. So, really think about that, because it is the truth. The only way you fail is if you give up, you stop trying. If you commit to keep going no matter what, you will succeed.

I know there are all kinds of cheesy quotes and motivational sayings, and all kinds of stuff about failure. But if you really peel away all of the layers and take it for what it is, the only way to fail is to stop. Really, and it is entirely within your control.

When I start working with a client, often one of the first things we talk about is discomfort. I bring this up with her because no change is easy, and no change happens without failure. And, I want to plant the seed early, so we can work through this.

I ask you the same question I ask of my clients, and I encourage you to really think about this: How uncomfortable are you willing to get? How many failures are you willing to experience, in order to experience the awesomeness of your success? I think it’s an important question to ask of yourself, and answer honestly.

If you want to achieve success, and if you want something you’ve never had before, you have to think in ways you’ve never thought before. So, that you can try things you’ve never tried before. That happens by taking risks, trying, failing, and feeling the discomfort that is a byproduct of that process. The more uncomfortable you are willing to get, the sooner you will be moving forward towards success.

I recently listened to a podcast by Adam Grant. He shared that he has a failure quota. So, he explained that if he hasn’t bombed a talk, or a class that he teaches, or a research paper in the course of a year, he wasn’t trying hard enough. How’s that for turning failure upside down?

This is an insanely successful, brilliant person who is purposefully going out and setting a goal of achieving failure. I honestly think we could all learn a thing or two from Adam Grant. When you’re failing, it means you’re trying. It means you’re taking action, and stretching yourself. If you are succeeding at everything, you’re not stretching yourself.

So, I’m calling on John Maxwell one more time, because he wrapped it up so nicely, “If at first you succeed, try something harder.” I love it. With all of this in mind, here is my challenge to you: Take a risk. Try something new. Be willing to fail. And then, be willing to feel all of the emotion, the excitement, the high, the low, the disappointment; feel all of it. And then, go do it again.

This is how you gain life experience. This is how you gain confidence. This is how you make really awesome things happen for yourself. If you want to succeed, get really good at messing up. Practice failure, and it will most definitely lead you to success.

All right. Have a great week. I’ll catch you again next Wednesday.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And, share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. And, be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram® or Facebook®, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better, or eat and move differently, but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that, is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com

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