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On Failure, On Persistence

On failure, on persistence

Failure: One word that everybody fears. An insidious concept that has the power to halt a goal or idea before it is even birthed. A formidable enough obstacle to cause a man to quit despite what progress he may have made thus far.

Failure is the most misunderstood and vile of all roadblocks in the pursuit of your goals.

Why is failure so terrifying? Why does failure have the unwarranted power to pull the plug on your goals?

If we would take a minute to reflect on the idea, we could come to a couple conclusions.

  1. Failure is scary because it puts your own imperfections in your face. Many people (myself included), sometimes have unrealistic expectations about how life should be. About how I should be. When we fail, we are forced to reconcile this desire/belief that we must always be perfect with the reality of the world. This all or nothing mindset is the most dangerous enemy to any sort of meaningful progress. I’m sure you’ve seen it in your own life. I’m sure you’ve been riding high on the hopes of a new goal or dream or ambition, only to be sunk immediately by the first major setback.
  2. Failure is uncomfortable. It is natural to seek comfort. In fact, we are hardwired by evolution to expend the smallest amount of energy possible in order to ensure our survival and that of our family. The only problem is that this has been ingrained in us to ensure our survival, it does absolutely nothing for ourgrowth. To grow as a person requires that you purposely seek out uncomfortable and new experiences. It is imperative that we build the self-discipline and power of will to meet obstacles and setbacks with a quiet tenacity and determination.

Reconditioning how you handle failure will change your life. Not immediately. But gradually. Seeing failure as an opportunity to reexamine and grow is key to pursuing any sort of long term goal.

I’ve never been one for empty platitudes, so here’s how I try to approach it practically. I currently have fitness goals that I am pursuing. The past few days I’ve had trouble going consistently. After writing down some of my thoughts, I learned why I wasn’t in the mood to go. My thoughts went something like this:

“There’s no point in going. I’m never gonna be in great shape anyways, it never worked in the past. There’s no point in trying.”

Using a cognitive behavioral model to approach this thought, you would say that I am using several cognitive distortions, namely using an ‘all or nothing’ approach, and overgeneralizing. Here’s how I would talk back to these thoughts:

“Sure there is a point in going. Even though I’m not at my fitness goal right now, it doesn’t mean I won’t get there eventually. It’s okay to be a work in progress, by going I’m getting better all the time.”

By doing this consistently you will train your brain to eventually counter these thoughts when they come up. It will be awkward and difficult initially, especially since these thoughts may have been with you since childhood, but they are not immune to the power of your consistent effort.

That’s what it essentially comes down to. Consistent effort towards a goal.

Though not one of the more well known presidents, Calvin Coolidge once said something that has resonated long past his time:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Here is what is required of you and me:

A firm vision and belief in what it is you must do, and the courage and perseverance to take consistent action towards these endeavors, however imperfect or small that action may be. You must trust in the process, and know in your heart that it is the slow erosion of rain and wind that can flatten a mountain, not the brief flash of lightning upon it’s peak. Put your head down, and move towards your goals. Take each failure as an opportunity to learn, rather than an indictment of your character. Do this long enough, and often enough, and you will get there. A single step at a time.

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Originally posted here.

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