Monday Meditation: Embracing failure is the foundation for success

I’ve taken up bouldering in the last year (indoor only for now), and yesterday I went climbing in the morning for a couple of hours.

While there, it occurred to me that one year ago not only was I less capable than I am now – after all, skills improve over time – but I was also far more afraid of falling.

Don’t get me wrong; when I am at the top of the wall and need to do a tricky move to complete the climb, I am still scared, and I sometimes abandon the climb if I don’t feel the attempt is safe. But what I don’t do is worry about falling, and, as a consequence, I don’t worry so much about failing. Rather, I ask myself, is this within my abilities? If yes, then I attempt the move. If no, then I climb back down.

In the former case, when I am going to try for the final or tricky hold, I allow myself to think: I could fall, I should be prepared. This is for the simple reason that if I acknowledge this possibility, I can plan for it, and in the process, I allow myself permission to brace for that outcome so that the landing will be, at the very least, a less bad one. As a result, I not only feel more secure in making an attempt, but more assured that in the case of failure I will have done whatever I can to help myself recover.

This is a pivotal issue for many people, and it was for me too. Namely, they are afraid to fail, so they do not try, or, potentially even worse, they recklessly delude themselves with the nonsensical mantras: “I cannot fail” or “Failure is not an option.”

Climbing, with its inherent risk (and I have seen some bad falls), has taught me, out of necessity, that if you accept the possibility of failure you can turn fear into mindful preparation so that you can make an attempt and just fall if you need to.

In this way, I am teaching myself that “Failure is just an outcome,” and that “Failure is something I can ameliorate.” – I am not its slave, and this gives me the courage to strive.

The first two approaches, of the coward or the blowhard, will either paralyse you or make you take foolish risks. And they will also prevent you from admitting and embracing the truth, that failure is always out there, underneath everything you do.

I now know, from learning to fall, that failure is always a possibility, but that accepting this is the foundation of deliberate progress and measured success – that taking the appropriate attitude to benefiting from the occurrences of failure can allow you to fall, as you sometimes must, as gracefully as you can.

Thursday Tracker: People are lying to you – Progress (here, Weight-Loss) is messy – Here is the truth

At the start of 2017, I weighed just under 90 kilos. And I was not in any way toned.

As a 6ft Tall Man (183cm), that put me well into the Overweight category with a BMI of around 27.

This was not what I had in mind when I envisioned turning 30 and was the direct result of 3 consistently bad life choices:

Drinking Alcohol (bingeing)

Eating an unhealthy diet (sweets and meats)

Not exercising enough (or at all, apart from walking, which I enjoyed)

At that time, I had also decided to start tracking my life statistically, and weight seemed like an obvious place to start.

The great news is that thanks to some simple lifestyle interventions (not dieting), which I will discuss fully in other posts, I have managed to lose 10 kilos in just over a year.

And since I have been, literally, charting my progress that whole time, I have also learned what progress really looks like, and realised I have been unconsciously lied to for a long time.

To begin with here is my average weight in kg per quarter since Jan 2017:

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So far so simple. Do the right things, see the benefits over time.

On some level, this view is useful. Unlike all of the facebook posts that depress you on (I suspect) a daily basis, wherein someone boasts about how they dropped x pounds/kilos, and make it look as though it were something that simply happened overnight, this is what weight loss actually looks like.

It takes time and you need to accept that fact for genuine weight loss/muscle gain of any kind.

Your body is organic, and just like a plant, it won’t grow overnight, no matter how well you care for it on any given day. Consistency is key.

But, in saying that, this graph is still a lie. Because this graph makes it look like progress was steady, and tapered off nicely.

It will probably demotivate you to some degree, just like the insta-dream-body facebook posts, because it doesn’t feel like it matches your experience, and therefore you might think that there is something special about why I achieved this, but you can’t .

But if we zoom in a little, and look at the same data, averaged by month this time, this is what we see instead:

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Now the story is different. More believable, less simplistic.

There is a distinct lack of any progress initially, as my early interventions had minimal effect, followed by a precipitous drop, tapering off, and then some backwards motion in December (too many mince pies), followed by getting back on track to my initial target weight (78 kg).

This is much more realistic. This should motivate you. This shows you the following:

You will try things, they will fail, then something will work, progress will be rapid, but then taper off as your body reaches a new equilibrium, and, you WILL likely backslide at some point, but that’s okay, because as long as the trend looks like graph 1, you can accept the reality of graph 2, and know that you can get back on track

BUT…

This graph is also a lie. And if you expect anything in life; skill gain, weight loss etc. to go relatively smoothly, like this, then you are lying to yourself and bound to be demotivated by the truth.

That’s because this is what progress really looks like:

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This is a true story of progress.

It is messy. It is unpredictable. It is the complexity of real life charted on a simple graph.

As you can see, on any given day my weight could be a kilo or more in either direction. And at one point I got down to 78.3 kg only for my weight to climb again in December. Which I was not totally unprepared for, given the time of year.

Biology is complicated, you step on the scale the day after a lot of salty food and you’ve retained water, BAM, you are a kilo and a half heavier. Three days later, fully back to your normal (healthy) eating pattern, you are two kg down again and feeling smug.

This is what I now know, from personal experience and data. I’ve internalised knowledge that I had seen written a thousand times, but never integrated into my attitude to life:

Progress is messy and the noise of its messiness is IRRELEVANT to your progress.

All that matters is the overall trend.

But, the noise is also REALITY, and you, therefore, need to accept that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, or strive, or push on any given day, that when you zoom in close (as when you step on the scale), progress looks stochastic, and can feel demotivating.

It doesn’t come all at once, like people on social media accidentally portray, it comes in fits and starts. It seems and feels random. It is never, ever going to be a straight line.

So you can track yourself, but you must analyse the averages, believe in the purpose of the bigger picture, and ignore stories of overnight success. The truth is that they have zoomed out so far that they are only showing you 2 useless data points, Then and Now.

Then and Now may indicate the trend, but it doesn’t reveal the truth about progress.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Wanting what you have trumps having what you want…

“It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.” – Diogenes the Cynic

Diogenes the Cynic famously lived in a barrel on the street, and when asked by Alexander the Great what he wanted in life, Diogenes apparently requested only that Alexander move to the side as he was blocking the sun.

What can be possibly be learned from a man who lived in a barrel (apparently quite contentedly)?

Many things – little about personal hygenie I would imagine – but this most importantly of all: We should always be wary of the fact that material attachment is a potential path to disappointment, upset and ultimately, self-debasement.

Why?

Because in order to achieve or attain the thing we want we often merrily sacrifice what we already have.

How many people have neglected their loving children so they can go and get drunk with their fair-weather friends?

How many people have worked late every night in a job they will one day leave only for their neglected spouse to one day leave them?

How many people have worked exclusively for a promotion, sacrificing their peace of mind, time, energy and passion, only for the pressures of the new role to make them want to quit?

How often have you sacrificed the precious things you already have for the imaginary things you probably shouldn’t want? And how often has that actually helped you be “happy”?

Maybe if we stopped trying to have everything we supposedly wanted and started focussing more on wanting the things we already have, we could come to the simple truth: we already have everything that we need.

Inspired by a quote I read in this excellent source of daily wisdom:

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living: Featuring new translations of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius