Failure can be amazing! (Even though it's not very fun.) It's how we learn what went wrong and how to get it better next time. And the power of failure never expires, even if the experience itself gets old. Each next failure is equally fantastic. It's going to either put an exclamation point behind our last lesson or teach us something else altogether that we may not have seen before. Providing that we approach it in the right way.
Love Failure At Least Enough to Learn from It
Looking in an interested, clear-eyed, honest--and I would even add loving--way at failure is how the elite become the elite. Tom Brady goes over game film again and again watching every little detail of what went wrong. He's not beating himself up for it. He's extremely invested in success, so he's scrutinizing failure.
Think about how you succeed at a video game. You hate it when you die, but you also tend to remember particularly well what happened right before you died. That enables you to see that same danger coming the next time. And your second time in that situation you live... or you learn even more about exactly how to die--and by extension how not to die in the future.
It really works to watch game film and take in the details of how our video game character dies. Unfortunately, these processes have nothing in common with the way we usually respond to failure in our self-control efforts.
Our Usual Unloving Reactions to Failure
After relapsing to porn, one of my clients used to beat himself up for a day or so, feel miserable--like a loser--for a day or two more, and then on about the third or fourth day after a slip try to pick himself up, dust himself off, try to forget about it and go on with his life, vowing to "try even harder from now on" not to give in. And hoping against hope that he could keep that resolve later when cravings were strong again.
What a waste of a failure! Fortunately he learned to track his failures in a more loving way so that he could learn from them.
Another client, after lapsing to porn, used to tell himself "Wow, I was doing so well but fell back into it. I guess I'm never going to get over this. Maybe that's how it is for all of us who are into porn! That guy at the 12-step meeting, he had to be in his seventies! Apparently none of us ever get over this problem, do we! I guess we're all hopelessly addicted."
What a waste of a failure! Fortunately, he too is learning to track the details of his failures so that he can learn from them. It's the most loving thing to do.
Adopt a More Loving Mentality
Think about the way Jane Goodall approached her work studying the chimps she lived among. She was a curious scientist, but when you watch footage of her in their midst, there's no question that she loves them. Watch the way Augusto Odone, played by Nick Nolte in the film "Lorenzo's Oil", responds to his son's deterioration from ALD. It's obvious that he hates the disease his son has, but he loves his son and that fuels his fascination with the human body and chemistry to the point where he spends hours in the library and dreams about molecules and ends up helping to discover a cure.
I have some experience in this arena. I've had a "bad back" since my early twenties. For the first fifteen years I bemoaned the fact that it kept going out, regretted my genetic vulnerability to back pain, and spent a pretty penny on straps, braces, and cushions for bed, my chairs at home, the chair in my office, and the driver's seat in my car. All the while noting very little progress in my back pain.
Then fifteen years ago I decided to take a different approach. A therapist I admire said that pain is the best teacher, and we can treat pain as an opportunity to have a learning experience.
Loving Attention Healed My Back
I decided to learn more about the back and spine. I studied the anatomy and physics of the human body. Among other things I discovered that if you have tight hamstring muscles, when you bend down your back muscles must stretch even further to make up for the lack of give in your hamstrings. But since lower back muscles aren't as strong as the hamstring, they're the ones that give out. I learned about yoga stretches that loosen the back and hamstring muscles.
I learned about the importance of core muscles and learned some core-strengthening exercises. I started keeping a journal of the times my back went out and discovered that, sure enough, it was typically when I'd slacked off on my yoga and ab-ripper routines. That provided more motivation to stay consistent.
Over the last several years I've gradually had fewer and fewer back "tweaks" that leave me listing to the right for days at a time. In fact I can tell you exactly from my "back tweak journal": It happened four times in 2013, three times in 2014, and once in 2015. Okay, so I've already had a minor tweak in 2016... but in the last few years these "tweaks" affect me less and less each time because I'm more limber and my core is stronger.
This affirmation may help you adopt a different attitude toward failure. Feel free to ponder or meditate on it.
"I am becoming someone who accepts failure as a part of life and eagerly learns from it. I am interested in failure and curious about its causes. I accept myself as someone who is human, and thus fails regularly. I also accept my aversion to failure--it's only natural. But I will no longer let that aversion keep me from from facing my failures and sifting through them for jewels of wisdom. I am grateful for everything I've learned from my past failures and for the strength and determination I've gained by getting back up whenever I have failed."