In the days since Thanksgiving, I've heard a lot about failure from my clients and friends. Failure when they said they wouldn't get second helpings, but ended up eating thirds. Failure over not eating all the pies. Failure when they stuffed themselves to the point of undoing a pants button. It seems most people woke up Friday morning feeling a little guilty.
It's pretty hard to fail. To demonstrate that, let's look at an example. Say you're an adrenaline junkie and decide to walk a tight rope across the Grand Canyon. Halfway through, you lose your focus, make a misstep and plunge to your death. Besides being a horrible tragedy, guess what? You failed. You'll never have a chance to hop back on that tightrope, apply what you learned and make it across. Except for in heaven, where I presume adorable little angels will serve as your spotter, so that doesn't really count. This was your last chance to succeed.
But in just about every other situation I can imagine, you have future opportunities for success. There will be more Thanksgivings. Tomorrow, you can make the decision to go for a run instead of bingeing on Netflix. At some point in life, you'll be presented with a box of donuts again and have the choice to shovel them all in, pass, or take one and savor it.
I hate the word failure. It feels so negative, when really the slips and stumbles we make on a daily basis are actually a positive thing. After all, it's the only way to truly learn. People commonly say "I learned that lesson the hard way," but isn't the hard way the only way?
Perfection isn't the goal. The goal is to take something away from every slip and stumble you make. Granted, that ideal is about as unattainable as perfection, but you'll gain a whole lot more by striving for it.
So, how do you turn the feelings of guilt after a perceived failure into an opportunity for growth? By taking these four, simple steps:
1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
It's easy to let a tiny slip spiral into a black hole of shame. When I first became a dietitian, I would feel incredibly guilty after overindulging. That guilt would build into something so much deeper. It became "proof" that I was a horrible sham of a dietitian with a complete lack of willpower. Logically, I knew this wasn't true, but who has ever felt rational when trapped in a cloud of guilt?
When you catch yourself falling into this trap, stop and take a deep breath. Breathe in and out through your nose, counting to 4 each time. Repeat as needed. Breathing deeply will snap you back into the present moment and allow you to see the slip for what it is - quite minor in the grand scheme of things. With a clear mind, you'll be able to reflect and prepare yourself for step 2.
2. REFLECT AND STRATEGIZE.
If you "fail," it's not because you are a failure. Never. There is always a reason for your slips and stumbles, and usually it has to do with with your plan. Spend a few moments reflecting, looking back at what when wrong. Maybe you didn't anticipate a barrier. Or maybe you were tired, wearing down the willpower you normally rely on. Figure out the why.
Since what you were doing didn't work, you need to find another way. Imagine you had access to a time machine, what would do differently? What will you do the next time you're in the situation to prevent the undesirable outcome. Figure out your strategy.
3. Take the first step.