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You’re not a failure. How to get past a setback and back in the game

We all get stuck in a rut. This author and consultant to top sports stars offers some surprisingly simple advice for a mental reset.

You’re not a failure. How to get past a setback and back in the game
[Source photo: Paper Boat Creativ/Getty Images]

Often when we fail at something, we either try again futilely, freeze up, or quit in frustration. Our hearts race, our minds can be burdened with doubt, and our spirits can be defeated. This happens with endeavors as big as starting a business or as small as trying to hit a baseball in the neighborhood park. Failure has such a powerful sting that it can prevent some of the most determined and talented people from reaching their full potential and achieving mastery in their profession. It can become too much a part of their identity.

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Daniel Bard, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, got a bad case of the “yips,” which stopped his career for a while. After being one of the best pitchers in the game, he suddenly couldn’t throw anything. Every pitch required great effort. His identity was so wrapped up in his performance that he put incredible pressure on himself to succeed. So he stopped pitching in 2017. He left the game for a while. 

Daniel responded with time off. While that’s one option to work through failure, that’s not always possible for everyone. There is another way to respond—one that will set you up for success on your next attempt, which can be a game changer post-failure. It’s one that the very best professional athletes and highly successful people know and use, but it is not being taught as frequently in today’s game. For high performers, failure is a daily occurrence, and the best have learned the power of holding off on self-judgement through a technique I call the “hover.”

This technique involves pausing after failure—before your beliefs about your abilities harden. It’s the “grey” area where we don’t allow ourselves to make judgements, but rather actively see and work on the next move instead. In my book, Million Dollar Adjustments, I share how the best adjusters hover after failure, giving them the mental “reset” they need to continue without labels or stress. Because the road to success is not a straight line, we could really make failure part of our identity if we aren’t careful. 

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Here is how pausing, or “hovering,” can quickly set you up for success.

It stops the internal failure narrative and self-judgement

Internal “self-talk” happens all the time, especially when we attach a great significance to a specific outcome. If something doesn’t turn out as we had hoped, it’s easy to allow that self-talk to get negative and judge ourselves harshly. The “hover” stops all that, because it’s a place where we can’t judge who we are, only what can be done differently. It frees us from the immediate past and lets us look to the future. The hover time lasts as long as it takes until the next attempt, suspending our self-judgement and giving ourselves grace. This is so important to our overall well-being and motivation to try again.

Gives our brain a chance to prevent negative beliefs from hardening

Our beliefs are not as flexible as we think they are and harden pretty quickly. Our beliefs become our reality and studies have shown that beliefs actually do affect our brain biochemistry. One study, “The Biochemistry of Belief,” published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, found that even when we feel stuck emotionally, there is always a biochemical potential for change and possible growth. When we change our thinking, we change our beliefs, which can change our behaviors. The hover allows us the in-between area before beliefs are hardened, altering our biochemistry and giving us a “do-over.” Sometimes we all could use that.

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Keeps us from labeling ourselves

With the increase in technology came an information explosion. We can get instant information on just about anything or anyone. While this has been a useful advance for the human race, it has also disrupted our normal and natural learning processes of discovery, accomplishment, and identity, as explained in the book, Distracted Learning: Big Problem and Golden Opportunity, by Shelly J. Schmidt. Self-labeling has always been around as long as people have compared themselves to others, but social media has taken it to new levels- especially when digital identities started providing profile sections. While self-labeling is culturally popular, the hover keeps us from calling ourselves “a failure” after failure happens. This label is one we don’t share on social media but we carry around inside of us. The hover gives us time to remember that failure is not a label we will accept.

Lets us step into a place where we can alter our technique

Once we are in the grey area and free from self-judgement, we are “safe” to look at alternative methods of action. This can be anything from adjusting our timing, strategy, knowledge, or mechanics, depending on what the goal is. Some of these other elements are broken down in my book. Suspending our beliefs for a time helps us to see things we may not have seen before because we were stuck on failure and its resulting anxiety. Without that burden, new solutions or ideas may come to light that can help us improve our technique and reach our goals.

The hover is a place where anyone can go after failure. You just have to choose to go there. It takes a little practice, but it is well worth the trip.

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Linda Wawrzyniak is the founder and chief learning scientist at Major League Consulting, which has helped hundreds of professional athletes perform at their highest level and become positive role models for society. She is the author of Million Dollar Adjustments, which documents the “power of small changes on performance, productivity, and peace.”


 

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