The importance of failure — lessons from weight-training.

 

I’ve been weight-lifting off and on for about fifteen-years now. My primary purpose for weight lifting has been to stay lean and strong, ready for any outdoor sport or household chore. I’ve usually set some goals along the way too, like working toward a heavier bench-press, squat, or lat pull-down, but often times I’ve shown up at the gym only to go through the motions. Sometimes going through the motions is better than nothing, but it’s not the way I want to live.


One thing I’ve learned is that life is only truly lived when It’s lived intentionally.

Whether weight-lifting or loving my family, excellence requires a giving of self, risk, the chance of failure. In fact, I would even argue that a life without failure is no life at all. If we aren’t providing ourselves with opportunities to fail are we really living meaningful lives?  

Earlier this week I realized that weight-lifting provides a perfect analogy for the importance of failure. For the last several months I’ve been trying to push myself in several different lifts in order to build strength and improve my speed for the 100 meter dash. The thing is, I really wasn’t pushing myself to my full-potential. I was satisfied with reaching arbitrary goals, like accomplishing 4 sets of 10 repetitions with a certain weight, but I wasn’t getting stronger. Then I remembered that making strength gains requires overcoming mental barriers and pushing my muscles to new limits — it requires FAILURE.  

Ask any professional athlete or strength trainer and he or she will tell you the same thing; if you want to get stronger you have to push your muscles until they can’t perform a given exercise for even one more repetition. It’s only when you get to the point of muscle failure that you’re challenging your body to make new gains.

The same is true in life. If we don’t put ourselves in situations that provide opportunities for failure then we aren’t providing opportunities for growth and fruitfulness.  

Failure in anything can be difficult. Being OK with failing in front of others requires a firm sense of identity and a proper perspective. It’s easy to make the mistake of focusing on failures instead of using failures to help us get closer to a goal. But what happens when we focus on our failures instead of our purpose and value as human beings is that failure can secretly and subconsciously become a goal in and of itself. Don’t be afraid of failure but don’t focus on it either.  

Whatever you do, do it do the fullest. When you fail, use that failure as a learning opportunity, a means of becoming a better person. Failure isn’t something we are — it’s just something we do. It’s something we need to do in order to live and succeed!

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Originally posted 2014-01-08 16:33:23.

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