August 23, 2017

A Simple Technique to Bounce Back From Any Failure

Failure.

At some point in our lives, we all experience failure.

Those that are resilient to failure bounce back from setbacks and struggles to try again and again.

Those that dwell on failure become disenfranchised and struggle to continue on even when faced with minor setbacks.

All of us know where we stand on this continuum. For some of us, our ability to bounce back is situational. We may be perfectly able to bounce back from a lost sale but horrible at getting over a broken relationship.

Situational failure modes are usually driven by some sort of self worth we tie to the situation or something we have never experienced. The good news is that since we can overcome some types of failure easily, it’s simply a matter of applying those same attitudes towards our other failures. I know, simple to say, but as usual, hard to do.

Failure is a State of Mind

Our mind is a power thing. It controls how we feel about every situation we experience. Those feelings that the mind releases primarily have to do with our attitudes about ourselves and our experiences.

When our attitudes are negative or defeatist or melancholy, it affects us both physically and mentally. The converse is also true when it comes to positive emotions.

The problem is that the negative gets amplified more than the positive. This is primarily due to how positive and negative emotions are processed in our brains.

Negative emotions, generally, involve more thinking and thus get processed more deeply in the brain — making them easier to remember. This tendency to dwell on the negative also has evolutionary roots since those that learned from past mistakes survived to pass along their genes.

Negativity also releases stress producing hormones that can make us anxious or depressed. Even saying or seeing negative words will produce these effects. Those stress hormones can cause all sorts of havoc on both our physical and mental wellbeing.

We Live In A Relativity Safe World

Nowadays, we don’t really need to worry so much about being eaten by a saber toothed tiger or which berry makes us sick. We have pretty much mitigated all those survival risks by building institutions and collaborating with our fellow humans.

Of course, some parts of the world are dangerous and safety is a major concern. That can’t be marginalized and needs to be dealt with practically but that has nothing to do with our failures.

Even though we are a lot safer, our mind still latches on to the negative and that makes us still prone to amplify the negative while marginalizing the positive.

In order to mitigate this “latching on to the negative”, we have to consciously and consistently interrupt this deep processing of the negative. We can do that by not thinking of failure as failure put practice for next time. This is akin to when great leaders zig and zag around barriers or setbacks.

Practice for Next Time

When we think of failure, any failure, as just practice for next time, we interrupt this deep brain processing because all of us know that practice makes perfect so therefore, our practices will never be perfect.

You can fail a lot at practice and still play a good game. It’s practice where you refine your technique and breakdown the individual motions to allow you to reconstruct the skill. That’s the same attitude to take with failure.

By practicing, you get better. This attitude about getting better will break the deep processing of the negative. This makes it not about the disappointing result or the place you finished but the practice you got in that situation that’s going to prepare you for next time.

Now, I’m sure the negative among you (I know you’re out there), will say what about failure after failure after failure.

Even if you fail repeatedly, you still learn something and can still consider it practice. In fact, repeated fails may mean you should spend your time practicing other things. Don’t let the fear of failure cause you to worry about excessively about failure or the risks associated with failure. Rather, consider the risk of failure a natural consequence of practice.

Get Out There and Practice

Almost all failures are recoverable. Of course, the ones that involve life and limb are not but in general, all failures can be points of practice and learning. By embracing this practice attitude, any failure or setback will become more of a positive growth experience instead of a deep and dark source of anger and anxiety.

Embracing the Leadership Zig and Zag

Change.

Some say that change is the only constant.

For the leader, change is not only a constant but the reason leaders are needed in the first place. It’s change that tests our leadership mental and pushes us to look for better ways to achieve our objectives and the objectives of our organizations.

Why Change is Scary

Change almost always catches us off guard. It’s not that we don’t expect change — it’s just that it never comes about how we envisioned it. For some, this is extremely uncomfortable. For most, it’s the reason they don’t push through their struggles to achieve their goals.

Change should not be scary. It’s a natural part of our life and if embraced, can lead to more opportunities.

Embracing change means that you are open to changing your direction when required. Embracing change means that when change zigs, you zag and vice versa.

The Risky Part of Zigging and Zagging

One of the major drives of being change adverse is the risk involved with zigging and zagging around an issue, obstacle or setback. This risk is real but not as scary as most people think.

Risks can be mitigated and the leader who understands risk, assesses the options and then takes calculated risks will be more successful and more resilient than the leader who stays on an unproductive path.

When to Zig, When to Zag and When to Completely Change Course

Most leaders wait too long to zig and zag. They usually fall into this trap because they have made a huge investment in their present course and don’t want to look foolish or rethink their brilliant plan.

That’s absurd.

The leader who does not change course when they need to, will look more foolish when the entire effort careens into the side of the mountain. Changing course or direction too often is also a bad idea but don’t let that stop you from truly assessing the situation by following these guidelines:

  • Three steps ahead: As much as you can, think ahead of your present course. By doing this, you can anticipate course corrections you might have to make.

  • Down the rabbit hole: It’s fine to explore new opportunities but don’t get distracted down a course that going to only be marginally fruitful or downright distracting. Remain focused on your goals.

  • Natural forks in the road: There will always be decision points that come along in every effort. These decision points need to be vetted and contemplated so that the right decisions are made.

  • Beyond the finish line: Looking beyond the end makes it much easier to anticipate how decisions will impact not just finishing but what happens after the finish. All projects or efforts have long lasting impacts so look a little farther and anticipate them.

  • Multiple data points don’t lie: Too often, a leader will stay on a given course simply because they don’t want to change. If you are hearing from multiple people, in multiple ways that things are just not working, that’s a pretty strong indication to change course.

Embrace Change by Learning to Zig and Zag

Change is a scary thing. Anytime something changes, we are put in a vulnerable position simply because change creates an opportunity for both success and failure. Being able to zig and zag when change occurs will allow you to become resilient to change. This resiliency will make it possible to adapt and overcome the challenges you and your effort will face.

By learning to zig and zag, you create more opportunities for success because opportunities are everywhere and it’s the leader that understands and grasps those opportunities that will be successful.

 

When To Stop Enduring and Move On

Failure. It’s one word that most leaders (let alone most people) never want to say, let along face. Failure has an ugly stigma that can push people to endure through tough times almost like super humans.

In some cases, failure is not an option and enduring whatever hardship you are under has to happen. Usually, these situations are ones where the consequences of failure are catastrophic (e.g. Death, dismemberment or harm to others).

Take the life experience of Dr. Viktor Frankl.

Dr. Frankl is the author of a best selling book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning about his experience in concentration camps during World War II.

His insights into how to endure an almost unendurable situation created the third Viennese school of psychotherapy called Logotherapy (the other two are Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology).

The primary idea behind Logotherapy is that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning to life.

Dr. Frankl’s insights help him endure through a tremendous amount of suffering and hardship because he really had no other choice — it was either find the meaning in the experience or perish.

When It’s Not Life and Death

What about the situations where enduring the suffering, discomfort or situation is not a matter of life and death? When should you stop enduring and quit?

This is a tough question to answer and an even tougher thing to achieve considering quitting usually means failing

What we can learn from Dr. Frankl’s example is that if we having meaning, even in failure, we can survive and be successful. In fact, failure is vital to our success since it’s by failing that we understand success. By failure we also push ourselves and others to succeed.

Three Questions to Consider

Any situation can have either a positive, neutral or negative outcome. For leaders, it’s about understanding these outcomes and figuring out if enduring the situation is still worth it. To help you determine when to endure or quit, answer these three questions:

Question #1: Will I Be Physically or Mentally Harmed?

Lots of times we want to press on even through pain and mental hardship. That can lead to growth but pushing too hard can result in long term damage that is not worth the pride of continuing on.

Professional athletes push themselves to the point of physical harm because they are driven to win. Even amateur athletes “push through the pain” to accomplish a goal or finish the race.

If you truly feel that you will harm yourself by pushing on then stop. It’s not worth the agony and your sense of pride or ego will only be bruised for a little while. You can always try again.

Question #2: Can I Change The Situation?

In some cases, the situation you are in cannot be changed (like what Dr. Frankl had to endure). If you can change the situation, then make an effort to. This can make all the difference even if you can’t make all the changes you want — at least you are taking control as much as you can.

If your attempts to change the situation fail and the conditions you find yourself under are just not bearable anymore, then it’s time to leave or stop. There is nothing wrong with leaving a bad situation especially if it’s harming you physically or mentally (like with an abusive spouse or boss).

It’s really not worth the agony to continue on in hopes of changing something that can’t be changed. It will just delay the inventible — you leaving anyway after being too frustrated to stay.

Question #3: Am I Able to Leave the Situation?

In some cases, you will have to stick it out simply because you can’t leave the situation (like Ernest Shackleton’s south pole expedition that got stranded when their boat got stuck). In these cases, your inner drive, mental toughness and endurance will be put to the test. You will have to find meaning and hope in whatever you can.

If the situation is not as dire as south pole survival, then you need to consider why your are staying. Is it because I’m afraid to leave or are can you really not leave. Chances are, if it’s not an exotic expedition, you can leave — it will just take courage and a little planning to do so.

Our Strong Desire To Stick It Out

The questions above really point to our desire to stick it out no matter the situation or potential outcome. We really fear failure and avoid loss at the cost of future gains. We want to take the safe and secure path even if it ends up hurting us (at least in the short term).

It’s hard to fail and even harder to move on after failure but what’s the hardest is to allow yourself to use failure as a way to learn and grow.

Sometimes you have to quit. Sometimes the situation is not healthy and the best way to protect yourself and live to compete another day is to stop before you get hurt. Don’t be afraid to stop enduring — it might be the best way to eventually reach your goals.

 

3 Letters Every Endurance Athlete Dreads and So Should You

Endurance athletes have a nemesis. It’s at every event and accompanies them during training. It’s the hidden monster that drives all endurance athletes to train, train and then train some more. No one is immune — not even the best athletes.

This nemesis is the dreaded DNF — Did Not Finish.

All leaders can relate to not finishing. It’s something we all fear. Not finishing means we failed and failure is hard to swallow.

Endurance athletes use the DNF as a motivational tool because just finishing a race, no matter how slow, means we accomplished what we set out to do.

Leaders can also use the DNF as motivation to push through adversity. It can be the driving force to carry on when all seems hopeless. When you finish that project, land that sale or close that funding you succeeded. You finished. You conquered.

Not finishing is far more painful than any temporary pain one can endure. Even if an athlete has to walk, they will walk. Even if they have to crawl, they will crawl. This is so ingrained in the endurance athletes brain that they will even help others finish — it’s that big a nemesis.

Why Finishing Is Important

Finishing a task means we succeeded. We set out to do a task and we accomplished it. To finish is the ultimate reward. It means we made good on our commitments.

Finishing also has a positive effect on others around us. When we finish, our co-workers and friends share in our success. Finishing builds momentum and that momentum creates more opportunities for success.

Battling The DNF

Most of the DNF battle takes place within us. It’s our motivation, drive, determination and shear will that lets us down when the beast rears it’s ugly head. This battle takes place in every leader and every athlete at all levels. Battling the DNF takes courage, strength and commitment in the face of adversity and hopeless odds when lesser people would quit.

To help combat not finishing, take a look at these proven techniques that endurance athletes use to slay the DNF monster:

 

  • Baby Steps: When the going gets tough, the tough focus on small steps. That way, they can celebrate small successes. Success breeds more success and pretty soon, those baby steps are giant leaps.

  • Focus on the Positive: Even amongst great adversity, there is something positive to focus on. Maybe it’s the beautiful day, a cheering fan or the eloquence of that last paragraph.

  • Train Hard: Nothing prepares you for a race like training. The harder you train, the easier the race. Same with work. Get the training you need and your project will go a lot smoother.

  • Ask For Support: If you need a little help, ask. Don’t be afraid to swallow a little pride and reach out to others. Just a little help from others can give you the boost you need.

  • Give Others Support: If someone asks you for help, give it. Helping others will also give you that extra boost. It’s rewarding and motivational when you give others the support they need to finish.

  • Pretty is Overrated: No matter the task, you just have to finish it. Don’t fall into the pretty trap by tweaking and tweaking until it’s oh so pretty that it’s never done. Finishing is more important than pretty since you can always tweak it as long as it’s good enough.

  • Walk When You Have Too: There is no dishonor in walking. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way to move forward. If the pace of your project or race is just exhausting, slow it down a little to catch your breath and regain your momentum.

  • Crawl If You Must: When you can’t walk, then crawl. Fight for each inch forward until you can’t fight anymore. Chances are, that each step forward will give you additional drive to continue on.

  • Make Others Want You to Finish: When others are in it with us, it inspires great acts of courage, performance and commitment. Get others on your team and have them want you to finish. This will give you that needed boost just when you need it.

 

All leaders face the prospect of not finishing. It hangs over their heads during every project, every meeting and every fund raising pitch. It’s a constant fear that needs to be channeled to your advantage by simply owning your destiny, building your skills and recruiting others to want you to finish.

Not finishing is bad but not trying is worst. Even when you can’t move another step, the fact that you did the best you could is the ultimate motivation to compete another day. Every endurance athlete knows that and every leader should learn that.

Techniques For Jumping Off a Perfectly Good Boat

 

“Listen up everyone”, the race director yells into the microphone. “We are going to walk down to the boats now. Stay together and make sure you make it to the boat by 7:30am or we will leave you.”

Leave me? Not such a bad idea considering what we are about to do.

We all walk down to the pier 39 like a flock of penguins in our black wet suits. Some people don’t wear wet suits at all. These are the “au natural” folks who are fond of saying “I have a natural wet suit.” Crazy, I know but hey, it takes all kinds.

The march of the penguins lasts about ½ a mile. Just enough time to chit chat with your fellow crazies and give the newbies a hard time. Sure, they’re sharks. Sure the waters cold and yes, it tastes bad when you swallow it. It’s all in good fun. I mean, they did sign up for this, so all is fair game.

I remember my first Alcatraz swim. Man, what a nerve racking experience. I think the nerves were worst than the swim. Everyone is pacing around on the swaying boat. Eyes as big as saucers. The au natural’s lubing up with petroleum jelly, which they swear helps (who knows but they seem to like it).

The smells are the worst. Rubber from the wet suits, seagull crap on the boat, petroleum jelly, diesel fuel and inevitably someones morning breakfast. It’s a nice way to start the morning. Sometimes you just have to wonder — I actually paid to do this.

It’s kinda funny to see the penguins lined up at the boat door. No one ever wants to jump first. The crew waves you on but the amount of hesitation is palatable, almost like an invisible force field that repels you from the opening.

Once the first penguin jumps, then the rest seem to follow (it’s striking similar to what penguins actually do).

Once you jump off that perfectly good boat, you are committed. There is no looking back. That eight foot drop is the scariest thing you will experience all day and you did it. You made the leap. Now it’s time to get to work.

The Unknown Is Scary

Part of the reason jumping off a perfectly good boat is so scary is we don’t know what lies beneath. Even though we see countless others jumping off and doing just fine, we hesitate. We think about the downside. We get scared. We panic.

These are all natural responses to jumping off boats or leading a group, your company or yourself. Battling the unknown is one of the most challenging skills a leader must master. It’s also one of the most difficult because being comfortable with the unknown contradicts all of our natural instincts about self preservation, avoiding risk and our fragile egos.

Self Preservation, Risk And Our Ego

Risk assessment is the first part of making the vast unknown a little less scary. For our discussions, we will consider two types of risks: systematic and random.

Systematic Risk

This is the type of risk that’s inherent in what you are doing and has a high probability of occurring if not mitigated. For example, coal mining has a systematic risk of black lung since coal dust is part of the job.

Our swim from Alcatraz has the systematic risk of cold water. The bay will be cold no matter how hot it is outside.

Random Risk

This type is, you guest it, random in nature and cannot be mitigated easily. Being struck by lightening or hit by a random bullet. These risks are just part of life.

Mitigating The Risks

Risk mitigation can take many forms but the best form is to engineer your way to safety. This is usually done by creating some sort of assistance that eliminates or greatly reduces the risk. For our coal mining example, that would be wearing a respirator. For our swim, it would be putting on a wet suit.

Determining The Downsides

The downside of the risk can range from quality of life issues to absolute death and all points in between. Understanding the downsides means you can determine if your mitigations are enough to remove or reduce the downsides.

For our swim from Alcatraz, the wetsuit is our cold water mitigation and the downside from not wearing one is reducing our body temperature and being cold, maybe even hypothermic.

Assessing The Conditions

So once you have determine the downsides, your next step is to figure out the actual conditions you are in.

For our Alcatraz swim, we measure the water temperature, look at the tides and figure out the landmarks to navigate too. If the conditions are good, we will feel much better about taking the leap.

Taking The Leap

Once you jump, there is no going back. It’s actually the scariest part but once you fully committed, you have no choice but to swim to shore.

Adjusting To Reality

Your assessment of the conditions will most likely be wrong. Don’t worry. Everyone gets it wrong. Successfull people adjust to their new reality and move on.

Getting The Job Done

Now that you are adjusted and in the right frame of mind, it’s time to get the job done. You jumped so you are committed to seeing your journey through. That is tremendously liberating because now all you have to do is focus on getting the job done, which is the easiest part of all.

Go Ahead. Jump!

The next time you face a situation where you have to step out of your comfort zone or take a chance, remember to thing about the risks and mitigate them as best you can. At least you are not swimming from Alcatraz — that’s crazy.