You only have to take one look at social media these days to get a feeling for the underlying mentality of the majority of athletes, coaches, weekend warriors and society itself. With the ever increasing popularity of intense and hardcore workouts, we are constantly bombarded with motivational quotes like “Go hard or go home”, “Harden up”, “Just Do It”, “Quit when you’re dead”. Are we essentially setting ourselves up for failure by buying into a mindset that reinforces not quitting under any circumstance, and having to have a positive attitude 100% of the time?
In reality, positive and negative thoughts are like yin and yang. Each exists by virtue of the other. The ups aren’t possible without the downs. Having negative thoughts when you’re under stress or in the midst of a challenge is part of the experience. It’s ok to have a bad workout. It’s ok to have a bad day. It’s ok to feel frustrated, angry or demotivated. It’s part of what makes us human. It’s what you choose to do next that counts. It pays to remember that you can’t always control a situation, but you can control how you choose to react to it.
Failure is subjective and it’s not the same for everyone. For me, failure comes from an emotional attachment to a desired outcome. For a long time, I believed that if I “quit” anything, I had failed. If I didn’t win a competition, ace an exam or nail a job interview, I had failed. If I was not the best version of myself at any given moment in time, I had failed.
In 2016 I decided to sign up for a Corporate Boxing Event to raise money for charity. My biggest fear wasn’t that I was going to get hit. My biggest fear was that of failure. I feared not living up to the expectations I had placed on myself or to those I perceived others to have for me. My biggest fear was losing the fight, and doing it publicly. I lost that fight, but I learnt more about myself in those 6 minutes than I ever would have if I had won. I learnt that I was strong enough to step out of my comfort zone and face my fears head on, I learnt what it felt like to be truly uncomfortable and I learnt that I had resilience; the ability to overcome obstacles, and recover from difficulties. As it turns out, I also underestimated everyone else. By facing my own fears and allowing myself to be vulnerable, I had empowered others to do the same.
These days I define failure differently. It’s no longer attached to an outcome. It’s merely a feedback mechanism, and it can be the greatest teacher you will ever have if you are prepared to learn the lessons. There is no such thing as going back to square one. Even if you feel like you are having to start over, you are doing it again with more knowledge, strength and power than you had before. Every single one of my successes has come off the back of one of life’s challenges.
I have also learnt that there is a big difference between quitting and stepping back. Quitting is merely giving up when the going gets tough. Running away from your problems. Taking the easy way out. Stepping back is recognizing that something isn’t working, and understanding that to keep going may not be in your best interests. It’s intelligent quitting. And in a society where “quitting” equates to “failing”, doing what’s best for you, regardless of what other people think, takes much more courage.