What do to when you fail? The step back strategy

Do you have any areas in your life where you see yourself as a failure? Areas where you have identified that you will never be good enough at a particular skill, practice or action? Subconsciously you feel uncomfortable and very self aware and when you speak with others about this area you may put yourself down. 

When I’m speaking with someone and they find out I am a fitness instructor often the person I am having the conversation with will quickly tell me that they are no good at exercise and they never will be.  Often this is stated in such a way as if it is a fact which can’t be changed. 

Going back to my original question, if you can identify any areas where you see yourself as a failure, what evidence do you have that proves this? Looking back over your experiences, what happened that made you decide that you were a failure and ultimately caused you to decide that you could never improve? Would your life be enhanced if you had success in this area and it became part of your life in a positive way?

Now that I’ve hit you with lots of hard questions I want to share an experience I had recently. If you’ve read my pieces for a while you may know that I play the piano. I’m an average player at best but I work hard at developing myself and as time has progressed this hard work has lead to improvement. One of the challenges yet enjoyable aspects of playing piano is that there are many different skills you need to develop such as sight reading, finger work, theory, creating your own music, and ear training. One area that I’ve always tried to get better at is sight reading. It’s a skill that adds value to your playing but it’s also a skill that many players get away without doing. I’ve found sight reading to be a hard skill to develop, it takes a lot of concentration and the progress seems very slow and at times I’ve felt like I’ve made no progress at all. 

Last year I was working through a Grade 4 sight reading book and every time I practiced my exercise it would be riddled with mistakes and it was frustrating!. I just felt like a failure and my practice was reinforcing this, I didn’t seem to be improving. I started to think that maybe I should give up on sight reading, that I would never be any good at it so why waste my time, I was a failure. I was feeling so despondent, I got to a point where I decided that I needed to take a step back to figure out what was going wrong. This reflection made me realise that instead of giving up on sight reading altogether, maybe I should move back a level and try working at easier exercises. 

I went back to my Grade 3 sight reading book and spent time getting more confident by sharpening up that level before I progressed back to Grade 4. When I went back to Grade 3 I could see where I had rushed through that level which had ultimately lead to my failures in Grade 4 so I spent time going back through the exercises, taking my time and developing my skill level. Although it was a stretch for me and patience was required, it was achievable and I started to slowly build my confidence in my sight reading again. 

When we fail at something in life we can go through an emotional experience which leads to us determining that we are no good at all and we shut it off completely not willing to give it another try. Maybe a better way to approach these times is to ask ourselves ‘if I’m failing at this level how many steps back can I take until I get to a place where I can start to feel like I am successful? 

In exploring this question you can create a path forward which will build your confidence again, you will start shifting your limiting beliefs and develop the ideas of possibility which will ultimately open yourself up to so much more in all areas of your life.

This piece orginally appeared in The Press


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Bevan Eyles