Do you ever have those moments where you find out some new information, a missing piece in the puzzle of how you’re going to conquer your depression and you feel so motivated and in control?
An idea someone shares with you, a book you read, song lyrics, a blog you read online…
You think to yourself “Yes, this is me. That idea has filled in a gap for me, something that I didn’t know about myself previously that now I understand. Now I know this I can finally make a change and get myself out of this.”
So, you chuck on your sports clothes and go out for that run. Or you grab a pen and paper and start to write that book or draw that picture you’ve wanted to do so long now. You feel great but you hit your first hurdle, this is harder than you anticipated. You begin to notice a weight pressing down on your shoulder, as if a hand lay rested of it; you shrug it off. You push through it as you are in control and you know you can achieve your goal.
A thought crosses your mind “See, it’s just the same as before. You’re still struggling. You haven’t found the answer; you’re never going to make it out of this… it’s too hard.”.
You struggle to refocus on what you’re doing, working toward the better you, but the weight becomes overwhelming. You’re no longer carrying just a hand on your shoulder, but a full body collapsed over you. Every step you take on your run, every word you go to write, every line you go to draw has the extra weight pushing through it. You feel exhausted and give up, you’ve failed… again. Things will never change.
I’ve had my fair share of experience with the feelings of failure and like you’re stuck; never able to take steps forward, only back. Every time I tried something new or tried to push myself to follow through on a goal I so desperately wanted to achieve, I would fail. It would hit me hard and I would feel like I was sinking further and further away from where I wanted to be.
Negative thoughts started to seep in and take control. It had been so long since I was able to achieve something worthwhile that I felt like being a failure was who I had become. I felt like I had lost who I used to be, someone who was highly motivated and could achieve anything I put my mind to. Instead, I found myself in a hole I kept trying to jump out of. However, every time I tried to jump and didn’t make it the weight of my fall just deepened the hole. I felt like I was doomed to repeat the process for the rest of my life; this is who I was now as much as I tried to fight the idea of it.
However, one day I started watching a reality show on TV: SAS Who Dares Wins. I remember watching Ant Middleton talk about his struggles but how you just have to push through them. I quickly Googled his name and noticed he had a book out (now two books out) and several interviews where he speaks about failure.
The big things that stop us in life stop us from achieving is failure and fear. The fear, woom! Okay, we won’t even go there, challenge it because like you said, once you get past that and you feel like you’ve got that sense of achievement. Even if it’s a small sense, even if you fail but you learn something about yourself. You’re going to grow therefore you re-attack, you re-expose. And then you’re going to learn something that’s what life is about is this small progression in the right direction in life. You want to be doing that till the day you die because that’s what your purpose in life.
Ant Middleton , Paracelsus Recovery interview
I had never really considered failure this way, as a necessary part of life to learn from and grow as a person. Failure always had such negative associations with it. I never used to tell people I was going for a job interview as if I didn’t get it I didn’t want to be seen as a failure; I didn’t want my shame to be compounded by people telling me “Sorry you didn’t get it, I’m sure you’ll get the next one!”.
I would choose easy things to draw as I didn’t want to highlight areas in my skillset that are weak. If I tried to do a more challenging drawing and failed, I would feel horrible and retreat back to my comfort zone so no one could see the limitations of my skill. Or I wouldn’t draw at all. I would switch on my PS4 and play a game, something I knew I was good at. I choose the easy option.
A lot of people who shy away or they have the easy option and they choose the easy option and therefore, you will not build resilience if you do that. The easy option is something in life that is presented to us on a plate where if you decide to step off that path to challenge yourself that’s where you build up resilience and ultimately you expose who you are, you expose your emotions and you learn to deal with them, that’s what resilience is, it doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Everest, being in a special boat service, being in a special forces, being in the military. It is about taking on the challenges that will challenge you and test you.
Ant Middleton , Paracelsus Recovery interview
Historically I never reflected on what I could learn from my failures. I would fail at something and attribute that to myself; I was a failure. However, by doing that I never took the time to reflect on what I did well and what I could improve on. I would take one step forward toward my goal, but then two steps back as I would feel like I was back to square one and it would put me off trying again.
However, Ant Middleton describes failure as a journey. You take one step forward and you may fail, but now you’ve been there and got that experience. You may not have done it right the first time, but the next time you go for it you will be able to draw from your previous experience. If you’ve taken the time to reflect on what you’ve done well, but more importantly on what you can improve on you can learn from that. You’ve been down this road; you know the way and you recognise the wrong turn you made last time. This time you can avoid it and you may end up taking another wrong turn, but then the next time you try you’ll know to avoid that road too. However, if you don’t reflect on your negative experiences, all that experience is lost.
When you take the negatives in your life and use them to build a narrative of who you are, often self-hatred comes soon after. You become trapped in your own narrative and punish yourself for your failures and shortcomings. The easy option becomes your natural response to every situation. When you start to feel uncomfortable or feel people may see you for the failure you are you retreat further into your safe zone, but with that comes unhappiness. You become a prisoner to your own fear and failure so those dreams you have become just that, dreams. That comparison to where you are now and where you want to be only build on your unhappiness. You become stuck.
Stuck is where I found myself for many years, however at some point I decided enough is enough and began to put myself in uncomfortable situations, it was awful. I would fail and feel humiliated and retreat back into my comfort zone. However, I would then push myself again… and again… and again. Until I got to the point where if I recognised myself backing away from a situation as I was scared of failing, I would make myself do it.
From doing this and learning from my negative experiences, I have grown massively as a person. I used to be scared of picking up the phone and making a call, now I won’t think twice about doing it. I may feel anxious about doing it, but I will do it. I would never have become a trainer where I had to talk in front of a group of people (first couple of times doing it were horrible). I wouldn’t have started up this blog, I would be paralysed by my fear of failure and what people might think.
More recently I’ve learnt that this mindset can also be applied to smaller, everyday things. Such as making the decision to attempt a drawing instead of watching some TV. Or going to the gym and trying out the weights section instead of shying away and not achieving what I wanted to in the gym.
When you put yourself out there and try to better yourself or your quality of life, you will hit roadblocks and feel like you’ll never make it to where you want to be. Hitting that block is nothing to be ashamed of. This is a journey and it is the first time you’ve been down this route; no one expects you to know what you’re doing or where you’re going. I can’t promise some people won’t form their own judgements that do not help you; however, I can promise you that they do not matter. All that matters is that you do not forget those failures and you keep trying. Everyone fails, but not everyone learns to use those failures to their advantage. Be open and honest with yourself about your failures, you can do this.