We all flop from time to time, but how can we bounce back and use our failure as fuel?
From the time we start school, we’re taught that failure is something bad. But failure can be the wake-up call that takes us to the next level – if we approach it with the right mindset.
Even recent research bears this out, but I didn’t know that this spring when I created my own failure and then an opportunity to turn that failure into fuel.
My exercise failure
This marks my 10th year as a runner, something I never thought I’d call myself. (I started running when chased by lightning, truly.) And in 2010, I completed my very first race, the 4-mile event that’s part of the Tar Heel 10-Miler. Each year since, I’ve tried to participate and run one of the two distances.
The day after the 2018 race, I went ahead and signed up for 2019, figuring I’d save money and indecision by registering early.
But planning that far ahead, it turned out, kept Race Day off my training radar far too long. So I didn’t train well. The day before the event, I decided to switch from running the 10-Miler to the 4.
Except, when I woke up at 5:15 on race morning, it was pouring rain, thundering and lightning. Lightning had chased me before, but I didn’t really want to experience it again. As I watched the weather radar, the thunder and lightning passed, but the rain continued. Buckets of it.
Indecisiveness ruled. Complicating matters was my transportation to get to the race; usually I walk or bike to the start/finish to avoid traffic. But that method would leave me drenched and miserable before the race even began.
So I wimped out. I didn’t show up at all. The 7:15 a.m. starting time for the 4-mile race passed, as I sat at home. But by 7:45 a.m., the starting time for the 10-Miler, it had stopped raining.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda
Disappointed in myself – in my decisions not to train intentionally, to switch distances, and then not to show up – I felt my anger simmer. I’d given up on my goal, which was supposed to propel me to the next race: a half marathon (13.1 miles), out of state, at the end of May.
For several hours that day, I sat with my disappointment. And as I did, it became clear how I didn’t want to feel six weeks later in Michigan.
My failure became my resolve, my fuel.
How I turned my failure into fuel
So that same afternoon, I sat down with a paper calendar, a pencil, and my personal calendar, and I created a new training plan for the half marathon in Michigan.
And I worked backward from my goal: Which days would I run, and how far so I could increase my mileage without overdoing it? I mapped out my plan.
Another drop of fuel in the tank.
I put “Run 4,” “Run 8,” and more training appointments on my phone, with reminders, to help me stay true to my daily commitments.
Next drops of fuel in the tank.
And I made myself go run, even if I didn’t feel like it initially. Truth is, I’m rarely raring to go run. But mid-way through, more often than not, I like how I feel. And after the fact, I love having run.
More drops of fuel in the tank.
As I ran, I occasionally thought about the day I didn’t show up for my home race and how lousy that felt. And it reminded me of how I didn’t want to feel.
Failure into fuel.
But then, a mechanical failure
Less than two weeks before the race, though, as I bent over to tie my shoe so I could go run, I felt a tug in my lower back. I completed my run that morning, but as the day wore on, my back and hip grew stiffer and more uncomfortable.
Sleeping and sitting posed a problem, and I skipped my next training run. Then, a couple of days later – just nine days before the half-marathon – I left the gym unable to complete my workout. I drove home, blinking back tears.
How could I use this failure for fuel? How could I still prepare for the race, for which I already also had an airplane ticket and plans with friends? Could I even run it once I got there?
“Radical self-care” became my mantra, as I used my full bag of tricks: anti-inflammatory supplements (turmeric, muscadine grape seed, and more) as well as lotions, essential oils, and a heating pad. Walking also helped, as did physical therapy, massage, and stretching.
When I finally got on the airplane to go to Michigan, I still didn’t know if I would be able to run or would have to walk, or if I could switch from the half marathon to the 10k. After switching distances in April, I was reluctant to switch again, especially once I discovered I could walk the entire 13.1 miles if necessary.
The morning of the race, storms blanketed the area. Lightning flashed in the distance as we left my friend’s house, and a steady rain fell as I caught the shuttle bus to the start and then waited under a big tent. And then, 15 minutes before the start, the rain stopped. We emerged from the tent and lined up.
The first mile, which greeted us with a hill to climb, I shuffled along near the back, listening to my body’s cues. And all along the route, I paused (mentally if not physically), assessed, and refined my plan.
How to Use Your Failure for Fuel
So how can you use failure for fuel?
Sit with your emotions, without pushing them away. What do you feel? Anger, sadness? Something else? Take a few moments to recognize and detail your feelings, perhaps writing them down.
Next, instead of beating yourself up, consider what you want to do next? What’s the next step, or goal for you?
Then, get clear. What are all the big steps necessary to meet this goal? Write them down.
And under each of those, list all the required tasks.
So what’s the first one you need to work on?
Once you do it, ask yourself what the next one is that you need to work on.
Do you need a visual to help keep you on track? Reminders? A schedule?
After the race I didn’t show up for, I wore the event T-shirt to the gym. I kept my unused 10-Miler race bib on my desk where I would see it often and could continue to remind myself of my next goal.
Each day I asked myself, how can I use this failure as fuel?
It propelled me to the finish line.
What’s your story of using failure for fuel? Share it in the comments, or send me a note. I’d love to hear from you.
Hi! I’m Amy Hoogervorst, an integrative health coach offering grace and space for a healthier you. I’m glad you’re wanting to take care of you! If you’d like to receive my weekly Well Check and other email updates, please subscribe here.