Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do-Over Tuesday

Caught in a wave of inspiration, energy and enthusiasm, you boldly declare your resolve to make major changes in your life... to quit smoking... to cut back on sugar... to workout every day... to be more loving... to be more gracious... Your enthusiasm is so great that you use phrases like never again and always and the last time and from now on.

The sun rises on the first day of your new resolve and... well... your enthusiasm isn't quite what it was the night before, but you're still game. You make your way to the front of the line at the donut shop and with little effort order a wholewheat bagel (no butter or cream cheese) with a cup of decaf. You struggle to stay alert and focused through your eleven o'clock meeting and by lunch time, a luscious, fully-caffeinated, sugar-rich Coca-Cola beckons you from behind the glass of the vending machine in the break room. Just a sip and you'd feel so much better. But you stick with your no-fat, sugar free yogurt, carrots and a bottle of, sigh, water.

By three o'clock, you can barely keep your eyes open. What were you thinking? You can't just decide to stop drinking caffeine and eating sugar all at once! For all you know, you may be physically addicted. Maybe quitting cold-turkey wasn't such a great idea? What if your loss of focus and energy get's you fired? Besides, it would feel sooooo... good just to have a sip of coffee. A cappuccino... A latte... A double mocha foamy lattee... You emerge from your thoughts only to find yourself standing in line at the Starbucks around the corner. How'd you get there... You really ought to get out of there... but...

The coffee really does taste good. Perhaps better than it's ever tasted before. As you sip it, you feel your shoulders relax. You feel the pain behind your eyes start to ease. You breathe. You sigh a sigh of relief.

And then it hits you. You've failed! Didn't even make it to dinner time.

You offer yourself a conciliatory, "Well, there's always tomorrow."

But you simply can't handle the thought of facing another day like today. So, you decide to decide later.

Success Requires Failure
Very few of us ever get everything right the first time we try it. Those who do, do so infrequently. When the books are written, when the stories are told, the failures along the way, the false starts, crashes, resets, and blue-screens-of-death often take a back seat to the vision, insight, drive and success. It's not that the story teller is lying per se, it's that, over time, she's morphed her experience and her history into one that's inspirational to herself and others.

The thing is that 99% of all success involves failing, regrouping, learning, making new assertions and trying again. The thing is that most of us are not very good at do-overs. We judge ourselves as naive or stupid for trying. We condemn ourselves as inept, incapable, or fundamentally flawed. We ascribe all sorts of meaning to our failure. We blind ourselves to alternatives.

We drum up evidence that supports quitting. We hear our parent's saying, "You had your chance. Now it's someone else's turn."

We hear "friends" telling us, "I knew this would happen!"

We hear advisors and critics saying, "If you're not going to go with my advice, there's nothing I can do for you."

However, it's in the do-over that we find success. The trick is learning to do over well.

The Art of the Do-Over
It's actually much easier to do over than to quit, the operative word being easier. The art of the do-over begins with being easy with yourself and others. All you have to do is not make failing mean anything. Failing doesn't say anything about you. It's doesn't say anything about what you're trying to accomplish. It doesn't say anything about the future. It doesn't prove anyone right or wrong. It's just something that happened. Being easy comes with taking on an existential view of failure; failure just is.

If you get that part, you're 90% of the way there. The next step is to reassert what it is that you want to accomplish. Doing this effectively requires you not to think at all about what worked or didn't work or how you're going to accomplish it. Reestablish and reassert your vision of where you want to go.

Now that you're free of all the sticky artifacts of failure and you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, it's time to open the cockpit recorder and figure out what the heck went wrong. The key to successfully reviewing the evidence is to look for attribution while avoiding blame. Most failures are attributable to many contributing factors and changing any number of them can make all the difference. However, when we start looking to blame, we narrow our view looking for a single factor, the one thing that'll make all the difference.

There are two problems with the blame mindset. First, failures are rarely attributable to just one factor; the narrow focus of blame causes us to miss important contributors. Second, blame causes us to miss viable solutions. There are many paths from failure to success. However, when you narrow your focus to one contributing factor, you also eliminate many viable paths to success. Oftentimes, we depart the path to success because we've blamed the path itself for our failure. We toss out the baby with the bathwater or switch horses in the middle of the stream.

Do-Over Tuesday
So what's something that you've wanted to do, tried to do and have failed do? It can be a big thing. It can be a small thing. How do you feel about failing? How has it shaped your attitudes towards trying again, or trying in general? Perhaps it's time to try again?

If so, then there are five basic steps:
  1. Purge all meaning from the failure or failures. They don't mean a thing.
  2. Clearly reassert where it is you want to go or what it is you want to accomplish
  3. Take a look at what you were trying to do and where it fell apart. Look at all the factors and resist the temptation to dump everything on just one factor or the approach in general. List all the factors that actually contributed to the failure, even the seemingly irrelevant ones. For example, your failure to maintain a positive attitude may have less to do with meditation and more to do with diet or sleep.
  4. Seeing all the contributing factors, determine which ones you want to address and how.
  5. Try again. Do over!
Do-overs aren't just for you, they make great gifts. You can offer them to friends, kids, coworkers, anyone who has tried and failed, perhaps having failed you. Just walk them through the five steps above and see what happens.

Happy Do-Over Tuesday!

1 comment:

  1. Simply marvelous, Tef... especially your last paragraph. I never thought of it as a gift we could give others.


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