Being Okay with Failure
I have lost 80 pounds and regained my health, but I made many mistakes and failed a lot on my journey to health and sustainable weight loss. It took me a long time to come around to being ok with failure and acknowledging that it is a natural part of the process.
When I use the word fail in this post, I’m talking about any mistake, error, that you consider to be a “fail.” I’ve received quite a few messages recently about failure and fear of failure. I’ve heard from several people who want to start a plant-based diet, but the fear of failure is an obstacle in getting started. I’ve heard from others who are frustrated and don’t know what to do because of failed weight loss efforts. I think it’s important to discuss failure. If we can have open discussions about failure rather than living in guilt and shame, maybe we can see failure with fresh eyes.
Don’t get me wrong here. Failure is not fun. Nobody wants to fail. We don’t start something new and have failure as the goal. Failure is uncomfortable. Failing can make us feel sad, frustrated, and even hopeless at times. However, failure is an essential part of growth and learning. If we can reframe failure as simply a step in the process of learning something new, maybe we will be able to adapt more quickly when we do inevitably make a mistake. We won’t be happy about it, but we might be able to allow ourselves more leeway in not being perfect and not “getting it right” all the time.
Social media can make it seem like success is easy. Success is easy for “other people” for “special people” with magical metabolisms and model good looks. The photoshop, the filters, beautiful scenery, and perfectly curated images and videos create the illusion of perfection. Know that regardless of what content you’re consuming online, nobody is perfect. Nobody’s life is perfect. Everybody fails. We are all flawed. We all make mistakes. Life is messy and unpredictable. There’s nothing wrong with content creators showing the highlight reel of their lives, but as followers and viewers, we need to be aware that what we are seeing is only a small fraction of their lives. Do not compare your progress to someone else’s.
You Do You
Set your own goals and define what failure and success mean to you. Failure and success will mean different things to different people and it’s important to come up with your own barometer of success. Measuring by someone else’s standards will not work well. For one person success will be limiting processed foods to once per week, for someone else it might be once per month. Also, if you’re on a weight loss journey specifically, I encourage you to look at other measures of success besides your weight. The scale is only one tool to measure your success. Other tools include: progress photos, checking in with yourself about how you feel, how your energy is, measurements, and how your clothing feels. If you set it up so that your goal is to lose 1 pound a week, you may be disappointed and deem maintenance as a fail. If you consider other measures of success as well, maintenance might be a win. It all depends on your perspective.
It’s about how you respond and react to a failure (or a perceived failure). Making bad decisions and making mistakes is part of the process. Perfection is not possible. Everyone messes up and it’s all about deciding how we respond to failure. Recovering from a failure involves examining what we do with our emotions and how we take action to move forward and continue to make progress in the direction of our goals.
I used to think of failure as an either or situation. I looked at failure as black or white with no shades of gray in between. I was either passing or failing, winning or losing, and by extension I labelled myself a failure and a loser when I didn’t meet my own expectations. When I used to fail in the past, I would get so disappointed in myself and so down that I would give up completely. I would tell myself that it wasn’t possible, that I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t capable, that I wasn’t strong enough, that I didn’t have the willpower. I also had so much fear around failing.
Other times, I would swing to the other extreme. I would fail and then think that I had to stay positive 100% of the time to achieve my goals. Being optimistic has definitely helped with reaching my goals, but forcing myself to stay positive all the time regardless of the situation was unsustainable and unreasonable to expect from myself. “Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a ‘good vibes only’ approach to life. And while there are benefits to being an optimist and engaging in positive thinking, toxic positivity instead rejects difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful, often falsely positive, facade.” (verywellmind.com) I’m all about good vibes, but life is never ‘good vibes only.’ The other thing about toxic positivity is that it sometimes made me think that as long as I remained positive, I would reach my goals. Even if my actions weren’t well aligned with reaching my goals. Positivity without action is next to useless. Having a positive attitude and taking action are essential to making progress.
I do my best to look at failure from a different perspective. I fail. I know I will fail from time to time (just like every other human being). I allow myself to feel whatever I feel. I ask myself why I failed – sometimes there is a reason / circumstance/ specific situation I can pinpoint. If so, I work to change the circumstance if possible. If not, I reevaluate my definitions of success and failure. Am I being reasonable? Am I giving myself enough time? Have I been consistent? How can I develop new habits and routines to achieve my goals? I ask myself many questions and I use the tips below to help guide me in being ok with failure and being able to move on and move forward.
Tips & Considerations
- Nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody fails.
- Failure is part of the process and is necessary for growth and learning.
- Progress over perfection. Everything is on a continuum rather than a pass/fail system.
- Curiosity – be curious about mindset and what works for you.
- Exploration, and experimentation – if you try something and it doesn’t work out, reevaluate and try again or explore a different way of doing it.
- Continuous learning – be open to learning new information about yourself, about nutrition, or healthy weight loss
- Future you – consider what “future you” would think if you reach your goal or not. Think about what the future might look like – what might happen to you tomorrow, next week, or next month if you take a specific action.
- Be kind to yourself
- Gamify – make it fun and play with it! Consider missteps as a lost point, but the game isn’t over!
- Focus on what you’re doing right – if you make one mistake, rather than dwelling on the one misstep, consider what you did right yesterday, today, this week etc…
- Think of yourself as learning to walk or learning to read when starting a new lifestyle, habit, or routine. It’s unlikely that you will be good at it when you first start and failure is expected, but if you keep trying, you’ll get there eventually.
- Don’t let one mistake turn into a second one (if one mistake turns into a second one, do your best to not allow it to turn into a third and so on and so forth). Get back on track as soon as possible.
- Do your best!
We all have choices. Sometimes we make good choices and sometimes we make bad choices. If we can remove the stigma from failure and accept that failure is not a moral failing, or the end of the world, we can move forward in a more constructive way. It’s important to have compassion for ourselves and others. Be ok with making mistakes and failing from time to time. You won’t be happy about it when you fail, you may experience sadness, frustration, and anger. All emotions are valid! Feel what you feel. From there, take a deep breath and reevaluate your progress and your goals. Remember that we all fail. Remember that failure is an essential component of growth and learning.
Fail. Grow. Succeed. Repeat.
Celebrate the wins, stay curious, and keep learning! Contact me for 1:1 coaching in transitioning to a plant-based diet or establishing a healthy plant-based weight loss plan without calorie counting. All the best in your health and weight loss journey!