Learning to Fail

Learning to Fail

Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn | Self Criticism vs. Self Compassion, Gratitude, Humility and more

Our senseis always tells us adults and the kids in the dojo, “you learn more from your mistakes than you do from the things you get right every time.” 

Failure is an inevitable part of existing in this world, on this planet, as these beings. We build our understanding of what it means to fail from the day we’re born and it continues to change and evolve over our entire lifetime. What you saw as failure as a small child will be very different than what you see as failure as a grown adult. What your best friend sees as failure can be very different from what you see and understand as failure. This is important because it demonstrates the learned nature of failure. If we can learn what failure is and what counts as failure, that must mean we can learn how to fail too and how to make our failures positive for our development.

The word failure can seem to be a bad word or even a dirty word sometimes. We genuinely don’t want to fail and we don’t want our children to fail either. When people do fail we generally look at them as, well…failures. We have this household history of stigma surrounding failure that can feel impossible to transcend. For many, failure means we’re inadequate, that we lost. We even equate failure to loss. Loss of our dignity, pride, our selves, our opportunities, and even our future. 

On the flip side, we’re living in a world of instant gratification where failure can come so much faster. The way our culture is organized now, we are encouraged to move on from the things we “suck” at even if we love it. We’re encouraged to try succeeding at the next thing when maybe persevering and having the discipline to keep failing at whatever sets our hearts on fire until we don’t will be more fulfilling in the long run. 

Why is learning to fail important?

Without failure, would we understand success for what it is? The most successful people in the world, the people you see as most successful, most definitely failed plenty of times before they got to where they are. If you’ve never been at the bottom, how will you know how spectacular the top is when you get there? In a similar line of logic, if you’ve never been sad, how will you know how good it feels to be happy? The antithesis of any idea gives us a point of reference and comparison. In experiencing sadness we learned the value of happiness. In experiencing failure we learn to appreciate, and strive for success. On top of that, failure can give us an idea of what we see and understand as success and as failure. Then, it can give us a roadmap of how to get there: 

  1. Failure provides opportunities to learn

When we mess up or make a mistake we often take something from the experience. We can learn how to avoid the same mistake in the future, we learn about our capabilities and areas of improvement, and we can learn what’s most important to us. In coping with failure we learn how to deal with difficult situations and difficult emotions. Adversity is inevitable and by welcoming failure we can show ourselves that even through the hardest, most disappointing situations we’ll be ok and we will be able to keep going or to move on. We learn perseverance and resilience. We learn that failure isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the beginning of it. 

  1. Failure can be motivating 

From getting a rejection letter to your top pick of universities to dropping the ball on an important project at work, let’s face it, failure can hurt. It can hurt worse than anything you’ve experienced but, those deep and intense emotions brought on by failure can be the biggest motivators for change and action. Whether they motivate you to make a change in your life or to work harder, failure often helps our brains into analysis and problem solving mode. Even the desire to simply avoid this mistake can be motivating enough to learn a new skill, or make big changes in your current path. 

  1. Failure keeps you humble

In failing we learn that we are all human and that humans make mistakes. We learn to laugh at ourselves a little. When we’re honest with ourselves about failure we begin to understand the power of community and empathy. Many “successes” in your life will not be achieved by you and you alone. Failure prevents over confidence and encourages us to always ask questions, explore outcomes/options and to consistently self evaluate.  

  1. Failure fosters gratitude  

When we recognize the places we don’t want to be through failure, we develop an entirely new appreciation for when we’re exactly where we want to be. We stop taking our wins for granted and we become more mindful of opportunities to grow. Failure can happen anywhere at any time if you let it, and we can learn to soak up every moment of the process. We can learn to be grateful for our failures. We see failure for what it is only in experiencing it over and over. We can see that failure is just an opportunity for growth. We may not learn to love it or even like it, but we can definitely be grateful for the opportunities to improve. 

Self criticism vs. Self compassion

I feel like we have two ways of motivating ourselves, through criticism or compassion. Motivating through self criticism could sound like self talk about the fears of not succeeding or the consequences, often sprinkling in a little judgement and shame. Self compassion, on the other hand, makes your self talk sound more like your own personal cheerleader. When you’re showing yourself compassion rather than criticism you’re demonstrating an admirable mental resilience. Our brains are hardwired to focus on threats, it’s how we survive and a lot of the times that can work against us. 

A healthier form of motivation is to look at what you want rather than what you don’t want. For example, I just started a new painting on a big canvas and I don’t want to mess it up, I don’t want to ruin the canvas and I don’t want to have to buy a new one. I don’t want to live with what it would say about my artistic ability if I didn’t get this right the first time. Using these lines of logic as motivation would make me put the paint brush down so fast and tuck the canvas into the closet so I never have to face those things. A much more effective way to self motivate would be to focus on all of the different painting techniques I can practice on this canvas. I can focus on the fact that if it doesn’t look the way I want I can paint over it and start again, how I can try over and over until I feel happy with it because there’s an endless number of blank canvases in the world. I can focus on how the process of this painting itself will make me a better artist regardless of the outcome. Now let’s apply that to our martial arts practice. 

How does karate help us learn to fail?

Every single one of our Senseis and instructors are models for learning how to fail. They embrace failure openly. They advocate and encourage our students to push boundaries on what they believe they can achieve and to always aim higher, even if it means we stumble or fall along the way. They push their students to take on challenges and tasks that they don’t necessarily know the outcome of by taking on challenges themselves. 

Douvris Martial Arts & Fitness provides a safe and controlled environment for kids and adults to practice “failing”. With a community of inspired members who have committed to personal growth and development we are constantly pushing each other to be better inside and outside of the dojo. 

Kata can be hard. Self defence and sparring can be hard. You definitely won’t get it perfect on your first try and that’s the point. Throw yourself into new and challenging situations. Apply for that job you don’t think you’d get. Sign up for that marathon. Try that activity you thought was only for kids (*cough* karate *cough*).  Challenge your understanding of success. Redefine what it means to fail. 
Challenging yourself at Douvris Martial Arts & Fitness is easy and so is joining our dojo Family! Call 613-234-5000 or e-mail info@douvris.com to book your first class with us!