Failure is normal, why is it so hard to accept it?

Teachers, parents, family, friends and other colleagues who watch us train or compete throughout the weeks, are used to seeing us react in many different ways when we fail.

Every once in a while we experience a phase where it seems like there will be no more, and then suddenly, there’s the failure again. Why?

Frustration, inability, anger, rage, feelings of inferiority, negative self-talk, helplessness, and a long etcetera. The insults that we dedicate to ourselves, the anger that comes with forced and unforced failure are common when it appears. Well, why does this happen to us? I know I should forgive myself for the mistake or failure, yet I am unable to do so.

Perhaps what I am not able to understand or process is that I am in a learning phase. To master a skill or knowledge, the brain goes through 4 phases:

  • You don’t know, that you don’t know.
  • You know that you don’t know.
  • You know that you know.
  • You don’t know that you know.

When you are in the first phase, you are not even aware that you are completely ignorant about the subject. If you have enough humility to realize that you are at this point, you will move on to the second stage, and you will at least be aware of the ignorance from which you start, and you will be in a suitable disposition for learning. It is here, in this second phase where you will begin a long, hard, costly, and why not say it, also fun way. This process that takes place between point two and point three is called the Learning Process.

The learning process includes mistakes and failures, it is logical and normal that they exist (both forced and unforced) when you are learning, until you reach phase three. 

It is a much longer course and we have to be aware of our place in it. If we are not aware of it, that we are in a learning process that will involve mistakes and failures, we will interpret these as failures, reacting with frustration and anger.

Learn to see it as part of that learning process and not as a failure, because it is not a failure at all. And although we can get frustrated by an infinite number of things, not understanding that I am between step two and three is a very important reason why we get frustrated.

When with time and practice we have managed to reach the third phase, another long road to mastery of the task or skill will begin, and that is when you will have learned and mastered that skill or knowledge, and therefore do it unintentionally. In this process of improvement, failure is also included.

When we tell someone that they are learning, that they are very good and that they have a “smashing forehand”, what we are doing is indirectly telling them that they are already at stage four, when in fact they are not. Then, during a training session, when you fail, you will provoke a big internal conflict: “If I am so good, why do I fail?”, causing the dreaded frustration.

Understand and assimilate this well, because if you do, you will ensure that you will have matured a little more in your learning process, taking failure for what it really is; part of the process, NOT a failure.

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