For every success, there are countless examples of failure we don’t ever see or hear of.
But, how frequently do we study failure? In others and ourselves?
By studying failures, we get more bang for our buck and the analysis often goes far deeper and becomes intricately fascinating.
If you want to go this route, I also believe it’s a good idea to render a failure** as objectively as possible, away from societal context and expectation.
For me, a good example of a failure is an injury. It is one of the least desirable outcomes for an individual, from Olympic hopefuls who lose their careers to a child who’s not allowed to play with the injurious toy anymore. Often, we want to move past them as quickly as possible, but it does pay to study the pattern/situations in where they occur.
This year, I had a multitude of seemingly random injuries. From recurring lower back pain to a second impact concussion, I found it increasingly difficult to improve my athletic performance and generally maintain my sanity. I was also making poor decisions for my body as a teacher (helping to spot/support kiddos and getting kicked in the head multiple times also did not help my concussed state).
A lot of doubt creeped in but my friends and family were incredibly supportive and allowed me the space to study and reflect. I collected some data, read research journals, analysed my videos, spoke to countless professionals, PAID countless professionals to help me, and finally implemented a change*** in my routine that has helped decrease my injury rate drastically.
A major thing that I learnt in this specific instance: When it comes to solving problems and failures, take the time to go deep and delve in complexity. This will lead to a more nuanced understanding of the problem at hand and increase the strength to make hard-but-necessary decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, outside of being an injury prone person, injuries are an occupational hazard for dancers and movement practitioners in general. But it wasn’t until I studied these failures and pinpointed a pattern, I found an anchor habit that increased my quality of life in every other way.
The seemingly random injuries, especially the major ones, all occurred when I had less than 6.5 hours of sleep and more than 2 hours of training. I knew sleep impairs cognitive functioning but I didn’t realize the threshold of quality rest and progressive overload I really needed, in order to pursue my myriad of life goals.
Now, I don’t train unless I have had at least 7 hours of sleep. I restrict hard training to days where I can get 9-10 hours of sleep. I have actually gone 3 weeks without training anything because my days were so stressful and compact with meetings and classes that I could not bring myself to stress my body out further. As a recovering insomniac, sleep hygiene was hard for me to begin with but once I put a stake on it, I was actually 1000% more motivated to go to bed early.
That’s right: I am a movement teacher and I don’t train****, when I don’t sleep enough.
After 3 months of trying this one change, I really feel the difference in my body. I come to work and training with a different energy, live relatively pain-free, am less clumsy in general, and I recover so much faster. It’s too early to tell if my decision making skills have improved but I do feel more aware of certain cognitive illusions and have found myself asking better quality questions.
I could have chosen instead to ignore the injuries/ failures as typical life happenstances. I could have chosen to dedicate the time to learn a new skill with well paved paths like going to language classes or picking up a new sport. I could have also chosen various different failures to study but I picked one that had been on my mind for a while and harnessed the power of my community and a lot of aspirational figures.
I do believe stronger self reflection comes from studying failures, and it greatly enriches your ability to pick up and retain new skills as well as your emotional resilience and future outlook towards failing. This is a triple win; make progressive gains and stack them, folks.
Studying personal failures is self development in its highest form.
An excerpt from my failure notebook:
Choice of failure to study: Disconnected injuries that have no rhythm.
Time of Study: 6 Months
LESSON A: It is worth dissecting your own injuries instead of going after professional development courses or looking into the latest fitness/movement trend.
LESSON B: You can spend those same number of hours learning a new skill…or spend that time working on a problem that would also eventually lead to you learning new skills. #doublegains
LESSON C: Rest is the invisible force and power behind creativity. And the invisible labor here is sleep.
**The word failure comes from the French ‘failer’, which means non-occurrence of an event. This is such a great way to think about a failure; simply a non-occurrence of a predicted or desired outcome.
Eg: No sun today = ‘failure’. No good coffee today in the cafe I usually go to = ‘failure’.
***I also specifically sought to implement a change that did not require greater financial resources (no pricey supplements or body work), would be sustainable over time (sorry fitbit), and one that resonated with my values as a person (yes to meditation, no to quitting coffee and specific diets).
**** I have trained my whole life as a dancer and I also co-founded and run an incredible space called Trybe. My daily life rhythm does contain a bare minimum of movement activity that adequately fulfills the HHS’s guidelines for physical activity. Doing the bare minimum on very little sleep was possible, although painful after < 4 hours of sleep. I work in a gym, walk almost everywhere, live in a city, and spend more time on my feet than in a chair. This is not a recommendation that you don’t exercise at all, but rather, take this as a story that inspires you to look into the shadows.