Failing Up!

One of those beautiful lessons that climbing teaches in such a natural way, is the re-definition of failure, or as I call it (after Buzz Lightyear) "falling with style."

iuri melo
iuri melo

My dear friends, it's so cool to have you here, taking a moment to feed the mind and body with courageous and optimistic perspectives that can ultimately fill you with hope, resilience, and motivation. Today's podcast is all about learning to fall up. What do I mean by that, well, listen in and find out.

Rock climbing is one of my very favorite hobbies. I love the physical and mental aspects of climbing. It's a beautiful activity that can be performed in the most stunning of places. I started climbing about 20 years ago, just as I was beginning my clinical career as a therapist. I was introduced and immediately it awoke in me a desire to participate in this challenging and exciting sport. I was working and attempting to build a clientele, and thus had some hours during the day that were open. Because I live in Saint George, Utah, climbable rock is not far, so during those breaks, I would escape the office and get a quick climb in. As I began climbing and bouldering more (which is like free climbing), and experiencing the overall enjoyment of the activity, I began to recognize the therapeutic value of that activity. Climbing possessed such experiential and powerful ways of teaching the very same lessons I was attempting to teach in the office. The language of climbing fit nicely into the therapeutic model as well, and so I decided, "Man, I'm going to start bringing clients to the rock!" And so began this exciting synthesis of rock climbing, bouldering, canyoneering, and rappelling, as an experiential tool. Not only was it a great mechanism to teach principles, but by the time people parted with me, they were in possession of an extremely cool activity that was their very own. I climb with clients not just for the sake of the experience; I climb with them so that by the end of our time together, they are legitimate climbers. Needless to say, I'm grateful I've been blessed enough to utilize such a powerful mode of instruction.

One of those beautiful lessons that climbing teaches in such a natural way, is the re-definition of failure, or as I call it (after Buzz Lightyear) "falling with style." Re-defining failure is of critical importance. Many people look at failed attempts as an overall and general failure. They identify and adopt the identity of being failures. They see failed attempts and immediately begin to generalize their failure into the future (i.e. I failed the math test, I'll never be good at math, I hate math). Individuals see their own mistakes, and more tragically, the mistakes of others, and believe they are chronic. Believing that we are condemned to repeat the very same thing over and over again. Somewhere in our lives, in the culture we live, a lot of us seem to be brought up with this common misconception of what failure is, and more importantly, what it means to us.

When I first take clients to the rock, I know they are going to fail in almost every way initially (it's very exciting), and yet in between repeated failed attempts there will be growth; skill will build; muscles will strengthen; desire and passion grow. As they fail, I usually provide some tips, not very many, because I want them to fail as much as possible, and invariably return from a failure just as many times. I usually demonstrate some of the climbing skills necessary to evolve in climbing, and they usually respond by saying, "dude, you make it look so easy!" my response to that is critical, I usually say something like this, "look, the only difference between you and I on the rock, is time and experience. I don't have any special ability or talent. As you begin to invest in climbing, your very body will change and transform to help you succeed in this exciting activity… time, experience, and some effort is all you need." My goal is for them see failure as part of the miraculous process of growth and evolution. I will often assign climbing projects to clients, knowing that it will take them months to complete, falling hundreds of times, only to succeed once. It's beautiful! In a way, I use climbing to remove the sting out of failure. My clients soften their relationship to failure, and begin to see it not as some condemning, chronic, piece of their identity, but as a present inability to complete a task at that very moment; that is certain to change with personal investment! I call this overall transformation, learning how to fall or fail with style.

Falling is a very exciting and scary part of climbing. As the clients I work with begin to evolve in their climbing ability, I teach them to become lead climbers. I won't go into a long and detailed explanation of what that entails, suffice it to say though, that as you begin to lead-climb your risk of falling 5', 10,' 15,' sometimes 20' is increased. All of this falling is done safely of course, but the primitive terror of falling is still very real. Part of lead climbing is learning and practicing falling, and how to do it properly. Needless to say, it's one of my favorite parts of doing adventure based therapy with people. It teaches several critical concepts:

  1. Failing is an essential part of becoming excellent at something.Failing is natural. Thus I don't need to resist or object to the idea of failing, simply utilize it as part of the process. Don't let failure metastasize in your brain into something that it's not, namely chronic, predictive of future performance, or something that you identify with. You may fail more than you succeed. The odds are not in our favor sometimes, so we may as well change the way we interact with failure. I understand that others may not view it that way… so be it, but you and I will settle for a more correct and effective way of describing and living with failure.
  2. Failure now is part of success later. Within failure are the seeds of progress, if we don't get in the way with our insecurities, and constant comparisons to others and what they're doing. Shift quickly from your failures. When my clients fail at the rock, I instruct them to reconnect to what they are looking to accomplish, make adjustments, and climb again. I explain it simply as "see it, think it, climb it." Our inability to shift from our mistakes, and pout because things didn't turn out the way we wanted to, is a sign of emotional immaturity, and psychological toxicity. Teach your brain to respond appropriately to failing… in part because you'll be failing a mighty lot!If possible, find humor and celebrate your failures. Sometimes this is not possible at the exact moment, though I find that often we can look through our mistakes and laugh at them. I remember Tony Robbins saying "If I'm going to laugh at it later, why not laugh at it now?" This follows the logic that if you fail at something and learn from it, is it really failing? It's interesting how things shift and shape with time when they're allowed to breathe, instead of being stifled by our condemnation. You'll often see me at the rock congratulating someone on the awesome fall they just had. It's all part of teaching you brain to work more advantageously and correctly for you.

As you begin to change your definition of failure, and shaping your response to it, you will be able to deal more compassionately with yourself, and that compassion will naturally extend to others. Instead of condemning, you will assist. Instead of being robbed of motivation every time you fail, you will maintain it. Instead of identifying with your mistakes, you will learn from them. I realize that for some of you this may feel a bit unnatural, or it may require some mental gymnastics for you to adopt this perspective of falling, but so much depends upon it. Viewing your failures with this optimistic structure, keeps you nimble, motivated, happier, and more resilient. Studies show that your professional, relationship, and academic efforts will be more successful. So my friend, remember to take Buzz Lightyear's advice, and begin educating your brain that we can ‘fall with style', and little by little, you'll be begin to experience the increased motivation that comes from recognizing that we can always fall up. Thanks for being here today, and remember that failing is always an option, and that you can shape what failing means to you. See you soon.