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Paige Waehner

Giving Yourself the Freedom to Fail

By March 7, 2012

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In a recent post, I talked how hard changing your lifestyle can be. While it's not always a struggle, resistance is often part of the process.

Change means getting out of your comfort zone and, really, the word 'comfort' says it all; There's comfort in that familiar place, even if we're miserable there. We know that misery, its edges, its seams and its weak places. When we step out of it, we're suddenly in the unknown with none of the paths we once followed to guide us.

The unknown and our fear of it will often push us to fail and, if you're trying to change your lifestyle - To start eating better, to workout more - there's a good chance this will happen to you. Maybe you'll start and stop or maybe you won't start at all because of all the obstacles standing in your way. Maybe you'll get going, only to revert back to those old behaviors when things get tough.

It's normal for us to go backwards sometimes, yet we start to think that, not only did we fail, but we are failures.

But, what if that isn't true? What if what you call failure is actually:

  • Getting to know yourself: If you're new to exercise, how can you possibly know what you're capable of? We often set impossible goals, forgetting that we're not sure what we can handle yet. This is a time to start simple with something you know you can do, whether that's taking a walk every day or popping in a beginner workout video.
  • A learning experience: If you can only workout for 10 minutes, maybe that isn't a failure, but actual feedback. You now have more information about what your body can do and you can expand on that every workout.
  • Experimentation: When you were a kid, you didn't expect yourself to be perfect at everything you try. As an adult, you probably do, especially if you've tried this exercise thing before. The truth is, we can't know what we can do, what we like, what works if we don't try it first. There's a good chance that whatever you try may not work...at least not at first. Giving yourself the freedom to experiment may be what you need to succeed.

What do you think? Do you ever feel like a failure? Is that feeling justified or are you being too hard on yourself? What would you accomplish if you looked at those failures in a different light? Leave a comment and tell us about your experiences with failure.

April 7, 2010 at 10:27 am
(1) Mika says:

I’ve got a fun story.

I was once at my university’s gym after about a two week long absence from working out. I had been busy writing papers and hadn’t had the opportunity to exercise at all. When I go to the gym I thought I’d do a crossfit workout that I already knew I was good at, it involved a few rounds of running, burpees and rowing for time. I was feeling really good on the first round, but when I was doing burpees for the second time I could feel my body getting exhausted. I told myself to man up and kill it on the running track. I pushed myself though the second round. By third round, I was feeling a little off. Then I suddenly felt ill. I stopped and took a rest. It only got worse, so I ran down the three flights of stairs at my gym to get to the washrooms, where I made it just in time to vomit in the toilet. Physically I felt much better afterwards, but now there is a bit of a mental block when it comes to time for me to “man up” and get the work out done. I generally give myself little breaks now when I’m really pushing myself. Anything is better then gym vomit.

April 7, 2010 at 11:49 am
(2) Mark says:

This is GREAT reading….. I think it just changed the way a view a lot of things.

Thank you.


April 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm
(3) Ariel says:

Failing is succeeding with exercise so long as you keep coming back. Heck, that’s the only way you make progress. That’s what makes working out awesome. You can bomb at it every time and it doesn’t matter as long as you keep doing it.

April 8, 2010 at 11:56 am
(4) Dave, Elevation Fitness says:

Not only is it not failing when you can’t complete everything you set out to do, its healthy. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to push through when my body is clearly telling me to give it a break can lead to overtraining, or injury. Both of which take you out of the game completely.

The only thing more frustrating for me than not completing a workout is having to skip it all together!

April 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm
(5) Shannon says:

Of all the articles I have read over the years, this one is by far the best and makes the most sense.

For my new year resolution I put down a goal of 100,000 steps in 365 days. I am disabled and trying to learn to walk again. During the course of this journey, I have “failed” more times than I feel like I have succeeded, but in reality, I have succeeded the entire time because I have put forth the effort.

Just yesterday I was at my favorite park, determined to do four miles in my wheelchair, and I could barely make it one mile before I felt I could no longer go on. I gave my body the rest it needed and after reading this article I know I wasn’t failing at anything. I woke up the next day very sore from the workout before, so obviously my body needed the rest.

Thank you for shedding such a positive light on what we usually consider failure. It’s what I tell my daughter all the time; it’s not a failure if you try.

April 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm
(6) Susan says:

Makes me feel better about my weight training workouts with 20 and 30 somethings when I’m in my 50s. Just keep going back, and I do!

April 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm
(7) Joan Thompson says:

Excellent article. I am a personal trainer and health club owner & although I have more control over my clients and what they do, I don;t so much with my members and although I tell them how to begin their programs they all want results today. When they don’t come back it is exactly what that article is about they feel like failures, so I love the article and it can be a good tool for people if they understand that if they do what their bodies are capable of they will get the results they are looking for in time.

April 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm
(8) Alice says:

Thanks for this inspiring article. I have been feeling like a failure because I got myself in great shape a couple of years ago, maintained for a year, then lapsed and have fallen all the way back to the same fat, flabby state that I was originally. I’m trying to get started again and it is tough to feel good about it when I see how far I have fallen. Maybe I am not such a failure if I keep trying.

Ariel, your comment was very inspiring, too. I’ve copied it to remember later.

April 12, 2010 at 8:36 pm
(9) kate says:

I love the way you presented “failure” in a different light. It now makes me understand how it works. It’s inspiring and I am once again motivated to keep going, knowing my efforts will not be wasted. Great work !

April 13, 2010 at 2:22 am
(10) Cheryl says:

I am having a very hard time staying motivated. I am over 200lbs and the thought of going to the gym can be very overwhelming. I do like working out but I do feel like I am a failure when I don’t go as often as I think I should. This is a great article and I will read it again when I need a healthy, gentle reminder that I am not a loser when I miss a day. Thank you.

April 13, 2010 at 2:49 am
(11) Jane says:

Hurray! Thank you for putting into words and online what I have thought for some time. I never was and never will be an ‘athlete’. But I can like all of us feel better for a bit of fitness work. I have had to always live with the fact that my body really is not keen on doing this stuff and will NEVER do it at speed. But I CAN go for a long time at a steady pace. But there are days when I open my eyes and despite the intent know TODAY IS NOT THE DAY!!!! There are occasions where it can take 3 days to get to the pool, but when I take that approach it works!!!! At a point in my life when I could cycle 50+ miles there was one occasion when it took my sister and I an age to do 5 miles!!!! It was right for THAT DAY.

April 13, 2010 at 3:22 am
(12) Margie says:

Thanks for this article, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m an arthritis sufferer and constantly feel like I’m fighting with my body. I’ve been really consistent with my training and rehabilitation program for a the past 8 months and have had significant gains with pain reduction. The past few days despite my consistency and hard work I’ve had a pain flare up and although its probably beyond my control it feels like a failure. The article has encouraged me to see it differently and be happy that I still planned to “meet my body where it is” and packed my costume to have a gentle swim after work even though I can’t manage my usual routine.

April 13, 2010 at 9:24 am
(13) Jai says:

What a coincidence. Just this Sunday, I got to the fitness center and didn’t feel right. So, I decided to do my normal strength training routine but, instead of doing sets, I did each move to failure. It taught me a lesson. Your body will tell what it’s capable of. Failure is not exercising at all!

April 14, 2010 at 12:44 am
(14) mike says:

loved the article, simply because it stated what i kind of believed about myself: that (even if i dont hit my work out goal dead on) i am making progress toward the main goal of being fit. WHEW!

April 14, 2010 at 9:03 am
(15) p. says:

What a fantastic article. Should be required reading in all gymns.

March 7, 2012 at 11:58 am
(16) scout09 says:

A great article. I’m sure we all feel like failures at some point, while we try to reach “perfection” or just our goals. A few years ago, I got fed up with myself and started an exercise program, on my own, to lose weight, get in shape and focus on my health. I lost almost 40 pounds and have maintained it ever since. However, I kept a journal, nothing formal or fancy, just weighing in and my measurements. I thought I would go back and read it, since I felt so good about my progress. It will filled with a lot of sorrow about plateaus, not being fit enough or strong enough, not losing fast enough. Essentially, it was filled with all the ways I felt like a failure, which really could have defeated me, had I also not read the slow and steady progress I’d made. So, half of failure is our mindset, not seeing the forest for the trees. When I am feeling unmotivated or just down, I will go back and read my “journey” just to bring some life back into me.

March 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm
(17) eula says:

I was glad to read the article, I have started stopped, thought I could handle a certain excerise or everyday walk and missed the mark set. I get so frustrated with me. I am settled to continue to start when ever but with the mind to keep it up.

March 12, 2012 at 5:13 pm
(18) cmp says:

I signed up a few weeks ago for trapeze lessons and then found out that I’m pretty terrified while on the trapeze. I am pretty uncomfortable on the platform and in the air. I also learned in the first lesson that I’m nervous about not being able to hold up my own body weight, not being athletic enough to do a pull up while swinging through the air, etc. I really sucked during the first lesson. I have my second lesson this weekend and was just starting to talk myself out of going when I saw your article today….and now I’m going to talk myself back into showing up. I’m going to focus on building my core strength and using the lesson as a way to change my regular work out routine. Who cares if I suck? I’m going to show up.

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