A wise man once said, “Hard work never killed anyone.”
Okay, he’s not just any wise guy — he’s my father. But as a young disbeliever, I just laughed and ignored the old man’s power words. Of course, the laugh’s on me as the “old man” continues to cut firewood and build stone walls at 70+ years old. But shrouded within the mystique of those wise words is a basic truth: Success is rarely based on intangibles like luck, fate, or chance. Like it or not, hard work is almost always the secret to success.
Surely you felt the wind-up coming, so here it is: Hard work may pay off, but it can be exhausting. It can quickly deplete our energy reserves. And after all of that effort, guess what? We might not even achieve our goal (not yet, anyway). For those of us attempting to achieve a goal, knowing that we fell short on our efforts to remain diligent, focused, and accountable can be downright demotivating. And when those shortcomings creep into our headspace, each unsuccessful effort causes us to gasp words that often begin with the letter “f” (for “failure”, of course).
Ironically, each time we trip, stumble, and face-plant on the pathway to change, we have a choice: to stay down…or, to stand up?
Here’s how to take the fall, stand tall, and learn from it all:
Put the person before the problem
Like an identity crisis on steroids, our unsuccessful attempts at achieving our goals can cause us to internalize those experiences as aspects of our identity. For example, there’s a big difference between the statements “I’m an emotional overeater” and “I’m someone who tends to eat more when I’m stressed”. One says “I’m a [issue]”; the other says “Yes, I have an issue…but I’m a person, first”. When we put the person before the problem, we stop self-stigmatizing and start humanizing ourselves.
Reframe ‘failure’ (and rethink ‘risk’)
Whether we’re walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon or braving our way across the balance beam in gymnastics class, Leo Buscaglia once said, “The greatest risk is to risk nothing at all.” Yet, there’s one problem: The simple idea of trying (but not succeeding) at an intended goal tears our fragile ego to shreds. However, when we stop viewing failure as a recipe for disaster and, instead, as the secret ingredient of success, we realize that risk is a rite of passage that no successful person has ever avoided.
Strengthen your challenge ‘muscle’
As we now know, many of us avoid challenge to avoid something else: the possibility of shattering our fragile ego. However, the more we avoid challenge, the more we condition ourselves to, yep…you guessed it: continue to avoid challenge. On the other hand, our choice to approach challenge can boost mental toughness and emotional resilience. In fact, challenge is protein for adaptation — fuel for building the competence muscle that enables us to push beyond fear and pull through struggle. When we do, we can devour challenge…and become better at digesting change.
No matter what our goal, progress can feel like a meandering path… because it is. However, when we choose to view failure as a necessary part of success, “the fall” can be empowering. But our choice to stand tall and learn from it all? Well, now — that’s transformative.
Sure, standing up again is hard work. But luckily for us, “it never killed anyone”.
About the Author: Joshua GARRIN is one of Your Monthly Mentors. He holds a Ph.D. in health psychology, an M.S. in cognitive psychology, and a B.S. in general psychology and journalism. He currently resides in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Following the completion of his doctorate in 2014, Joshua was the recipient of Walden University’s Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for Outstanding Dissertation Research for his inquiry on health beliefs, outcome expectancies, and stress appraisal in college seniors. Read More…