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Plan for Failure

decision-insideI read this article, The Power of Negative Thinking, over at 99.u with great interest because I have a knee-jerk reaction against unbridled optimism and break out at hives if I’m seated at a dinner party next to someone who is relentlessly positive.

It’s not that I’m a pessimist; I’m an optimist who worries.

Article author Christian Jarrett notes, “By thinking realistically about the obstacles to success, it helps us pick challenges that we’re likely to win and avoid wasting time.”

It also helps us stay on track, ensuring we’re not derailed by inevitable setbacks since we’re prepared to overcome them.

The problem is when our pessimism is so strong that we don’t even make the effort. Remember what I said before about just showing up? Well, the pessimist doesn’t show up. The optimist who worries shows up but has a Plan B.

The pessimist is so sure of failure that she doesn’t try. The optimist who worries tries but plans for failure just in case.

I know that The Secret says otherwise but negative thinking isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In small doses it can make you more effective, more efficient and better prepared for success.

Just remember that a little worry goes a long way.


On doing nothing and failure

James Murphy used to feel pretty lousy about his life so he got therapy and then he became LCD Soundsystem. He’s like the best before and after story ever, right? We can use him on all of our promotional posters.

This interview shares his epiphany that doing nothing was a lousy way to avoid failure because you can learn by failing and you don’t learn much by doing nothing. You have to make the leap of faith.

Hat tip to 99U for the video.

Now I’m going to listen to I Can Change over and over again. (I love LCD Soundsystem because the songs sound like all the music I was dancing to in the eighties.)

Failure counts as a win

maze-insiderSome of my clients like assignments. They like it when I give them jobs to do or worksheets to fill out or homework to complete so I do. But I tell them that it’s ok for them to not do well at whatever I’ve asked them to do or to not be able to do it all. I tell them that their real assignment is to notice what they’re doing and report back. If I ask them, for example, to write a gratitude list and they come back to say they couldn’t do it then we’ll talk about why. I’m not grading their gratitude list. I’m not even grading their effort. What I want to hear about is how it felt to write or to not write it. For me — and I hope for the client — both experiences have equal value.

Life is made up of mistakes, right? The more things we do and try, the more likely we’re going to rack up some failures. Sometimes we have to find out what we’re not so good at to find out where we really shine. And sometimes we have to spend some time with the wrong people (friends and lovers) before we know what qualities we need in the people who surround us. That’s why I picked a maze to illustrate this post — sometimes we have to walk into a lot of walls before we find our way out.

Fortunately, counseling is a judgment-free zone. I don’t mean that my clients and I toss critical thinking out the window — just the opposite. We apply our critical thinking but we leave the shame behind. We recognize mistakes and failure for what they are but I try to help my clients understand that in every wrong move is the chance to get a better understanding of what the right move looks like and feels like.

Back to that gratitude list. If my client can’t or won’t write one then we talk about why. Is she not able to make time for self-care? Why not? Is this an internal or external reality? In other words, is she setting up roadblocks on purpose or is her schedule really overwhelming? If she started to write it but came up short then I want to know how it felt to try. Did she feel resentful about the assignment? Is she not ready to give up on some of her sadness or anger? Because change is hard even if it’s for the long-term good. Giving things up — even lousy things that hurt us like bad attitudes and fear — is still giving something up. Sometimes we need to confront and talk about that loss before she has room to try again.

So see, failure counts as a win in therapy. It helps shape our next efforts together. It helps in our understanding. And it gets us closer to success.

On eating well

intuitive eatingAs we wind down to the end of January, many of us are contemplating where we are regarding our New Year’s resolutions around eating well and some of us are feeling pretty grouchy about our progress. Changing our diets is hard — it takes new planning, new habits, new skills and sometimes new tastebuds.

There’s no such thing as failure

Most of us, especially when it comes to the food we put in our bodies, view failure as a big, shameful black mark. We carry a lot of other things in our plans to eat better like negative attitudes towards our bodies, fear-fueled concerns for our health, and values we learned at our childhood dinner tables. Suddenly a stalk of broccoli or a bite of white bread gets awfully mixed up with a bunch of other emotionally-charged ideas. This is why we need to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves.

Here’s the good news about missing our New Year’s resolutions: Not reaching a goal is an opportunity to get a better understanding of what works for us and what doesn’t. When we’re talking about how we fuel our bodies, we need to look beyond our physical well-being and look towards our spiritual and emotional well-being. Changing how we eat confronts essential ways we nurture our bodies and souls and sometimes restriction confronts the ways we need to do a better job of covering ourselves with kindness.

There is no one way to “eat right”

We are all carrying different bodies. We are not physically, culturally or spiritually identical to any other person. How our bodies respond to different foods and ways of eating is unique. Some of us do better with a greater variety of foods or less of a certain kind of food and that’s just fine. If your plan was to eat less carbs or more greens and you’ve found yourself heading back to your 2012 ways of eating, it may be that you do better with a menu that’s different than what you envisioned when you were making your new year’s resolutions. Choking down a food you don’t like or depriving yourself of one that you love isn’t the best way to long-term physical or emotional health. Think of yourself as an explorer lovingly discovering what suits your life best and honor the fact that you are an ever-changing human being. What works for you today may not work tomorrow; be flexible.

Going beyond dieting

If you have missed your goal perhaps it’s time to write a new one and use the information you gleaned over the past few weeks as an impetus for loving change. Perhaps you can look back and tune into what your Self (not just your body, but your heart and mind) were trying to say. Did you feel nurtured, nourished and cherished? Or deprived, afraid and resentful? Were you hungrier than was comfortable? What did work? Even if you didn’t succeed in all of your goals, did you discover a new food that’s delicious and makes you feel good? Or a new routine that makes you feel more energized? Celebrate that new information and give yourself permission to incorporate those “imperfect” successes.

You can also take The Fat Nutritionist‘s tagline to heart: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” When you give yourself permission to eat “too much” or “too little” and do it in a mindful, present way you can learn an awful lot about what works best for you. Instead of cutting out whole swaths of food on someone else’s say-so, you may want to give yourself the time, space and attention to eat those “offending” foods and see if they actually are a problem for you. I know that leaning on a plan can feel very comforting but you may find that someone else’s “perfect” diet only works for you when you let go of the rigidity that defines them. Paleo, primal, raw or vegan can be guides to what makes sense for your body in general instead of inflexible how-tos that set you up for failure.

Stay in it for the long-term

Being healthy goes beyond fueling our bodies a certain way; we also need to take care of every other part of ourselves. For some of us, the spiritual or emotional costs of giving up a certain food may be greater than the physical costs of eating it. By all means, add a green smoothie to your morning routine if it makes you feel great but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s not a habit that makes long-term sense for you. It’s ok to have one when you can but skip them on the days you’re over-scheduled or just don’t feel like cleaning out the blender. After all, adding green smoothies to your routine is supposed to make you feel better not worse and if it’s not improving your life, feel free to chuck it and try something else.

Remember, none of us will ever be perfect so instead aim for good enough and know that with every new thing you learn about yourself, you’re also getting better.


Failure is inevitable

That title there — failure is inevitable — it sounds so pessimistic, doesn’t it? But every time I read a book about someone who writes or paints or otherwise creates, they fail a lot. See, the more you try the more you fail but the more chances you have to get it right.

See, success shouldn’t be the point because if you’re all about success then failure gets too scary. It’s the process. I was thinking about that because I have been trying to grind back to process more and more and trying to jettison the idea that the only work that matters is the work that ends up on someone else’s table.

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