How Embracing Failure Helps You to Win Big
I used to think that losing or failing meant there was something wrong with you.
I practice a grappling martial art called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In one session, I accidentally broke a sparring partner’s arm.
I was shocked.
So was he, but he had the added misery of not being able to use his arm for a few weeks.
Over the following few weeks, I noticed my coach giving me a funny look. He was obviously upset by something (probably breaking the guy’s arm).
It got uncomfortable.
So, I mustered up the courage to ask him ‘Hey, what’s up?’.
As soon as I did, I regretted it.
“You’re a Munter!”, he told me (that’s slang for an unaware, aggressive jock who habitually hurts training partners). He was genuinely angry. He told me, “If you don’t change your behaviour, you’ll be kicked out of the club”.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Surely, he had me confused with someone else. After all, in my opinion, I was one of the nicest guy’s there.
“What do I have to do?”, I asked him.
“Lose”, he said.
He repeated again, “I want you to lose… every single sparring match.”
But surely, the whole idea is to win, isn’t it?
The conditions were, if I wanted to stay, I’d have to lose to every single match up, every time. And to make matters worse, I had no idea how long this would continue.
I’m a grown man. I do a fairly macho sport. So, it kind of embarrasses me to admit that I felt like crying.
Every night, I’d go home from training frustrated after being slapped around, by everyone. It was humiliating — guys, I normally dominated, would get up after beating me and have a smug look on their faces.
That pissed me off.
But then, as months rolled by, I came to enjoy the experience of just sparring, without being concerned about winning or losing.
What’s weird is, my skill level ‘went through the roof’ because, while I knew I wasn’t allowed to win, I found all sorts of creative ways to mess up my opponents attacks.
I made it into a game.
Then one night, something unexpected happened. I was sparring against one of the better guys in the club. (Even in full ‘Munter’ mode, I couldn’t beat him.)
He left an obvious hole in his attack — a vulnerability I could easily use to submit him. But I held back because I didn’t want to get kicked out of the club.
Yet, this guy kept leaving a certain hole in his defence.
Finally, I couldn’t resist. I took the bait and…
I couldn’t believe it. I’d just submitted one of the best guys and it was effortless.
Suddenly, I broke out in a cold sweat. I quickly looked over to see if my coach was watching.
Damn it — he was.
I looked back at my sparring partner. We reset. This time, he left a different hole in his game. So, I tapped him again.
When I checked, the coach was smiling this time.
I felt a sick feeling in my gut. For sure, he’d kick me out.
When the buzzer sounded to signal the end of match up, I hurried over to my coach.
“I’m so sorry for doing that. I know I wasn’t supposed to win. But when he left his arm out like that…”
“Relax,” he interrupted, “You did well. When all you wanted to do was win, you stopped learning. But since our talk, your skill has improved dramatically.”
From then on, I was allowed to tap out opponents again.
That is one of the most important lessons I have ever received.
Losing Doesn’t Make You a Loser
It makes you someone who tries and learns.
The real question is not “How can I stop failing?”, but instead…
“How can I accelerate learning so I can get to my goal quicker?”
You need to learn how to learn.
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