Getting in the ZONE II: Don't Dwell On Failures

Posted on 15 Jul 2009 20:04

This is the second of a multi-part post. Read Getting in the Zone Part I

You've heard that one before, I'll bet. Don't dwell on your failures. That is one of those aphorisms that I'm always getting on about.

Easier said than done right?

We WILL fail. We will make mistakes. Not all of our goals will be reached in a timely manner. We will have set-backs.

And we will be disappointed. We will be angry. Many times at ourselves.

And we can learn to turn it around and make failure our friend.

The first positive thing we can learn seems negative to many people. That is, when you fail realize it's YOUR FAULT. After all, if it is something beyond your control it's not as much failure as bad luck. And if you can't control it then ultimately it doesn't matter how hard you work. If that is not negative I don't know what is. So, realizing that it is YOUR fault means you can do something about it.

The second positive thing is to join the first aphorism with a second one: "We can learn from our mistakes".

So the key to learning not to dwell on failure is to turn the negative failure experience into a positive growth experience.

Oh great, another aphorism!

"Turn negatives into positives". Nice and pat ain't it?

C'mon you know I wouldn't leave you with that. I'm going to tell you how. When you mess up you will tend to automatically start thinking about what you did WRONG. You will go over and over it in your mind. This happened and I did this thing wrong and I failed.

You know what you are doing? Increasing the chances of future failure, that's what. Of all the things that you could ruminate on and VISUALIZE, the wrong thing is the worse choice.

This not only applies to lifting failures it applies to eating habits and everything else in life. Life is a bunch of situations you must respond or react to. You react badly sometimes. If you dwell on your wrong actions you are simply rehearsing and cementing these wrong actions. You are much more likely to respond the EXACT SAME WAY in the future.

Focus on What You Will do Better

So, to turn a negative into a positive you NEVER focus on what you did wrong. You focus on what you will do BETTER in the future. When this happens I will do THIS. When faced with this situation I will respond in THIS WAY. A good idea is to use mental imagery. Form a picture in your mind of this right response. Use mental triggers as well. These are very good focusing tools.

Here is a personal example. During heavy front squats, I was having a big problem with my knees drifting inward. Besides this being a knee-health no-no it is a very weak position to have your legs in. I was failing on lifts because of this. This was something that I should know better than to let happen! But it kept happening and I got pissed.

So the mantra became, "I am letting my knees drift inwards, dammit!" Needless to say, that didn't solve the problem. And the funny thing is that front squats were the only squats where this occurred, probably because my stance for them is slightly more narrow.

Regardless of all the physical reasons I could have gotten into it came down to one thing for me. I was perfectly capable of keeping my knees out during a heavy front squat I just had to make it happen. And that is when my mental focus shifted from what I did wrong to what I must do in the future.

Use Simple and POSITIVE Mental Cues

So my mantra became "If I feel my knees drifting push them out." When going into my front squat lifts I thought 'knees-out'.

Being somewhat obsessive about lifting I found myself rehearsing front squats in my mind pretty often. I'd see myself instantly correcting when my knees began to drift. I'd see myself performing perfectly and getting those lifts I had failed on before. After I started this I had about a week before my next front squatting session.

And it worked. What's more, it worked beautifully. Because my knees DID start to drift and I did correct it. Except that I didn't really think about it. My knees started to drift in and then just shot back out as if there was a spring between my knees. All that mental rehearsal and the trigger cues I used had turned it into an automatic response. I was actually a bit amazed by it, after the fact.

Notice the difference between this and the oft-repeated nonsense such as "activate the Transverse Abdominus" prior to lifting and similar commands. By the time you approach the lift the time for analysis and thought is over. It must be automatic and one might say "pre-programmed". This does not mean that simple focusing words or images can't help it simply means that the individual actions that go on during a lift have very little room for conscious control if it is either a near maximal slow lift or highly technical fast lift.

Mel Siff talked about the TA (transverse abdominus) hoopla but his statement really encompasses all such ideas:

"So, while you may be able to activate TA at the start of a squat, press,
jump, clean or deadlift, the moment that complex dynamic action begins, the
neural programs that control the pattern of movement will set off a series
of involuntary reflexes and motor actions over which one has little or no

I've seen instance of trainers or coaches shouting commands at Olympic lifters in the midst of a clean and jerk (they can't hope to correct much during a Snatch!) and it is quite ludicrous to think that there is any time to obey such commands except when the lifter is simply transitioning the bar between the catch and the subsequent jerk. Otherwise, there are milliseconds of time involved and the human brain cannot even react that quickly on a conscious level.

So cues and reinforcements are not "instructions" they are simply "focusers".

Before this, I had already recognized the importance of positive cues and reinforcements over negative ones. For instance, when working with trainee's technique problems I had learned to avoid saying "You did this and that wrong". Instead I would say "You should do this and that when such and such happens". But we are always our own worst trainees.

Now, when I make mistakes I see it as much more of an opportunity. Because I have the tools in place the failure itself becomes a TEACHING resource. Realizing this helps take the stress out of failure as well because we are controlling our reaction instead of giving in to a knee-jerk response. It is important to remember that we always have the power to do this. Cognitive stress is not caused by the stressor but by our reaction to it - out estimate of its importance or impact. As Marcus Aurelius said, "This you have the power to revoke at any time."

See Getting in the Zone III: Ten Easy Steps

All Related Posts:

Getting in the Zone Series

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Last updated 19 Mar 2018 02:33

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