By Leo Babauta
It’s a feeling deep within your heart, one you try to ignore, of heaviness. Of dread and discouragement. Of sadness and guilt and collapse.
I feel this heaviness in my chest when I fail.
It can make me feel like crying. I feel lonely and I want to give up. I want to fall on a bed and shut out the world. But that doesn’t work, because the feeling follows me into bed, and actually intensifies until finally I have to get out of bed to try to escape it.
Failure can hurt.
People get this idea about me, that I am successful and disciplined and gurulike. I’m successful at life, but not in the way people imagine. I’m not disciplined. I’m certainly no guru. I fail, all the time, and the heaviness can come in small doses or big waves, unpredictably.
What do I fail at? Let me count the ways:
- My diet — I eat healthy most of the time, but I overeat when there’s an abundance of yummy food in front of me. I mostly remove that food from my life, but I can’t avoid social situations where the food is right there. When I overeat, I feel fat and bloated and bad about myself.
- Procrastination — I’m actually much better at beating procrastination than I used to be, but sometimes I put off things I don’t feel like doing, for days. I’ve figured out this is because the task has a lot of barriers to actually starting, like needing certain conditions or information that I don’t immediately have.
- Mindful parenting — I’ve made a lot of progress in being a more patient, compassionate father, but there are times when I snap and lose my temper. It’s not horrible, just not great. I always feel bad when I get mad at the kids.
- Expectations — while I’m much better at holding loosely to my expectations, I still have them, and still feel frustrated/disappointed when people or situations don’t meet them.
- Simplicity — I’m not as minimalist as I once was. I still have far, far less than most people, but I allow myself to buy things more than before. Also, I now have an iPhone — it was a Father’s Day gift from Eva. I resisted getting one for 6 years, and now am one of the masses.
- Internet — I use the Internet for work, play, reading, learning, etc. I’m on it more than I should be, and sit too much (though I’m pretty active compared to the average person).
- Learning — I dropped learning languages and programming and other things like this, mostly because I’ve found I just don’t have enough time to seriously learn stuff and still do the other things that are important to me.
- Yoga — I really need some flexibility, and love yoga because it’s meditation and flexibility and a workout all rolled into one. I have not consistently done yoga despite being challenged by my friend Jesse.
I failed at all these things and more.
What Can Be Done
What can you do when you have the heavy feeling of failure in your heart? It’s not always so easy.
The answer, of course, is action. That’s not always easy because when you have the heavy feeling, you don’t feel like taking action.
You take the action anyway. You take it because you know if you don’t, you feel worse, and eventually your life degrades to the point where you don’t respect yourself anymore. You take the action anyway.
Here’s what I do:
- I take a breath. It’s not the end of the world to fail. I just need some space, some distance. I need to see the problem in perspective. When I do, I realize that the failure is pretty minor in the grand scheme of my life, in the grand scheme of the world of lives around me.
- I reframe the failure. Someone once said there isn’t failure, only feedback. That means the failure is just a point of information, a part of the learning process. I like to say, it’s not a failure of me as a person, just a failure of my method. Which means I need to change my method.
- I change the method. If the way I was doing it didn’t work, I need to find a new way. What can I do differently? In some of the cases above, I added some accountability, asked people for help, or looked for inspiration. In some of the other cases, I haven’t changed the method yet, to be honest.
- I take the first step. The problem can be overwhelming, because quite frankly we can’t solve any of this stuff overnight, or even in a few days. We can, however, take one step, right now. One tiny step. And that’s all that matters.
Take one step. Any step.
It lightens the heart. It shows you that things aren’t insurmountable or impossible. It starts to dissolve the discouragement and sadness and pain.
The single step you take today is the antidote to the soul-tearing effects of failure. It helps me, every day.