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Turn Failure into Success

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Trevor Silvester

Winter 2017

Turn Failure into Success

Five tips for turning failure into success

Recently I lost 26lb. I went from a bloated 13st 12lb, to 12st – a weight I haven’t seen since I was in my late twenties (I’m now 58). Later, I’ll share with you how I succeeded, but that’s not the point of my story. First, I want to tell you how I failed.

The Jaws of defeat

Every year, on the Quest Institute’s Master Practitioner course, we set ourselves a challenge that the group can choose to sign up to. Some years it’s been a sky dive, this year it was running the Newham 10k. It’s voluntary, but it gives the students a chance to implement the mindset principles regarding achieving a goal and motivating someone to consistently apply themselves, that are an important part of the syllabus.

There’s no better way to learn how to help others than to apply the teaching to yourself.

As the leader of the group, I set myself the challenge of getting from a weight of 13st 6lbs down to 12st 9lbs by the day of the run. And I failed. Utterly. It was summer, my wife and I were enjoying having a beer and some wine most nights, not really caring what we ate, just trusting that the exercise would be enough to lose the weight – as it has done in previous years.

It wasn’t. I turned up on the day at exactly the same weight, and really felt like I’d let my group down. I’d failed to lead. I’d failed.

Now, I know from my clients (and my own past) that failure almost inevitably leads to self-recrimination. We beat ourselves up, make ourselves feel even worse, and that often compounds the situation. Failure to lose weight often leads to consolation eating – “well, if I can’t lose weight I might as well give up trying”. I actually did exactly that, and ended up even heavier.

There is a better way to think.

Failure is a friend

This defeatist model of thought is basically winning versus losing. You do one or the other. At Quest, we have a saying, “There’s only winning or learning”. There is no losing. I’d like you to consider that idea, because it could change your life.

Failure is simply an opportunity to learn. At least, it can be. Put aside all the ways your mind is trying to make it about you, and what people might think of you, and what the failure might lead to – all the rubbish that pollutes our day and makes us feel toxic about ourselves. Just focus on working the problem.

So, I took stock.

Question: What had I done to reach my target, and what hadn’t I?

Answer: I hadn’t committed wholeheartedly. I saw my actions weren’t working, and ignored that I needed to do something different.

Question: What had I done that had worked in the past, and what was no longer having the effect I wanted?

Answer: Exercise for an event like a 10k, if I kept my food intake the same, had been enough in the past. But, if I’m honest, I went into a summer trance of enjoying the snacks and drinks that are my downfall.

Question: Was there anything more I could do, or (even better) something better (because doing more isn’t always going to give you more)?

That was what I was left pondering.

What was clear was that I hadn’t been following what I teach. I wasn’t being wholehearted. I wasn’t sticking to small actions that would bring me the result further down the line. These are called Slight Edge actions. They are small, easy to do, and easy not to do. They help to develop a daily practice of regular actions which, in becoming a habit, create a bigger, positive habit and lead inevitably to your goal. Often there is one key thing to do each day that becomes a Keystone Habit – somehow it triggers a cascade of further positive habits. I hadn’t chosen one. I also did an audit of what in my environment supported my goal, and what added friction to my desire. The less friction the better, is the rule.

Try something new

As life sometimes does, the universe sent me a friend posting on FB about a way of eating that had helped him lose a lot of weight quite quickly. It sounded quite radical. It’s called the Blood Sugar diet and it’s by Michael Mosely – the TV doctor. I like his programmes and trust him. He showed research that demonstrated that following this regime for 8 weeks could actually cure type 2 diabetes. That’s an issue in my family, so I was interested. How did it work? Simple. Pretty much avoid white carbs – rice, pasta, potatoes (I know that’s starch) and bread. That’s doable. Oh, and only eat 800 calories. Say what?! I had the same reaction that just about everyone I’ve told had. When people ask how I did it, and I tell them, I can see their eyes glaze, and the main response is “I couldn’t do that…” followed by some justification. I didn’t think I could either, and I certainly didn’t think I’d be able to exercise hard as well. This was the deal-breaker, because I had realized that exercise is my keystone habit. When I do it regularly and meaningfully I perform better in every other aspect of my life, so that had to stay. But, instead of saying “I couldn’t do that because…”, we looked to work the problem and find a way we could.

We had the bright idea of getting up in the morning, having breakfast – one boiled egg and a Ryvita – and then going to the gym. It worked like a charm. We exercised without getting light headed, or running out of energy. Protein goes a long way, and by the end of 8 weeks I’d increased the weights I was lifting, and my running speed.

We planned our meals, so we always knew what we were going to eat that week, and eliminated from the house anything that might tempt us. We allowed ourselves two cheat meals a week as an incentive but found that even with these we didn’t feel the need to pig out. It actually felt incredibly easy, and as the days went by I noticed myself having more energy, greater focus, and clearer thinking. Once you realise that hunger is just a feeling, not a command, it changes its effect on you. Hunger pangs means my body is burning its energy stores – my fat – so that’s a good sign.

And, doing what we do, we listened to a hypnotic download I’ve developed called a Slimpod. It tunes the brain to supporting your better choices. You can read more about them here:

You can do this too

Eight weeks later, here I am. 12st. 10% less body-fat, fitter, healthier and definitely happier. Now, because diets don’t work – this has been a lifestyle change that we intend to continue – we’re sticking to eating the same way, but increasing the portions to find where our balance point is. I’m guessing it’s going to be a long way below the 2500 calories we’re told men need.

So, my reason for writing this, as Christmas approaches, is to suggest you consider a different relationship to failure as a New Year’s resolution (but don’t wait until then).

  • Embrace failure as an opportunity to grow – it’s where the most learning is hiding.
  • Be curious about what you’re not succeeding at, not judgmental.
  • Look for new ways to succeed, rather than simply trying harder at the ways that have failed.
  • Make sure your environment is supporting your goals.
  • Create three small actions each day that make you feel good for doing them. Make them a ritual. Whatever else there is to do that day, get these done – so make them small, but significant to you.

Good luck, with whatever you fail at (initially).