I am my own worst critic. I set my expectations and berate myself if things don’t work out the way I wanted. If I don’t meet my goals, my automatic response is to blame myself for the failure. If I had only (fill in the blank) tried harder, prepared better, etc.… things would’ve worked out.
I have always viewed failure as a personal weakness. I never stop to consider that there may be forces in play that I cannot control and overcome. The missing piece is acceptance.
Acceptance – The Missing Piece
Failure can be a very powerful tool. We can learn a lot from our failures, gaining valuable insights and learning lessons that we can use to become better, stronger, more effective. However, when you look at failure from the single perspective of being solely controlled by the self, you miss the valuable lessons it can teach. Instead of logically analyzing the failure and gaining constructive feedback, you spiral into a pattern of negative self-talk and blame.
Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it. – Wikipedia
You must look at failure with both responsibility and acceptance. It is a two-pronged approach – taking responsibility for the things within your control and accepting the things that are not in your control. Let’s look at some examples from the half-marathon, examining each first from the perspective of blame and next from the perspective of acceptance.
Example #1: I set a goal time for finishing the race and missed it by several minutes.
Blame: I was weak and didn’t try hard enough. I could’ve pulled through if I was mentally and physically stronger.
Acceptance: My body has limits. I had the stomach flu a week before and I had cracked the top of my foot on a bookshelf. Both contributed to my body not being in peak condition for the race.
Example #2: I wanted to get through without having a panic attack.
Blame: I had practiced managing my anxiety during my training runs. I was confident that it would not be an issue in the race, but it was. Again, I was weak. If I was stronger, I could’ve pushed the feelings aside and kept going.
Acceptance: I can’t control everything. Sometimes my anxiety and panic disorder gets the best of me. I can do my best to prepare, strategize, and cope but sometimes it is not enough. The best I can do is deal with it when it happens and move on.
When I reevaluated the race from the perspective of acceptance not blame, it completely reframed the experience. It led me away from my destructive thinking and down a path of opportunity for personal growth.
Acceptance vs. Excuses – What’s the Difference?
Now you might ask, “Aren’t you just making an excuse and rationalizing the failure?”. I too, struggle with the same question.
I hate excuses. I am 100% for personal responsibility. I firmly believe that we are responsible for our own actions – right or wrong, good or bad. For the longest time, I viewed acceptance as an excuse. However, there is a distinct difference between making and excuse for an action or outcome and accepting it and moving on.
He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. – Benjamin Franklin
Excuses are based on short-term thinking. Excuses are all about instant gratification without concern for bigger goal. Acceptance, on the other hand, is based in self-caring and nurturing. It is focused on long-term.
For example, let’s say I have a 5-mile training run planned for today. My body feels good, I feel healthy, but I’m just not motivated to get up and get out the door. So, I decide to I skip my run today and stay home and watch TV. Now, I classify this as a big ‘ol excuse. I am choosing the path of least resistance. This is the option that leads to instant gratification but does not help me achieve my long-term goal.
Now let’s look at the same scenario under a different set of circumstances. I have a 5-mile training run planned for today but my foot is very painful and running is exacerbating the injury. So, I decide to skip my run today and take a day off to rest and ice my foot. In this scenario, I am practicing acceptance. I am consciously deciding to accept the reality of something I can’t control (my injury) and choosing the option that is best for my current well-being and for my long-term goal (being healthy to run the race).
Finding the Balance
When you experience failure, finding a balance between taking responsibility for the failure and choosing acceptance can be extremely difficult. When things don’t turn out the way you planned, it so is easy to fall into the trap of self-blame and guilt. When I start to slide down that slippery slope, I ask myself the following questions
- Were my expectations too high?
- Were there external forces beyond my control?
- Does the outcome really make a difference in the long run?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, it is a trigger that I need to stop and reevaluate my feelings. My guilt and blame is probably misplaced and destructive. The healthy choice is to acknowledge the failure, accept the outcome, and move on.
Although it’s not easy, pushing aside the blame and choosing acceptance truly is the path to becoming a better, stronger, and happier person. I think the following words from actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 25 years ago, sums it up perfectly.
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. – Michael J. Fox
Next time you face failure, I challenge you to take a step back. Look upon the failure with a new lens – one of responsibility and acceptance. Then sit back and watch your happiness grow.
Lesson 4: The Power of Reflection