August 22, 2008

A philosophical approach to failure

How's your attitude?

It's not just in the content, delivery, props and equipment that a speaker delivers a complete package. It's in the mental readiness, calmness mixed with excitement, a flexibility to go where the audience needs and wants to go, and a willingness and ability to handle whatever comes along.

Athletes, of course, are experts at mental preparation, as I've talked about here and here.

But what happens when things don't go as planned? This is when mental preparation and a healthy perspective can have the greatest benefit.

"It's kind of difficult to go home with no hardware, but you know, I'm gonna suck it up and cheer on the rest of my teammates."

~ Tyson Gay, after the U.S. 4x100 relay team failed to pass the baton on the last leg of their first heat

If Tyson Gay had just had one bad day, I could see how he might have this kind of attitude. But Gay, defending world champion in the 100 and 200 meters has suffered one defeat after another. First, he pulled a hamstring during the trials and lost his chance to compete in the 200 meters at the Olympics. Then he failed to make the final in the 100 meters and ended up watching his main competitor break a world record.

Not only will Gay leave the Olympics without a single medal, he didn't make it to a single final in his events.

I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty angry. I might even blame other people. And I probably wouldn't want to talk to a reporter after yet another embarrassing defeat.

But athletes aren't just prepared for winning. They're also prepared to lose. That's not to say they think about losing or visualize losing or make losing an option.

But they know they've done everything they can do to win. They've prepared completely, both mentally and physically. They've practiced as much as they can. In that moment, they've done all they can do.

And when things don't go as planned, they can be philosophical about it. Like Tyson Gay and other athletes I've heard interviewed over the past two weeks at the Olympics.

And not only can they be philosophical about the present situation, but they can also look ahead and see themselves succeeding again in the future.

How's your attitude? Have you done all you can do in your physical and mental preparation?

(Reuters Photo)

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an old saying.

"All you can do is all you can do. But all you can do is enough."

What you're saying makes perfect sense. Speakers, like athletes, need to prepare themselves for the moment their star gets to rise. If they are extinguished, but were still prepared, then they can still be graceful.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Cam. I love that saying.

Unknown said...

You stuff fails, can always charm with a pic of a whale.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Unfortunately, the charm of that whale wore off a long time ago...

Rhett Laubach said...

Great post, Lisa. Malcolm Gladwell did a nice interview about how former athletes are great at sales because of their ability to bounce back from failure. Your readers should Google "Explanatory Style" to learn more about the psychology behind it.

Also, I did a post on my Personal Leadership Insight blog ( about the Failure Factory. Your readers can just search for Factory from the search engine on the home page to find the post. It is another way to look at how successful people process failure.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for the resources, Rhett!

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