Practice Failing with something small, like growing this houseplant.

I can hear your voice now, “You want me to what now? Practice something that I normally actively avoid at all cost?” My answer is a resounding “Yes”, and here’s why: We learn from our failures. Our confidence, flexibility, and resilience grow by leaps and bounds when we fail at something and then learn how to overcome those failures and move forward. If we practice failing with things that we can at least somewhat control, we can grow these characteristics within ourselves and be more prepared for those times when things are out of our control (which let’s face it…is most of life).

A quick disclaimer…I’m not suggesting that you do anything that will get you physically injured, or burn your house down, or anything completely crazy.

Why on earth would I suggest that you do something where you are literally setting yourself up for failure?

(I promise…I don’t hate you.)

We humans tend to only do the things that we know for a fact, or with a reasonable amount of certainty, that we are going to succeed in doing. We keep ourselves from stepping outside of our comfort zones because we’re paralyzed by the fear of failure. We don’t think we could handle being bad at something, or doing it completely wrong and making a fool of ourselves. But in doing this, we limit ourselves to only doing what we know. We cut ourselves off from any possibilities that we can’t already see. If we can learn to trust that we would be ok, even if we fail miserably at something, we venture out a little more and the world begins to open up.

I always had trouble with this myself. I never wanted to do anything that I wasn’t sure I could succeed at. If there was even a question, then I didn’t want to attempt it. This kept me from trying so many new things over the years.

How many things have you missed out on because you were too afraid to even try?

Let’s think this through….what happens if you try whatever small thing it is that you have in mind, and you fail miserably?

For instance, what if you try to learn how to knit, and all you succeed in doing is making a big knotted mess of yarn?

Really think about it. Will this ruin your day? Your life? Will it suddenly turn you into a super villain because you’re so disappointed?

I know I’m being a bit dramatic, but it’s because that’s how we tend to act about trying things sometimes. Like, if we fail, or don’t do it perfectly the very first time, it is going to somehow ruin our entire lives.

The other day, I tried making up my own recipe. I read cooking blogs occasionally (here’s my favorite), and watch Food Network, and they make it look so easy. So, I figured, why not. I’ve never really done this before because it always felt so wasteful, but on this day, I decided to try it.

There was a slight chance that it could have turned out good, but the odds weren’t in my favor. I don’t venture out with my cooking, and really, I don’t cook that often. I don’t know a lot about how spices work together, and what ingredients go with what. I just know what I like to eat.

It turned out to be really gross. =)

But…I had fun doing it, and I survived.

I still felt kind of bad for throwing it all away, but that experience led me to try different things in the kitchen and I actually found a few new recipes that I really like.

The thing is, if we are willing to try these smaller things that we may fail at, we get more used to the idea of failure in general.

Not that I want you to constantly fail. Rather, I want you to learn that if you do fail, you’ll be ok. I want you to realize that you are capable of far more than you think you are. You just have to give yourself the opportunity to learn through trial and error sometimes.

Most of us aren’t born knowing how to do anything perfectly without some sort of practice. It’s within this practice that we build up our muscle memory and we become so good at something that we can do it without thinking too much about what we’re actually doing. Once we learn a skill, we know that even if something does go wrong, we can fix it.

We practice to get better, and succeed at things we want to do…so why not “practice” at failing?

If we start our practice with things that we can control a little more, like knitting or a new recipe, we can slowly build our resilience to failure. Then, when something bigger comes along, like asking for a raise, starting a new business, taking a new class, setting boundaries, or trying to make new friends, we’ve built up that tolerance to the idea that failure will break us.

We can start small, with things that don’t matter as much, and then work our way up to trying something that we care about a little more deeply.

Also, you never know when you may find something that you’re good at, or that you love doing despite not doing it well.

As an example, I didn’t used to enjoy having houseplants. I’ve always said that my thumb is not green, it’s closer to black with a slightly green tint. =) Every plant that I ever bought died no matter what I did to try to care for it.

For the longest time, I didn’t have any flowers inside or outside. I didn’t want to waste the money and time if I knew they wouldn’t grow and be pretty. But I also can’t stand to see pretty flowers get thrown away just because an event is over or someone changes their mind. So, I ended up with three poinsettias that were destined for the trashcan after a Christmas party. 

I decided that if they lived, they lived, and if they didn’t, at least they were free.

I’m pleased to report that not only are those three poinsettias still alive, but they have actually grown. (One of them is pictured above.)

Within all of this, I realized that I enjoy planting things, playing in the dirt, and having pretty plants around the house. I don’t always succeed in keeping them alive, but if I hadn’t given myself permission to possibly fail, I would have never known how much I enjoyed it all.

This same thought process could be applied to many, many things in your life – learning a new skill, doing something creative, or trying something you used to love doing again.

One thing I should note…not everyone out there will be supportive of this endeavor, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward.

Those who aren’t willing to try for themselves, or are somehow jealous in other ways, will try their best to discourage you. They will tell you that you can’t, that you’re silly for even trying, that you’re wasting your time, and any number of other things.

I had someone in my life who was like this. Anytime I wanted to try anything new, or do something just for the fun of it, she would always say things like, “Why do you want to do that, it’s not going to make you any money”, or “Why would you waste your time doing that when you could do something productive”.

For the longest time, I took this to heart. It wasn’t until I realized how unhappy she was with her own life that I started to see the truth. She was trying to keep me boxed in to keep herself comfortable. My trying new things showed her that it was possible, but she didn’t want to step outside of her comfort zone and do this for herself. Also, if I found things that I liked doing better, then I might move on from our relationship (which I have), and she would have to find other people to hang out with. I was always her back up, in case she didn’t have anyone else to do something with, or in case she needed something.

Call it “experimentation” if it sounds less daunting, but either way give it a try.

Refusing to do anything that you think you might fail at is very limiting. It will keep you in a box your entire life. You won’t allow yourself to learn new things, meet new people, or go anywhere outside of what is known and comfortable.

The trouble with this is, it doesn’t allow you to expand and grow. Ultimately, it can leave you feeling like you’re missing out, like you’re not good enough to do anything different, and like you don’t deserve to even try. In short, you’ll feel stuck.

I encourage you to give yourself permission to fail. Allow yourself to do something that might feel a bit wasteful, extravagant, or uncomfortable at first. Think of something that you’ve always wanted to try, or that you used to really enjoy doing but stopped for whatever reason, and try it. If it turns out to be an epic failure, give yourself credit for trying, take the lessons you learn, and move on to the next thing.

What is something that you’ve been wanting to try, but you’re pretty sure that you won’t be good at?

These are small examples that I’ve given you, about ways that I have personally practiced at failing. But that’s the idea – start small and work your way up.

When we fail at something, we learn what not to do. Not only that, we also show ourselves that we are capable of handling it when something goes wrong. It’s like preparing for an emergency before the emergency actually happens. This way, we know what to do if the time ever comes.

It’s not that messing up a recipe, or killing a few houseplants, is going to give you the exact tools that you need to be more successful in your career (unless of course you’re a chef or a gardener =)), but the tools that you gain are resilience, confidence, and flexibility. Those things can be applied to any area of your life; to any job that you may be doing. This added confidence also gives you the ability to ask for what you really want, rather than settling for what you don’t. It can help you to create the life that you actually want to be living.