Schedule Your Failures

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 10-10-2009

Disappointment.  Frustration.  Discouragement.  These are some amongst a myriad of emotions that are experienced when confronted with failure.  In a society that places such high regard for success, we have left no room for failure.  But failure is essential in understanding success.

Yes, random freaky “stuff” occurs; all the time it seems.  We have all tried something new, and it worked flawlessly the first time.  Why did it work?  To recreate that success, the only concept we have is to exactly mimic what we did the first time.  That might just work in a static environment, but what are the chances it will work in a dynamic one?  How about an adaptive one, “learning” from our previous actions?  If two boxers were to meet for a second time in a ring, do they remember the first bout?  Through failure we discover the boundaries of success.

In order for our failure to be meaningful and effective, there must be some constructive feedback associated with it so we can learn.  Although not always readily available or blatantly obvious, every failure always has an associated feedback.  Sometimes, feedback will be verbal; given by observers.  Other times, feedback will be physical; the pain felt when walking into an object.  Feedback can be mental; our deductive reasoning.  Usually, there’s a combination of more than one source.  Whether we choose to accept it or not, there is always feedback.  Properly identifying and utilizing the feedback from our failures—especially our personal failures—requires an open, objective, and honest mind.

Success is never guaranteed; there’s too much randomness and universal chaos to ever achieve a 100% probability of success.  Sometimes, people do just get lucky (or unlucky, depending on the perspective.)  But there are those who always appear to be consistently lucky.

Who are these statistical anomalies?  Why are they so lucky all the time?  More importantly, how do I become one of them?

It’s so simple.  Those lucky “bastards” have developed the ability to not only discern the opportunities within the surrounding environment, but also capitalize on them.

Very early in my martial arts training, Lary Speakman—my first martial arts instructor—told the class that begin understanding a technique, it had to be repeated at least one thousand times.  One thousand?  Really?  Over the years, I began understanding what Lary meant.

During the beginning repetitions of technique, it rarely ever works—the timing, distances, and angles are still being learned.  These are failures.  With enough repetitions, the mechanics of the technique are understood well enough that it begins to work consistently.  Once the mechanics are understood, variations—changes in the attacking pattern—are introduced to challenge our understanding of the technique, resulting in the technique rarely working…again.  These are failures.  Once as many variations as possible have been introduced, and sufficient understanding of the technique has been reached that it once again begins to work consistently, pressure—time, strength, or even multiple attackers—is introduced to reduce the time required to perform the technique, and it once again rarely works.  These are failures.  However, after changing the surrounding environment of the attack nearly one thousand times, discerning the opportunities and capitalizing on them becomes second nature, a mere reaction.  The purpose of the one thousand repetitions is to create as many different failure scenarios as possible—within a controlled environment—to yield as much feedback as possible.  We are scheduling failures.

Once asked about how many times he had failed to yield a light bulb, Thomas Edison replied, "I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
Once asked about how many times he had failed to yield a light bulb, Thomas Edison replied, “I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Extrapolating this concept outside of martial arts, where can it be applied to?  Everything!  The chance of a mechanical issue being correctly diagnosed by a mechanic who was worked on one thousand cars is much higher than that of a mechanic who was worked on ten.  How about landing an airplane?  Trading a security?  Coiling a rope?  Making coffee?  Crossing the street?

In martial arts, the only true measure of success of the technique is its effective use during a live scenario, when the conditions within the surrounding environment are completely random, and during which the pressure applied is at its maximum.  (Every true martial artist hopes that this will never happen.)  These same conditions apply in every aspect of our life!  Work projects, extreme weather conditions, financial hardships, raising children, severe diseases.  At the most critical moment, failure is NOT an option.  We NEED success.  We NEED success or the consequences are severe, even potentially terminal.

Planning success requires scheduling failures!

Louis Pasteur once said: “Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen?  Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

I would take it just two steps further than that.  “Chance favors the prepare mind, body, and spirit.”

Proper mind.  Proper body.  Proper spirit.  All three are essential for a balanced life.  By “preparing” all three, we will become those “lucky bastards;” we will be the consistently “lucky” ones.

Of course, I could be wrong.  In which case, Jean Cocteau, the French artist, summarizes it neatly:  “We must believe in luck.  For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?”