Failing Small

Reframing your day: “Instead of feeling that you lost the day after a bad morning, reframe the day into four quarters–morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. If you blow one quarter just get back on track for the next one. Fail small, not big.”

A Facebook friend shared a collection of advice recently and this was one I really loved. “Fail small, not big.” It resonated with me.

I’ve written before about the significance of failing well. It occurs to me that failing small is one way to fail well. You can admit failure without it being a failure of all the things. It rarely is. You had a fight with a friend? You didn’t fail as a friend. More likely you mucked up one interaction.

Likewise, with workouts. You had a bad run. It’s one bad run. Move on. I know the voice that says, why did you think you could do this? You’re not a runner. And all of of a sudden it’s not even just running. It’s everything in your life.

I think it’s important to take risks and to not be afraid of failure. “Failing small” strikes me as one way of letting failure in but keeping it in its place. Racing the Snipe (a small 2 person sailing dinghy) this weekend, Sarah and I had a couple of really bad mark roundings. One in particular stands out in my mind because it was my fault. But we were able to keep on racing and keep our spirits up by admitting our mistakes but not making them into a giant catastrophe. It was just a bad mark rounding. We can practice mark roundings. There’s room to get better.

October 13th is the International Day of Failure. It’s fast approaching. What’s your approach to failure?

5 thoughts on “Failing Small

  1. Just showed this to my partner. We are recovering after bailing in the middle of a hike that got extreme due to weather, inadequate gear, on too of a bad communication day between us. This totally reframed the rest of the day!! Thank you.

  2. I saw this on FB and am glad you posted and wrote about it. Insomnia lately has meant that I often lose morning productivity. But, instead of beating myself up the moment I awake, I can think about the rest of the day before me. Such a nice reframing!

  3. I get it but I also think the whole language of “failing” is so messed up that even re-framing it in this way, as only failing in one part of our day, just makes me sad. I do like the idea that we can start fresh any time, but does it have to be couched in the language of “failure”? For me this is also tied up in my concerns about the very narrow landscape of “success” in our world. If there are only so many ways to succeed, then there are many ways to fail. I wouldn’t care so much about this if was just a semantic issue, but I do think that this narrative of failure/success has such an impact on people’s sense of who they are and whether they “measure up” that it’s harmful. So, yes, nice reframing, but I wish we could reframe “failure” right out of it altogether.

    1. Hmm. I like taking risks and seeing failure as part of the landscape of possible outcomes. If you’re not failing occasionally you’re not taking enough risks. I think about taking part in a hiring process and not being the successful candidate. Or submitting to journals and not getting the paper accepted. That’s on the professional side of things. But the same can be true on the competitive sport side. I’m thinking here of our recent Snipe Regatta. Racing with better sailors means we came last but we also learned more and it was just one regatta. It’s about feeling okay putting yourself out there.

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