Dealing with Failure: An Important Learning Tool
In "What’s the Difference Between a Lover and a Loser?", Troy asked a question I've been seeing a lot on here lately regarding dealing with failure:
“Also chase id love to see an article on how to see failure as not bad, to love the plateau and not let setbacks stop us from pushing the times of doubt and uncertainty. Thanks and im looking for that when you can do it and it interests you as a topic for a post. The reason is because i see it in myself and almost every girls chase reader of not accepting that they will make mistakes and it makes me think. I think that if you could write on this that us readers us readers would accept failure especially beginners as essential, then every one of us would stop beating up our selves when we lose a girl and make mistakes, and then you may not need to ever be getting complaints again. then life changes. It is great to try our best but no one is perfect and we will mess up. thanks for helping and reading.”
So, how does one deal with failure - especially social failure, the kind you must endure when learning to improve with women? Failure that's public; failure that's biting; and failure that cuts right to the quick of one's ego and self-esteem?
And make no mistake about it, you will take a beating to your sense of self when you set out to improve your prospects socially and romantically. There's simply no other way to get better with people than by trying and failing with people - again and again and again.
It takes a certain kind of courage - and a certain attitude about dealing with failure.
Which road's the easy road to boundless success?
You know... the road that doesn't pass through the Valley of Failure
on its way to the Promised Land?
As it turns out, there is no such road - all roads to success take you first through failure.
Sure, there are shortcuts - sites like this one, where guys like the other writers and I here have already taken these roads and can give you a map and point out the hazards to avoid and make your journey easier.
But just because you have a map and landmarks and warnings and recommendations doesn't mean it's going to be a cakewalk. You're still going to have to drive through failure anyway.
And much like any migration through the wastelands into the land of opportunity, purely because of the imposing barrier that lies in the path of those who might achieve great success, most will never bother to try.
Because everybody wants it easy.
How Important Failure Is
It's surprisingly difficult coming up with good research on failure and learning, but two of the best resources I can point you to are Eric Barker's article "Is more embarrassing, disappointing, soul-crushing failure exactly what you need?", for a quick tour of interesting research, and the famed Harvard Business Review paper "The Making of an Expert", by K. Anders Ericsson, Michale J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely for a very in-depth look at how people who go on to become star performers use deliberate practice and repeated failure and trying again and failure and trying again to reach the heights they reach. Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated takes the concepts from "Making of an Expert" and expands them into a full-on book, with many more examples and peripheral concepts, and is also a great and highly educational read.
The consensus of most of the research you will find out there, though, is that learning does not come so much from success - it comes from failure.
If you want to learn faster, you need to fail more often, and then sit down and analyze those failures.
Not just any kind of failure is sufficient, though, and there are a few different kinds:
The exact same failure again and again
"Phoning it in" failure, when you weren't really trying all that hard
Failure past your comfort zone, where you were trying new things and pushing hard for success and just couldn't make it happen
The real learning that occurs takes place in that last type of failure - the type of failure where you are pushing things to the hilt, and trying out new techniques or strategies (sometimes crazy new techniques or strategies) to reach success, and simply fall short.
Those failures are hands down the most educational moments you have, because you are fully engaged, your brain is working hard, you're trying out new stuff to crack old problems, and you're not letting yourself off the hook one iota.
For that reason, these failures aren't only the most educational, however - they're also the most painful.
And, for that reason, they're also the kinds of failure that people seek specifically to avoid in their daily practices and efforts to improve.
To Leave Everything or Nothing on the Table
This is the distinction that I see a lot of guys trying to find success but not finding it fail to make.
They didn't come ready to play to win. They only came to phone in success and punch their cards.
Why? Because playing to win hurts when you don't win.
I've been training in Krav Maga for the past 6 months or so. My training's been somewhat sporadic, because I'm often in different places and I always have a very full schedule, but I've strained and clawed my way up halfway to the 100 hour mark - I'm just under 50 hours of training, including everything from straight punches to disarming attackers with knives, handguns, and assault rifles - and I continue to attend classes.
Sometimes I disappear for a month or two, then come back and put in a bunch of hours in quick succession. I've noticed that over that 6 months, only about 4 or so other people who were in the class when I signed up still attend classes. There's been a great deal of churn since then - many people have started, many people have stopped. Lots of new faces have come and gone.
The ones who are still going? They hit hard; they're focused on good form; and you can tell they are always 100% engaged. They're intense.
Everybody else? They're there for a workout. They're trying it out because they thought it might be fun. They're phoning it in, and you can see on their faces and in their eyes that they aren't fully engaged.
They don't learn all that much... and they don't stick around, either.
There were people who'd started months before I had whom I was giving advice to after a few months, because I was focused intensely on improving, and they were not. It's not because anything about me is inherently better than they are; it's simply that I've pushed myself, and they have not pushed themselves.
The same thing happened to me with seduction. When I was new, I had guys giving me all kinds of advice that was for me incredibly advanced. But within a few years, most of these same guys were coming to me for advice on even more advanced topics.
What was the difference? These guys, somewhere along the line, had lost their hunger. They'd stopped playing hard to win. They'd started phoning it in. Had they stayed as hungry as they'd been when they started out, I never would've passed them... they would've kept getting better just as I did.
Likewise, I see guys who've racked up ridiculous numbers of approaches but only achieved moderate results with women - I mentioned guys like this in "Why Cold Approach Works Better Than Anything Else."
These guys are frequently frustrated, bitter, and feel entitled to better results based on the sheer volume of work they've put in.
But when I watch these guys approach, there's never any intensity there.
They never take the feedback I give them seriously and burn it to the ground implementing it.
They never try anything new... they just keep doing the same thing again and again and again - again, they're phoning it in.
They have a mentality a lot of less successful people engaged in self-improvement seem to adopt: if I just work hard, I'll find success.
If I just fail enough, I'll find success.
But it isn't just racking up failure. It's racking up the right kind of failure.
The right kind of failure, of course, is the kind of failure you get when you're burning the house down trying to make something happen.
That doesn't necessarily mean you're trying to pick up a girl and take her home then and there that day or night... though once you're about intermediate level, unless you're pressed for time or just trying to grab her number to follow up with her later, you should be.
What it does mean is that whatever your objective for an outing is, you're pulling out all the stops to reach it... and, you know what your objective is.
Learning Through Casual Failure
Let's step off the hardcore soapbox for a moment and look at the average guy, because 99% of men reading this site are never going to go put in hardcore training sessions trying to get good with girls, just like 99% of the men will never put in hardcore lifting sessions, or piano sessions, or whatever sessions for whatever they'd like to be good at.
Most people just don't want whatever it is they want that bad. Which isn't a slight against them... you're probably a lot more normal than the crazy push-it-to-the-limit people (like me), to be perfectly honest.
That said, even if you're not going out expressly just to meet and do better with women, you can still be pressing your limits with women and actively learning whenever you encounter women... if you keep it in mind that that's what you need to do and you listen to what you've kept in mind:
This is the guy who goes out to parties and always tries a little bit harder at each and every party to see if he can get some party sex out of the occasion.
And, this is the guy who decides to push things a little bit further on every date he finds himself out on, just to see what he can get away with and how fast he can move
And this is the guy who tries to be a little bit more mysterious, or probe a little bit deeper in his deep dives, every time he interacts with a new girl
You don't have to be doing the seduction equivalent of a 3-hour workout that takes all your muscle groups to failure to see improvement with women.
But you do need to be taking something to failure, in every little interaction you have, and be serious about your improvement... and not just phoning it in.
The phone-it-in guys do see some improvement, to a certain point, because getting SOME experience is always more valuable than having NO experience... but you do not maximize that experience when you are not pushing at least one small aspect further than you are used to pushing it, failing, and trying again later - you must push toward triumph or defeat if you're ever to learn how to consistently achieve one and avoid too much of the other.
Failure as a Beginner vs. Failure as an Expert
When you try something new, and it's really brand spanking new to you, that's when failure is its most painful. That's because when something is new:
You have no past successes to look back on and reassure yourself that more future success awaits just beyond this string of defeats
You have no collection of past experiences you can page back through and parse for lessons - what common themes do you see with this failure and similar other failures, and what differences do you see between this failure and other times you did something similar but it worked?
You have no means of measuring how close to or far from your intended objective with women you really are
Because you do this thing so infrequently, it feels like you will never get another shot, or will have few more - your failure feels all the more final because of this
So what happens is, when you're new at something and you fail, it feels like YOU FAILED. Not just you... but you. You are a failure at this new thing, and you cannot fix it and you will not get many more shots.
At least, that's what you think.
That's a very different set of feelings and a very different thought process from what you experience as an expert. As an expert when you fail, you fail because of something specific:
- You failed because you talked too much
- You failed because you missed an escalation window
- You failed because you teased her too hard and pushed her into auto-rejection
- You failed because you came across as too much of a boyfriend candidate
- You failed because your fundamentals weren't tight enough and she just wasn't interested
... and so on and so forth. You have at least a general idea about why you failed, and what you can try out to fix it next time.
You have a host of past success you can look back on and know - not just think, but know - that success is right around the corner... you've just got to keep swinging and it'll come.
You have a pretty good idea of roughly about how much further you need to go before you get to where you want to get to.
And because you've tried and failed and succeeded so many times, each individual failure feels pretty miniscule in comparison to the total history of failures and successes you have behind you - and the seemingly endless grove of potential ahead of you.
In other words, it gets a LOT easier to fail, and fail HARD, the more experienced you become with a thing.
But most people never reach the level of experience where they can fail hard, shake it off, and keep going.
That's because most people fail hard a few times at the outset, decide they don't like that feeling, and give up or phone it in to not have to worry about taking those ego blows any further.
How Bad Do You Want It?
Failure sucks when you're new.
It especially sucks when you're failing at something public, and sucks even more when you're failing on something that is a measure of your success as a man:
- Can you get laid (or not)?
- Can you make money (or not)?
- Can you win the approval of your peers (or not)?
PC egalitarianism aside, we can't help but view a man who succeeds at these things as a REAL man... far more manly than the guys who try, fail, and give up.
And people know this. I know it. You know it. We like to say, "Well, I tried, I gave it my all, and it just didn't work out." But why didn't it work out? Did you really give it your all?
There's a large element of randomness in success - far more than most people are willing to admit. Whatever you're doing, if it's outside the artificially stable world of climate-controlled schools and offices, you face a random world that doesn't play by the nice, consistent rules we rather would prefer it would:
The most attractive man in the world will go through stretches where he gets unreasonable numbers of rejections
The most savvy businessman in the world will go through stretches where his businesses simply do not perform and things just don't go his way
The most talented performer in the world will go through stretches where his performances just flop or are flat despite the best of his efforts
Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, a famed and highly successful incubator for Silicon Valley startup firms, noted once that persistence is the difference maker in which sets of founders succeed at entrepreneurship and which wash out. That's grit; that's will; that's determination.
Partly that's because it takes a fair bit of time simply to learn and perfect all the things you need to learn and perfect to find real success (and not just the "get lucky" sort of success); and partly that's because success favors the persistent. I've studied quite a bit on writing over the past few years, and one of the things I come across consistently is how important it is to write a LOT - and, you do aim for quality, but you must have quantity - because while you can have an idea about which pieces may take off and which ones may not, you never really know for sure, and quantity really is the great equalizer.
That doesn't mean you ignore quality, or you just spam-do whatever it is you're going to do. Again - deliberate practice: you must know what you're doing, and have a specifically targeted outcome. When you want to get good at tennis, you don't get good at tennis just by hanging out on a tennis court and swinging your racket around; you get good at tennis by practicing your backhand 300 times in a row in a single session on the court, and your serve 300 times in a row another session. That's targeted quantity - you're doing a lot, but of one specific thing - one key element.
This requires perseverance, grit, and steely-eyed determination; because you're going to fail repeatedly on the path to getting things down well. That's just how it goes. When you've never served in tennis before, you're going to suck tennis balls your first couple hundred serves, most likely.
But once you've put enough time in, you'll reach a point where everyone else is amazed at how good your serve is. "He's a natural!" they'll exclaim.
But really, you just failed a lot more than they did.
Dealing with Failure
There's no magic solution for dealing with failure, but the main thing to understand about it is that what you're really dealing with is emotion; emotional feelings of:
The best thing I've found for alleviating these feelings is talking to a mentor who's already been down that road and can point out where I'm making mistakes and tell me to get back to it again.
The next best thing I've found for this is sitting down and writing down everything about the experience, and everything that happened, step-by-step. Leave no detail you can remember out, because especially when you're a beginner, you don't yet know what's important and what's not; however, much of the time, the very act of writing it down can make you suddenly aware of what went wrong.
If you're writing field reports and posting them on the Field Reports Board of our
discussion board here - or even if you're just jotting down some notes
for yourself to help you hash out what's transpired - many times you'll
be writing down the chain of events, frustrated and annoyed, and
suddenly the last thing you write down hits you - oh, damn it, THAT'S where I messed it up!
Oh man, I HAD it right up until there! - and then you know what
And that's really the key to the bad emotions of failure - once you know what the problem is, these emotions mostly go away.
And that's when you start winning.
Remember, your emotional responses are responses to situations that your mind views as being outside of your control.
The more inside your control you bring things, the less emotional your responses to those things are, and the more rational and analytical and matter-of-fact they are.
In striving to deal with failure, what you must really strive to do is strive to understand the cause of the failure, and in so doing, you free yourself from the worst effects of it.
Try new things... don't keep
doing the same thing if it doesn't work well enough.
Don't phone it in.
If it hurts - and when you're starting out, it always hurts - don't dial back your effort or cut yourself any slack; just keep stacking up reference points, and when the going gets tough, sit down and write it out - you'll be surprised how much it helps you clear through the fog and find the motivation to get going again.
And, play hard to win, no matter what you're doing... you won't win big any other way.
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