Failure IS an Option


Last year I had started to read on Dr. Mercola’s website and in other blogs about how interval training was showing benefits beyond traditional ways of exercising. I had heard about Fartlek training’s superior ability to improve fitness for runners some time ago, and I tried it occasionally with success. Most often it would include a sprint at the end of my 4 mile run, and then amazing fitness improvement for the next outing or two.

Now there seems to be indisputable evidence of the advantages of oxygen-deprivation exercise for health. This means working really hard, like 80% or greater capacity (until you are literally sucking wind) for short bursts, with short rests in between. You can do this with any exercise, but really only for about 8 reps before you are totally pooped. Dr. Mercola describes an easy technique for interval training called Peak 8, but others like Al Sears’ pace program include more variation. It seems like you can choose and change it up without loss of benefit. Mercola’s story is compelling, as are the twin study results from Al Sears, another proponent of such workouts.

There also seems to be mounting evidence against long distance cardio – shrinking heart and lungs and lower metabolism, for starters (Doug McGuffMark Sisson, Al Sears, Scott Abel, Matt Stone, Dr. Mercola, and many, many others on the subject). As a die hard runner (as in, I thought I would die if I couldn’t run forever) I succeeded in ignoring the information out there pointing to the dangers, until very recently. My physicals had started to reveal increasing “bad” numbers and decresasing “good” ones, and I had to take it seriously.

This approach to exercise is the exact opposite of the way I have exercised for a long time. Now, I can do anything, pick anything I want, and intentionally attempt to do it to an intensity that would cause me to fail in a specified time period (anywhere from 10 seconds to 4 minutes). So I am trying to fail, on purpose? Evidently this is the fastest, indeed, it now seems, the sustainable way to achieve peak fitness, as well as manage weight. (I love it so far. I do one Body by Science weightlifting workout and one Peak 8 workout per week – only 20 minutes each, and the rest of my activity is all fun stuff (walks, blading, biking, tennis, skiing, hiking, whatever).

The basis of this way of working out is that you are trying to fail: this is sooooo different than my approach to, well, everything! Oxygen deprivation means choosing weights and activities to intentionally be unable to continue past 8 reps. I am in the habit of choosing a weight I know I can lift 12 times, running a distance that I know I can comfortably complete, and avoiding the activities that I am not good at.

In life, I realized, I do the same thing, mostly playing it safe. I confess, I often have a mini-meltdown when confronted with having to do something where I have little ability to predict the outcome.  I have to wonder how much I have not achieved by only attempting what I am fairly sure I can succeed at, or at least not look like an idiot by trying. Even in my pottery class this applies – the teacher tells us we all try to save the lame little pot spinning in front of us, “playing it safe does not improve skills – only pushing the boundary of our skills can expand our range and create new skill boundaries”.

At the root, this seems to all be about fear. What will I look like? What will people think? What will it mean if an overachiever like me starts failing all the time? What if I look foolish? We try to avoid this feeling like the plague. Why is failure so terrifying? It’s quite a wake up call to realize I have been limiting what I attempt, just so I can feel better about myself. I saw a quote recently that said “if you want to double your success rate, you have to double your failure rate”. Hmmm. What to do with this new insight? I’m not sure, but I guess I’ll start with failing at exercise, and when I get the hang of it, I’ll get busy failing at everything else!

How do YOU play it safe and shortchange yourself in the process? What one thing can you start trying to “fail” at? I’d love to hear from you.

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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