We all fall over; it’s OK. Let it go. There were three pages left blank on my FUSE layout with only a few days to go before my editorial deadline — they were labelled ‘Alex to write a spiritual article’. I’ve been struggling and kept telling myself, “How can I possibly share any wisdom when I’ve fallen over again”. So, the pages remained blank. What could I possibly share?
My ego had firmly taken the reigns and lapped up all those delicious negative feelings it loves so much. As I lamented my failures to my partner Christopher and filled the room with reasons why I could not possibly write a ‘spiritual article’, he kindly pointed
out that the best stories are personal ones, and what could be more personal than what I am experiencing right now? Start where you are. He was right, of course, and had unknowingly also helped me back up off the floor. Love is pretty powerful stuff.
I spent the next few days thinking about what it means to fail and fall, what I had forgotten, and why it is often difficult to get back up again.
To ‘fall over’ is a popular expression to convey the idea of not achieving the desired outcome or not meeting expectations in a particular endeavour.
Ego vs the Universe
I’m a failure
Why do I bother?
I’ll never succeed
It’s too hard!
Those stories we create in our minds are universal. We have all been affected by what we label as failure, whether it’s a commitment to something important, an exercise routine, breaking a bad habit or losing our way on a spiritual path. There are so many things in our lives that we can struggle with.
Our egos often have us thinking that it’s just ‘you’ that fails and takes particular delight in keeping us down and hiding the truth from us. The reality is that everyone crashes, and it’s OK — in fact, it might be a good thing.
The term ‘fallen over’, interestingly enough, gives us a hint of the metaphysical reasons behind it. Literally, when we all stumble, the severity of the result can vary from a little shake-up to life-threatening event. In most instances, it’s not enough to seriously put you out but enough to send a shock wave through your system — it’s a reminder to be more mindful of the path before you.
The universe talks to us in many ways. It seems to me that figuratively tripping or falling over is a shake-up for the spirit. The universe has a way of helping and, if necessary, forcing you to realign things by creating opportunities to bring us back from our zombie state. Often, I’ve found that my failures are lessons not learnt and a chance to grow — it’s why I think the ego is so quick to attach gloomy labels to it.
Failure is like candy to the ego, and it’s rich with negative emotions — we hate it, fear it, and dread it; and when it does happen, we hold onto it, allowing the pain to dictate our path.
Understanding defeat is essential if we want to move past those dark feelings and start asking the bigger questions. It becomes clear that failing is not the problem here — it’s the resulting negativity that’s doing the real damage.
So, knowing all these things, what can we do when we find ourselves in the thick of it? I won’t lie and tell you it’s easy because it’s not, but here are a few things that I found helped me, and maybe they can help you too.
“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.” – Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. The Hague 1 October 1882.
A way forward. Letting go and making failure your friend.
Is there a lesson?
Learning from failure can be the key to success. Asking yourself why you have fallen is a good place to start.
You’ll probably come up with things like: I’m too busy, I’m too tired, it’s the kids, the dog, work, the weather — the list goes on. It’s a great start, but I can assure you these are not the reasons — these are excuses. What you’re looking for is deep, honest answers to your question “why?”. Maybe you are doing something because you think you should, not because you really want to. Perhaps you’re just not motivated. Maybe it’s something else deeper.
It’s critical that you’re absolutely honest with yourself. It will help you decide what actions to take.
Acceptance, Let it go
Acceptance helps us stand back from those damaging and mostly untrue stories that run through our minds.
After you have an understanding of what has happened, it’s time to accept where you are on your path. Make peace with the failure, let it go, and move on. Holding onto the past and the negative stories associated with it will only bring more suffering.
At this stage, it’s good to do some self-pampering to lift your spirits and give you time to rest and refuel. Give yourself time to heal and feel OK again.
Falling off the path is not a failure. It’s a natural part of any journey, providing opportunities for reflection, growth and reevaluation.
It’s not the size that counts!
Set yourself easy goals because your purpose here is to build a new habit, not to become a guru or champion sports star by next month. Often, we set ourselves up to fail by creating lofty targets and unrealistic expectations.
You don’t need to meditate or exercise, for instance, for an hour each day; start with five minutes a day for a week, then ten the next week — slow and easy. Enjoy the process.
The good news is that humans are quite susceptible to forming habits, which I’m sure you’re all too well aware of. I am.
Just like puppies, we respond well to rewards. Treat yourself when you complete milestones, like a week, a fortnight, a month, or a year.
Three important things to note here: make sure your rewards are not counter to your intentions, follow through with your rewards and make them proportional.
You will be impressed with how well a reward system can actually work.
Failures are not all created equal
You will still fail and fail and fail again. Thomas A. Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Becoming more comfortable with failing will mean that the negative feelings associated with it will have less hold over you.
As you try new things and push your boundaries, you will certainly encounter failures — some big, some small, and that’s OK! Keep working towards what you want; eventually, you will succeed, and if you don’t, there will probably be an opportunity to learn.
Failure is a journey; success is not a destination
Challenging assumptions and asking questions about what things actually are can help ensure we are not stuck in habitual fixed thinking.
Things are rarely what we think they are. Is failure bad? Is success or perfection something that can really be achieved? I think the answer to both of those questions is no.
I like to remind myself that falling over is an integral part of life. Being kind is more important than success. Change happens in small increments, and often not usually flashy ones.