When people train for lifting weights, it is pretty much a given that you train techniques that will help you, well, actually lift up those weights. The idea of training in a way where you don't move a weight seems illogical. However, the ability to fail is a key and crucial idea – both in lifting and perhaps in all areas of life.
This year, Next Level alumnus Nick Cambi (Wolfpack) competed in strongman on one of the most prestigious world stages out there; the Arnold Sports Festival. it was already quite an accomplishment for a lifetime drug-free athlete to be able to hang so successfully in a field that challenging to any lifter, drug-free or not. However, in spite of a series of amazing successes, there was one moment in his competition where he showed that he does;t just train to succeed, but also that he is well-trained to fail.
Lifting heavy has it's dangers. Almost all the dangerous aspects cane avoided, of course, but that is not to say that there still aren't risks that happen at random. Knowing how to keep safe under pressure is therefore very important. But how does one "train for failure?" How can one be ready for what is, essentially, the unexpected?
This is an aspect that separates regular lifters like you and me from the exceptional ones like Nick. At a point an achieved lifter will pay as close attention to his failures as he will to his achievements. Knowing how to bail out is something that comes from repetitively bailing out. Over and over, every time a lift is not achieved, an accomplished lifter makes careful note of how he was able to avoid turning that failure into injury. After a while, the mind just learns the habit without having to think about it.
And this brings us back to Nick at the Arnold. The log was so heavy, and the pressure was so high that his mind momentarily blacked out. Not in a "fainting" way (he recovered nearly instantly), but more in that "I'm seeing stars" kind of way. But when that happened, the log came hurling downward.
And it is very possible that log could have crushed Nick.
But this is where you see something remarkable. Nick's non-thinking mind had so well-learned how to bail out that it took over when his thinking mind failed. Like a programmed robot, Nick's body thrust backwards, and Nick tumbled safely away from the heavy log. He was not thinking decisively; it wasn't like he had an inner dialogue that said "Oh my goodness! I am blacking out! I better execute rote safety plan 347c!" It was just pure reaction. It was either a movement Nick's mind knew or didn't.
We live in a culture so driven by the thrill of success that we undervalue the education of failure. This idea is often exaggerated in the lifting and bodybuilding communities, where "gains" and quantifiable feats are regularly and aggressive celebrated. But here Nick gave us an example of how important paying attention to failure can be. Embracing how he has failed helped him, quite literally, prevent harming himself.
Now, this is great advice for any lifter. Mastering tactics of failure is a key to being able to move further ahead. However, this concept extends far beyond just the realm of those who pick up heavy stuff.
How are your tactics for understanding failure? Do you rush away from mistakes and try to re-engage the quest for success as quickly as possible?
Taking an inventory of failures can be a tactically superior way to find more sustainable successes. Knowing how to fall down safely can keep you from breaking something, whether that something is your back while lifting or your heart during a break up. Understanding what minimizes damage can keep you on track, whether during a lifting mistake or an error at your job. The idea of stopping and observing failure is a profound tool, and very worth the time it takes to assess it.
Slowing down right after a failure and really taking a close look at it will teach us how to respond to future failures – even when unexpected. Treating failure like some sort of deficit of your character wildly add extraneous burden to your process. Eventually you will be surprised by a big deal tumbling downward towards you; knowing what to do to avoid a disaster is the result of repetitively working with smaller versions of that mistake.
I'm grateful to Nick for being an example of an important concept. Sure, it's easier to point and applaud an athlete's exceptional accomplishments, but exceptional qualities are just as vital to acknowledge – especially because they tend to be in the minority of sung praises.
Thanks for being excellent at understanding failure, Nick. It's something that helps fortify your successes. And something that reminds us to seek similar understanding in our own failures.