Years ago, I read an article about a psychologist who worked with athletes to overcome the mental hurdles that hindered success in their sports. He told the story of a pitcher who fell apart after missed pitches or when batters hit home runs. He'd throw wild pitches, hit batters, or toss perfectly hittable pitches. The psychologist decided to take him out to a baseball field, give him two baseballs to hold in one hand, and ask him to throw a strike.
Obviously, the pitcher couldn't do it.
The lesson was this: You can't throw a strike if you're still holding on to your last pitch. You have to let it go.
The lesson applies to scenarios far beyond the baseball field. If you’ve ever set a goal and didn’t reach it, you’ve had two choices. You could carry your failure with you or leave it at the finish line. You could absorb the lessons and forget the outcome, or drag the results like a weight.
Whether you’re an amateur or a pro, the ability to extract lessons from a poor performance, and then move on, are the hallmarks of continued success. Very few people have an amazing first try. Almost everybody, even those with boatloads of experience, has had an awful performance. Actors forget their lines, dieters binge, and runners walk across the finish line. It happens. So it happened. What now?
Ask yourself this question: “What good can come from this?” How can you use negative experience to your advantage the next time you’re faced with a similar challenge? Your job as a successful person is to pry deep inside the shell of disappointment and expectation to find your little pearl. Did you make up lines instead and make the audience roll in the aisles? Ha! You acted at acting! Well played! Did an old flame call and fuel the fire of an emotional binge? You’re smart to have deleted the phone number and tossed the junk food. Did you finish your race despite having a bad night’s sleep or an upset stomach? Indeed, you’re tougher than you thought.
When you can accept the value of all experience, both positive and negative, you carry the lessons with you. Your life broadens. Your life experience becomes a textbook of resilience. You take control of the next similar situation. The actor knows to practice his lines, learn them from the inside out. The dieter knows he shouldn’t answer phone calls from people who cause pain. He vows to turn off the phone and go for a slow, relaxing walk instead. The runner knows she must sleep well if she wants to run fast. She’s diligent about an early pre-race bedtime.
If you stumble (and you will), get up again. You might stumble again. Get up again. There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” This is resilience. This is in you. You might have failed yesterday, or you might fail tomorrow. The most important thing you can do is to try again. Get up. Dig deep. Crack through the shell of defeat and self-deprecation to extract the value of your experience. Live your life stronger than yesterday. Release yourself from the negative experiences that drag you and prevent success, but hold on to what you learned. When you free yourself from the results of negative experience, you open yourself to a world in which all things are possible.