As many of you know, I had a great and humbling experience a few weekends back. As one of my “bucket list” goals, I signed up for a mental and physical training camp called “Kokoro”. Kokoro is not something to be done on a whim. This is a training camp where your physical and mental faculties are put to the test for 50 hours, straight. Within that 50 hours there are miles and miles (and miles) of running, hundreds of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, flutter kicks, log work…. Basically, any exercise or terrible workout you can think of, they thought of it first and kicked it up a notch or three. Oh, and no sleep. No sleep. If you fall asleep and the coaches, mostly ex-S.E.A.L.s, catch you, there is handed down harsh punishment.
Why would I pay to put myself through this hell? It was a goal, and goals have a way of bringing something out in you that you never even knew existed. They drive you day in and day out, causing you to push that extra little bit, making everything you do about reaching that goal. That was me, I was in that zone. Watching what I ate, multiple training sessions in a day, finding my weaknesses and making them better. I did it all. I think at times people around me thought I was plain crazy, but it didn’t matter, I had my eye on the prize. I wanted to succeed. But sometimes, no matter what you do to armor yourself against failure, it happens. The chink in my armor was found almost immediately.
In Kokoro there are two physical fitness tests you must take (and pass at least one) before being allowed to continue on with the rest of the camp. The first is body weight movements. You must be able to complete in 2 minutes for each movement for 50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, 50 air squats, 10 unbroken deadhang pull-ups, and run a mile within 9:30. The testing is performed about 2 hours into the camp, after your are good and warmed up. During my training I had no problem with any of these feats. The day I stepped onto the grounds at Kokoro I had the utmost confidence that I would succeed, if not destroy, this test. The first kick in the gut was handed to me during the push-ups… the very first movement tested. They lined us up with our swim buddy (your partner for the entirety of the camp) and gave us the performance standards. For the push-ups all you had to do was drop your chest to your swim buddies fist on the ground and not let your knees or thighs touch the ground. Your only rest position was in a plank. You could down dog for no more than 3 seconds to stretch your arms, any more than that and you were done with that part of the test. We assumed our positions and they started the clock. 2 minutes to complete 50 push-ups? I got this! Or at least I thought I did. I cranked out 20 no problem, taking my time as not the break any of the standards and took my first rest. The next 10 were a little harder, I could tell that the planking and push-ups we had done at the beginning of camp was starting to take effect, but I kept on. 31...32...33….now the struggle started. I was starting to take more rest between reps, and that was bad. I hit 37 and felt like I had a bag of cement placed on my back. I made it up and went down for another rep. As I was coming up to complete 38 I happened to glance down at my feet, my whole body was shaking, struggling to reach the top of the push-up. I made it and took a bit of rest ready to complete another rep. I dropped down to my swim buddies fist when my shoulders betrayed me, followed by my legs and core, and before I knew it I was facedown in the dirt with 38 completed reps. This was not a good sign. I passed the rest of the test with flying colors and even PR’d my mile run at 7:34, but the damage was already done. I still had a chance though, all I had to do was complete Murph in 70 minutes or less… I was still in this.
After the bodyweight tests it was time for more fun…. running and lots of it. We ran for about another 45 minutes up and down hills and sandy tracks with the occasional 200m sprint to a fence and back with extra fun intermingled. Nightfall came and so did the time for Murph. The mile was 4.5 loops around a track that encircled the “grinder”, only partially lit by van light. We lined up for the run and… 3...2...1...GO! The 70 minute clock started and we were off! I took the first mile slow, as I wanted to make sure I had enough left in me to make the last mile (running is not my strong suit, as you may know). I have done Murph many times throughout the years, but this was the hardest one ever. The terrain was difficult, and it was dark. Pull-ups, push-ups, and squats were difficult with a rucksack. I finished my 20th round of “Cindy” with 13 minutes left… I was positive I could do my mile in 13 minutes and as I finished my 4th 400m lap I was sure I made the cut-off and I “sprinted” into the finish when the coach called my time… 71:07. I was crushed. I knew what was going to happen next. I had failed both tests and my time at Kokoro was done. I was directed to sit down with the rest of the group and get some water. Then my name was called and myself and 6 other campers were called to the score board. We were told that we were going to be checked out by medical and released. We were ushered to the med tent, given a quick once over for injuries, and told to call our rides.
I felt so low. I had believed I did everything I could, but my mind kept racing through what more I might have done and if only I pushed harder here or there I would be out on the grinder right now with the group. The mind game didn’t stop there, it took a little bit to pull myself back together. Which brings me to the point of this whole long winded blog :-). Failure. Everyday we deal with the possibility of failure and, often, with preparation and focus it can be avoided. But every so often, even when you believe with all your heart you did everything you could have to succeed, failure squares up and delivers a blow right to the gut.
This experience has led me to think more deeply about what it means to fail, really, truly fail on a big scale, and how best to manage the aftermath. Down deep, I know (and teach my athletes) that the failure isn’t what’s important, rather what matters is what we do in that instance of doubt or regret which decides how we will move on and what will happen next. But coaching this concept compared to experiencing it on this scale, with so much of my own dedication and purpose and hard work in the balance… to say the least, I struggled to take my own advice.
It took a moment to get back up on my feet, but here I am. I did fail to complete Kokoro, but in that failure I learned a lot about myself and how much I need to grow in order to complete my goals. The next time you fail, look back at the lesson learned and grow from it, let it drive you. Be positive and push forward to the next plateau. Your success is out there, you just have to find your way to it.
And you’re damn right I’m going back next year, and this time I’m going to crush it!
Next time failure finds you keep these 5 points in mind, it will help renew your vigor to face and conquer your goal:
Don’t make it personal: Separate the failure from your personality. Just because you didn’t succeed yet doesn’t make YOU a failure. This can be difficult but personalizing failure can wreak havoc on your confidence and self-esteem.
Take stock, learn, and adapt: Analyze the failure, push back those feelings of anger, frustration, blame and regret. Gather the facts, step back and decide what you learned from this, then take action accordingly as you move forward.
Do not dwell: Obsessing over your failure will only give it more power over you and put you in the emotional doom-loop.You cannot change what happened, instead let it help shape your future.
Release the need from approval from others: We often get caught up on what other people perceive of us, our fear of being judged and the loss of respect and esteem from our peers. Remember this is YOUR LIFE and what others consider to be true about you is not necessarily the truth. Don’t let others opinions douse the confidence and passion in you.
Try a new point of view: As people and professionals we have an unhealthy attitude toward failure. The best thing we can do is shift our perspective away from the negatives and embrace the positives of the experience.
*Forbes: Five Ways To Make Peace With Failure