As a gymnastics coach, I help kids time and again to overcome obstacles that prevent them from reaching their potential. One kid is attempting a cartwheel on a beam, trying over and over but always falling off. Each time, they try the same thing. And each time, they see the same result.
It is futile to think that your goals will be met by repeating the same failures. If your cartwheel just isn’t sticking, it might be time for you to take a step back, breathe, and try something new.
Let me guide you through the process.
Do Not Allow Perfect to Prevent Progress
Perfectionism is an extremely common barrier many people face, in both their personal and professional lives. In fact, perfectionism often manifests in fear – fear of failing, disappointing others, or receiving criticism.
I saw this at the gym, in that kid who couldn’t get their cartwheel right. I see it in myself when I am bogged down by imposter syndrome. In our quest to be perfect, we forget to be creative, experimental, daring.
Overcoming obstacles brought about by perfectionism is as simple as giving yourself permission to be imperfect. Very few of us do anything well the first time. Some things we will never do well at all. Accepting our imperfections, and reaching out to others who know more for guidance, is the best chance we have for improvement.
That’s why that cartwheeling kid came to gymnastics class – it was her best chance to get better.
Know Your Mind
Our brains are funny things. Ticking things off our to-do lists gives us a little boost of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel happy. The problem is, when tasks take too long, our dopamine levels lower, resulting in feelings of stress, unease, and unhappiness.
Unsurprisingly, our gymnastics kid is growing ever more frustrated by their inability to land on the beam after cartwheeling. I give them a single instruction:
“I don’t care if you don’t stick the cartwheel, but I want to see you try something different.”
So, this time, as they turn through the cartwheel, they flop to the other side of the beam, pulling a crazy pose at the end.
This kid found a new way to fail. They fell the other way.
Failing in a new way is a great way to overcome obstacles that stand between you and your goals. Being experimental breaks the habits that aren’t working, leading to new results – hello, dopamine!
Measuring progress rather than the completion of a task is vital to maintaining stamina when it comes to long-term or difficult projects. The reward of positive reinforcement from a gym coach is a great motivator.
For self-motivation, try a Jar of Awesome, and reward yourself by celebrating the little wins. This is key in preventing you from getting bogged down in the negative thoughts that lead back to paralyzing perfectionism.
It is easy to try the same things over and over again, blaming the technique for poor results. It is a lot harder to accept an unknown outcome by forcing yourself to try something completely new. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, articulates that true failure is not the outcome, but the lack of trying.
This is the key to overcoming obstacles in life and in business – success is measured not by the results we see, but in how we find those results.
That gymnastics kid was successful the moment they tried something new. They were closer to reaching their goal of cartwheeling on the beam because they gave themself permission to fail. Because failure is not the enemy of progress – it is its heartbeat.
To overcome obstacles, you will likely have to try something new. It will be hard, and messy, and crazy. You will probably fail the first time. But you will begin to see improvements in your ability to solve whatever problem you are faced with.
When You’re Stuck, Do a 180 to Overcome Obstacles
I would like to leave you with a final challenge.
Think about a challenge you’re facing right now. Instead of wondering what you’re doing wrong, focus instead on everything you have been doing. The actions you have taken to reach your goal.
Now, do a total 180. Fall in the other direction, without concern for the consequences. Be imperfect, give yourself permission to fail, and revel in the reward of breaking the habit. Pull a crazy pose at the end.
Find a different way to fail at what you’re trying to achieve, to overcome obstacles. I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!