I sometimes think that we live life like a high-jump competition.
We take on new things and have a good go at clearing the bar. Every time we succeed, we raise the bar a little higher. Eventually we’ll raise the bar so high that we can’t clear it any more.
Then we feel gutted. Beaten. Defeated.
All those clearances we made before feel like wasted effort – in the end we were a big loser! All our focus goes on the failure.
This approach relies on some rigid rules about how to be successful in life that are hard-wired into our brains.
Rule 1 – Strive to be perfect
We must always push us to keep striving to be higher, faster, stronger. We strive for perfection, to be better every time.
Rule 2 – Never, ever stop
Like the high-jumper, when we achieve our goals, we barely stop to celebrate. We have to go and get focused for the next jump. The next task. The next hurdle to negotiate.
Rule 3 – Failure is not an option
When we fail, we feel crushed, fixate on our failure. It feels like the end of the world.
How did this happen?
I guess we have to thank our ancient ancestors for these rules.
Back then it was survival of the fittest – evolve or die.
You had to keep raising the bar – inventing a better spear, learning how to make fire, how to be a great hunter.
Stopping was not an option – life was urgent and primal.
Failure was the end of the world – literally
I’m still thankful that we have strong survival instincts. Yet in our modern world, I reckon it might be time to break these rules apart.
To live a remarkable, high quality life requires a more flexible approach to life than our primal ancestors took. We need to break all the rules.
Breaking the rules
Stop pushing so hard
Striving to be perfect is such a heavy burden to carry. We can always find someone richer, smarter, more charismatic to compare ourself against.
Perfection is just an imaginary concept to compete against – it lacks any kind of definition. It’s like trying to find the end of the rainbow.
Instead of striving for perfection, how about aspiring to do the best you can? Frankly you won’t always succeed, however hard you try. Welcome to human!
If you try to do the best you can, enjoy each experience as much as possible and accept the outcome it is hard to ask for more.
Sometimes that means that you’ll lower the high jump bar rather than raising it, and be happier for it.
Give yourself a break
Never stopping is exhausting.
In the modern world, we have the luxury of being able to stop and reflect. To smell the roses. To day-dream, relax, look after ourselves and recharge our batteries. We have the space to prepare for the next great challenge or project.
For most people life flows in peaks and troughs of energy and activity. Your body and minds will tell you when it is time to go for it and when to slow down and take a break. If you don’t listen you’ll be cruising for a break down.
So when you clear a jump, take a while to enjoy it. Perhaps rather than resetting the bar, find a deck chair and take a nap.
“If you’re not failing 90% of the time, you’re not trying hard enough”.
The current world high-jump record is held by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba at 2m 45cm. Check out his jump.
Sotomayor didn’t just wake up one morning, hop out of bed and successfully jump over 8ft. Sotomayor’s record is the result of a lifetime of failure.
Javier has inevitably failed many more than he has ever succeeded. All the hours of training involved failing to clear the bar thousands of times. He has learned to reflect on and learn from his failures to figure out new approaches to clear the next height.
If he had taken his first failure at the age of 5 as an utter disaster and given up, his personal best would probably be about 40cm.
If you can learn to enjoy failure, to reflect on it, to see the good things that happened as part of the failure, two things happen.
First, life becomes a pleasure all the time, not just when you succeed.
Second, you’ll learn more quickly and find success more easily in the long run
Sometimes in the high jump you’ll fail. If you can enjoy that failure and learn from it, you’ve succeeded in breaking the rules.
Over to you
- What rules do you follow in life?
- Where did they come from?
- What would happen if you broke all the rules?