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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Importance of Failure, part 2

In part 1, I discussed the reasons behind why we fail and what our initial responses to failure are. In part 2, I look at how failure leads to improvement and redesign.

Congratulations! You failed. And after the failure you took an objective after-action review of the event and separated out all the useful information and discarded values outside your control that cannot be adjusted for. Now we must analyze the data and create a plan of action to lead to a desired outcome.

Step 1: Define the Problem
What happened during the trial period? Were you too weak? Too slow? Not enough stamina to complete the test? Was it the equipment?

Use the data and state a clear, specific problem to be worked on. Also, define what the problem should look like by the end of the next pre-trial period. This helps us label our "before" and "after" states for future comparison.

Step 2: Measure the Problem
What are the Problem's capabilities? What is your max bench press? How quickly can you run a mile?

Measure the current state of the problem as you've defined it. This will give you a baseline to gauge improvement against.

Step 3: Attack the Problem
Now that the problem as been clearly defined and its current capability measured, it is time to create a plan to get you from the current state to the desired state. Step 3 is a crucial stage and must be thought out fully. Look at the data: What worked? What didn't? Apply the Pareto Principle and redesign the program around the best ideas from the previous attempt. Discard the rest.

The plan of attack can be thought of as your training program, and should set out the specific sets, reps and distances you will need to perform at every session to get to your goal by the next trial. The program may be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months. Remember that good training programs are (1) progressive--continuously overloading the body and forcing it to adjust to the new demands, (2) periodized--focusing on one training aspect before moving on to the next, and (3) appropriate--not harming the body or causing serious injury.

If you need help designing a solid training program, seek the guidance of a Certified Personal Trainer or Strength Coach. Email me for a quick consultation.

Step 4: Control the Problem
Closely monitor the problem and make sure it doesn't get worse. Compare your current state in the pre-trial to your original problem (the before) and your desired goal (the after). Are you closer now to your goal than when you began? If not, do not wait to make changes to the program: reevaluate the plan of attack and make modifications. Do you need to use more weight? Run faster? Run longer? Small changes to the program now can help increase the probability of meeting and exceeding your goals at the next trial period.

Step 5: Anticipate, Adapt and Improvise
The more times you cycle through the above process, the easier and faster it becomes. With each problem and plan of action you create, you gather experience and will begin to notice repeating patterns. These patterns allow you to anticipate complications and improvise solutions. For example--if you know the power rack at your gym is always taken after 5pm, you can schedule your training session earlier in the day to guarantee access to the equipment; or you can design a program that doesn't require the power rack to begin with, avoiding the issue altogether.

As long as we review the failure and define a problem to measure, attack and control, we can learn from our failures and collect experiences that will allow us to better predict and avoid re-visiting issues in the future.

Do not fear failure. Embrace it and accept it. Learn from it and grow.

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