I bet you don’t remember when you took your first steps, but I can guarantee you fell down. A lot. You failed at walking. And talking. And using a spoon.

You didn’t know what failure meant then, so you kept on trying until you succeeded. So why as adults do we resist continuing to try after a few failed attempts at something? Our culture has taught us at a young age that failure has to be avoided at all costs. But there is another way to look at failure: as something we can use to our advantage in our journey toward growth and success.

Failing your way to a successful exercise routine

Let’s consider exercise as an example. Everyone knows exercise is a fundamental part of a healthy lifestyle, not just for physiological fitness but for mental and emotional fitness as well. When you feel good about your body, everything in life tends to fall into place. You look better so you eat better. You eat better so you feel better so you perform better. It’s all very synergistic.

But finding the perfect exercise routine takes a lot of trial and error. Or, put another way, it takes a lot of failure.

My relationship with failure in school

I used to be ashamed of failure as much as anyone else. At school, Field Day filled me with dread. Having a distinct lack of athletic ability, I knew I’d be overlooked by the team captain for every event. I believed I had no skill and no talent in any sport and plotted to be conveniently ill so I could hide out in the nurse’s office all day. I felt weak and unpopular.

Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment someone told me I was no good at sports. I internalized that belief and from that point forward believed I was simply no good at anything athletic. Trying to develop and stick to an exercise routine was a chore instead of the healthy choice it should’ve been.

Obesity as a growing global problem

I’m not the only one who felt this way as a kid. According to the World Health Organization, obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975 across the board for all age groups. Most notably, over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.

It’s also no surprise that exercise has been slashed from school curriculums worldwide. This short-sighted decision has bred a generation of students that are unaware of the importance of exercise and unaware of how to incorporate the habit of exercise into their daily routine.

Obesity rates continue to climb as people become more and more sedentary every generation. So how can we reverse this dangerous trend? I can’t speak for the whole of society, but I can share how I was able to start leading an active lifestyle in my own life.

How I changed my relationship with failure

As I grew up and chose my occupation, I discovered I loved food. I loved to learn about it, make it, and most of all, eat it. I became fascinated with the concept that food was fuel for my body, so I learned about the best fuel for my body and how it could nourish and heal me.

I knew I needed to incorporate exercise into my daily life, but I didn’t want to feel miserable doing it or ashamed for not doing it. I needed to adjust my perception from an expectation of perfect athletic performance to one of just showing up and seeing what happened.

I tried everything: group aerobics, softball, basketball, spin classes, you name it. But still, I resented having to ‘show up’ for something that I wasn’t genuinely looking forward to. I wanted to have fun at getting fit, but first I had to figure out how to reframe my own concept of failure.

Seeing failure as part of the process and accepting it as an inevitable instead of something shameful let me try new things without so much pressure on myself. Eventually, I found the type of exercise that is exactly my jam: running. I’m proud to say I have competed in multiple 5K runs over the last 25 years.

Find Your Jam

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you find your jam:

  • What did I love to play as a kid? Kickball? Softball? Or did I like dancing in my room all by myself, or riding my bike?
  • What time of day am I most active? What does my schedule look like? Am I an early bird or a night owl?
  • Am I a competitive person or do I just want to have fun? Sometimes the best exercise is when you don’t even know you are doing it. Team sports like soccer, baseball, volleyball, hiking, and even dancing fall into this category.
  • How much time do I want to devote to exercise? Do I want to work out daily or a few times a week? What can I genuinely commit to for optimum results?
  • Do I want to exercise alone or in a group? Am I happier in a group or do I prefer ‘lone warrior’ pursuits like the bike or the track or the treadmill?
  • What does my budget look like? Can I afford things like gym or team fees, uniforms and equipment?

The key here is to focus on the process, not the end goal.

Try something. Fail at it. Fail at it repeatedly until you find the program that works for you.

Failure is not a bad thing, it simply means you haven’t found the solution or process that works for you yet. This theory can (and should) be applied to every aspect of your life. If you never try, you will always fail. Yet with every failure, you are closer to a victory. It’s the process that counts.

As NBA All-Star Michael Jordan so famously says, “The key to success is failure.” So keep trying, and keep failing. And keep on keeping on!

Shannon Llewellyn is the health writer for Universal Owl. A Cordon Bleu chef who always enjoyed writing on the side, she recently made the transition into writing full-time.

Her spare time is mostly taken up with running, meditating, yoga, and being grandma to Sammy.

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