Failure is Fertilizer by Invictus Fitness
Leading the women’s 100 meter hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, Lolo Jones clipped the second to last hurdle and dropped to seventh place. But her defining moments as an athlete are still in front of her, and there is little doubt that she will leave London with gold.

Failure is Fertilizer
Written by Nichole DeHart

“Failure is fertilizer” – I thought about this for a long time. Denis Waitley spoke those words at our recent athletes training camp. Failure is fertilizer. These words really stuck with me. At first, I automatically chalked the adage up to a reality that I was already aware of; ‘yes, yes, you learn from failing, etc etc.’ But, long after Dr. Waitley spoke, I couldn’t shake the phrase. What was about this particular saying that had me so enraptured?

Well, fertilizer can play an important role in replenishing soil of depleted nutrients. Organic fertilizers (like chicken manure) have been known to improve soil life and the productivity of soil, even improving plants absorption of essential nutrients. Fertilizer can be very important to a plant’s overall success and growth. Similarly, our own failure can be used as fertilizer. Failure plays just as important of a role in our own development as fertilizer plays a crucial role in a plant’s developement. Failure is essential to one’s growth and ultimately, success in whatever endeavor they pursued. This, of course, is only true of those who take failure for what it is, an opportunity to flourish. Denis Waitley also brought out another point when he said “winners focus on the rewards, losers focus on the penalties.” How do you view a perceived failure? Negatively, like a penalty given for playing the game of chance, or with optimism?

I started applying this mentality in the gym. Not in some feel good, have a smile on your face at all times way, but in my own mindset with how I approach my training and my clients. The first thing I immediately changed with this new perspective was to take risks. I tend to be conservative in my workouts. I will hold back the slightest bit because I am worried about my energy reserves for the remainder of the workout. However, after deciding to take more risks (also encouraged by my coach), I have reaped many benefits. Instead of pacing myself in a workout, I will push myself harder than ever. Instead of approaching the workout with doubt in my abilities, worried about what might happen if I don’t make a new personal record, I approach the training session with the view of taking away a new lesson on how to listen to my body, push myself to break through that wall and how to hold on for one more rep. Missing a lift isn’t so terrrifying now, it is just another opportunity to improve on my movement pattern. Coming off the bar during pull-ups doesn’t mean that I am a failure, it just means that I will take more opportunities to work on cycling my pull-up rhythm. The crazy thing is, this approach has actually worked! Not only have I improved my performance, but my attitude for training has been reinvigorated!

I recently read a Chinese proverb that has continued to fuel my approach of taking risks. It states, “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” This evokes the same sentiments as losers focusing only on penalties. If this is your mindset then yes, any risk will seem too daunting to take on because the penalties will be too great. On the flip side, growth will always be elusive because you have robbed yourself of a chance to evolve. Instead, be like Thomas Edison who said the following after he had an estimated 10,000 failed attempts at creating the lightbulb: “I have not failed. I’ve simply discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work.” How many opportunities do you think you would have if you adopted this motto?

It is this mindset that distinguishes elite athletes from others; their approach to their own shortcomings. No elite athlete has arrived at their peak without taking risks and facing failure. It is what they have done with their failures that has produced their success.

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February 28, 2017 8:23 pm

Great article for today

Bethanne Schwarz Plasman
Bethanne Schwarz Plasman(@Bethannes)
February 28, 2017 4:32 pm

Perfect timing read love this ! Well written .

Victor Vandel
Victor Vandel
November 29, 2012 8:17 pm

Great post Nicole! That is why i PR every week 😉 You are really an inspiration to me 🙂 Thanks for the advice you gave me today regarding my butterfly pull ups – it helped me a lot! See u in Invictus…

November 29, 2012 9:11 am

Great post Nicole! I think that it is important to recognize the importance of failing, if you don’t ever fail, can you say you really tried? And just because you failed does not mean that you are a failure!

John Franklin
John Franklin
November 28, 2012 1:36 pm

Good work Nichole. This post reminds me of my favorite Samuel Beckett quote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Aja Barto
Aja Barto
November 28, 2012 12:55 pm

I dig! Thanks guys

February 7, 2012 8:44 am

Speaking from someone that had had A LOT of failures in her life, I really enjoyed this post. I don’t have anything quite as brilliant to say aas good ol Theo, but the one thing I always tell myself, not matter how poorly I think I’ve performed, or upset at myself I get when I don’t reach my goal, I’ve done way better than those sitting at home eating their Coco-Puffs. That always makes me feel better…not that I have anything against Coco-Puffs.

February 6, 2012 10:35 pm

Awesome stuff.

February 6, 2012 8:53 pm

Great post! Love it! Bravo.

Mary DeHart
Mary DeHart
February 6, 2012 2:48 pm

Love this blog post. Really a fascinating study of how the elite athlete gets to their destination. At some level it really does come down to a mind set. Thanks for the inspiration. That being said, if you are conservative in your workouts where does that leave the rest of us???

February 6, 2012 10:18 am

Great article Nichole. I’ve been along for the ride with pushing the limits and have witnessed first hand the results of taking risks in my own training and also watching Nichole make progress by leaps and bounds. What a great way to train, you should all take her advice here.

February 6, 2012 10:46 am
Reply to  Cj Martin

Wow…I got chills when I read that quote, CJ. So awesome! Thanks for sharing this with us Nichole. Since starting my training program here, I’ve really been working on how I see failures/challenges and how I learn from them