How fun is it to watch a child learn to walk? It takes time—months of struggling (rolling over, getting up on all fours, crawling) for a child to finally stand up…only to fall. He gets back up and falls. Yet he doesn’t give up. He gets up, falls, gets up, falls, gets up…. He just keeps bouncing back.
I’ve noticed that in the beginning, most children will climb to their feet while holding onto something like a couch. After lots of practice they are able to get up and scoot as long as they are holding onto the couch. Then they let go and immediately fall. They do this again and again until they can finally stand, albeit a little wobbly, without immediately falling. Then they try to take a step without holding on and what happens? They fall. But they get up and try again. They keep at it until they can take a step holding onto the hand or finger of an adult. Eventually they can take a step without holding on. They fall but get up try again. Before long they’ll be taking a few steps usually towards a parent who’s proudly coaxing them forward. It’s actually quite fun and even humorous to watch as you can see in this video.
I don’t think that there’s any negative self-talk going on in a baby’s mind. No, a baby has a vision of herself walking and simply moves towards the vision in spite of setbacks and failures. Can you imagine a baby all hung up on the number of times she falls on her rump or her face? “Ouch, that hurt.” “I’m not sure I can do it.” “I can’t believe I fell again–that’s at least a thousand times.” “Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought.” “Dang, maybe it would be easier if I stick with crawling.”
Nope, a baby has a vision of herself walking and doesn’t focus on the setbacks. She doesn’t empower them. She believes. She is absolutely certain of her ability to walk so when she falls she pops right back up to try again.
A clear memory from when my kids were young was watching our son Jonathan learn to walk. I recall sitting on the couch in our living room as he stood in the middle of the floor (unaided by any props) and practiced standing. He stood and fell, stood and fell, over and over for a good 45 minutes. I was both amused and inspired. “Dang that kid’s got some determination.” The grin on his face, when he was able to stand and take a few steps forward, was priceless.
How different for us adults. We have a vision or set a goal and then inevitably have setbacks and failures as we start moving forward. By the way, the bigger the vision, the more we’re going to fail. Pretty soon we’re talking to ourselves—“This is hard.” “It’s taking a lot longer than I thought.” “Why don’t others support me?” “Oh, I’m so tired.” “Another rejection.” “I can’t take many more of these.” “I’m not sure it’s worth it.” “I’m not cut out for this.” And then we give up.
Why not learn?
So why not learn from a baby. He sees the goal not the failures. The failures don’t matter. In fact, he knows, intuitively, they are part of the process. More importantly, the child knows he’s going to succeed which is why he keeps getting up each time he falls. The joy, freedom and power associated with walking are a lot bigger than any feelings of failure. So he pushes ahead again and again and again.
What if we adopted this perspective? What if we, as adults, set a big goal—like learning to speak a foreign language, earning an advanced degree, running a marathon, landing a new job, starting my own business, or raising a child—knowing that there will be lots of setbacks and failures along the way. Knowing that the failures are an inevitable part of the process. But rather than focusing on the failures, we keep our sight on the rewards of joy, freedom, power, ________ (you fill in the blank), that come from achieving the goal. What if we reframe the setbacks as a necessary part of the process, the learning and practice necessary to accomplish something big and meaningful? What if we use setbacks to inspire and motivate rather than deflate us?
We’d achieve a lot more goals.
We’d be a lot more excited about life.
We’d also stretch and grow and become a better version of ourselves, which, by the way, may be the biggest prize of all—who we are becoming as we set and move forward towards our goals.
Tell me how you have experienced this phenomenon. How have you bounced right back from a setback or failure as you’ve gone after one of your goals? How did sticking with it ultimately affect your life?