Do you remember the line from Apollo 13, where the character played by Ed Harris says "Failure is NOT an option?"  It's one of my favorite movie lines of all time, but there's a catch ... I disagree with it! 

While in a life-or-death situation, it makes sense to shrug off any thought of being anything less than successful, what happens in the gym on a day to day basis and your fitness goals are not life-or-death (well, at least not in the immediate sense!).

This kind of all-or-nothing thinking leads to two main problems:

1 - It leads to people setting goals that are WAAAYYY too easy.

In order to avoid the dreaded occurrence of failing, many set goals they know they can accomplish.

"What's wrong with that?" you might ask.

I'll tell you.  An easy goal doesn't stretch you, and thus it doesn't make you better.  The way to strengthen something is to challenge it.  Let me explain with one of my many stories of my days as a budding, young martial artist.  About the time I achieved my blue belt (an intermediate level), the class I was attending was changed to a lower level class, due to the fact that there were only two of us still in the class. 

We both had the option to stay in the class or to move up to the brown belt class (the most advanced class at the time - nobody had been promoted to black belt yet).  Scheduling wise, the brown belt class made the most sense for me, although I was petrified.  My class mate opted to stay in the beginner class.  I remember the first time my instructor said, "Go get your gear."  That meant we were going to spar.  In addition to having more experience, the kids in the class were older ... there were even a few adults in the class.  The 60 minutes felt like a day and a half as the brown belts took turns pummeling me. 

After a couple of weeks of this torture, I ran into my former class mate and we decided to work out together for old time's sake.  The last time we tapped gloves, we were pretty evenly matched, but I was shocked to find out that I could pretty much hit him at will.  Despite our previously even match up and same amount of training, I improved by leaps and bounds over him.  From then on, I began seeking out the most challenging sparring partners because I knew, although it would be brutal, it would ultimately make me better.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with starting out with small goals, but don't fall into the easy goal black hole and never escape. 

Snowball your goals to make them harder and harder.  Remember, if it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you!


2 - It creates a sense of "I'll never accomplish it, so why even try?"

As children, we were taught the adage, "If at first you don't succeed; try, try again."  Having grown up, I realize that pride gets in the way of the majority of people (myself included), and the idea of failing has such a negative connotation, we can't stand the mere thought of it.  Our childhood adage lends way to "If at first you don't succeed; fix the blame fast."  We've lost our sense of just giving something a shot.  If we do fail, we feel as though we have to justify the failure.  WHO CARES?  Just pick up the pieces, dust yourself off, and give it another shot.

Here's something interesting about ambitious goals.  If I fail to achieve a goal, I fail.  It doesn't matter how big the goal is.  So, if I set a bigger goal, I don't necessarily fail bigger.  Typically, I even fail better.  Here's what I mean.  I once set a goal to run a 5 kilometer race in under 21 minutes.  I trained very hard.  I could do it on a treadmill, but for some reason, I could never continue the speed when I ran outside.  On race day, I ran the 5k in 25 minutes flat.  Some might say I failed, which technically I did, but it was still a new personal record for me.  If I had resolved to run it in 26 minutes, I probably would have succeeded, but I never would have known how fast I could have done it.  My real-life "failure" was a better result than the theoretical "success" would have been.  I failed better; and with that kind of failure, who needs success?

So, in closing, if you're hanging off of a cliff, failure is not an option because it would mean probable death.  Last time I checked, however, we're not hanging off any cliffs, so let's set some ambitious goals and get about the business of achieving them.  If we fail, who cares ... try, try again!

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." -Samuel Beckett