The most important insight of agile lifestyle design is to treat your life as a series of experiments.
Above all else, this requires that you give yourself permission to fail.
Whatever evolutionary advantage this fear once had, it no longer applies to modern life. To iterate rapidly, you will need to be able to try and discard a great many options before you get to a few key purposes you can dedicate your life to.
But what do you do after you fail?
How do you move on from your failures?
Let’s assume that you’ve given a new project, a new hobby, or a new habit your best effort. And still you fail.
You learn from your failures
You probably failed for a reason. That reason might be that you don’t care enough to succeed. That’s okay.
If you tried cooking for the first time, you might realize that you hate the mess it creates. The cooking part is fine, and maybe even fun, but it’s the chopping, peeling, and cleanup that you could do without.
If that’s the case, you can try to isolate the part that you didn’t like and create a path around it. For instance, by buying tomatoes that are already diced, mushrooms that are already sliced, or meat that’s already been seasoned and just needs heat.
The point is to look for silver linings in your failures. A failure only becomes a lesson if you look for it.
Failure can mean freedom
My personal example is my wake-up time. My natural sleep cycle is something like 2:00 AM to 9 or 10 AM. That’s a pretty extreme sleep cycle for most people. This makes me a serious night owl by most definitions.
For the longest time, I felt like something was wrong with me because I wasn’t extroverted or full of energy at 8 or 9 in the morning.
I nearly failed a course in high school because I couldn’t stay awake during the early morning session. It got so bad that the teacher forced me to stand up for the whole period, utterly humiliating me in front of my classmates.
I spent a great deal of effort trying to correct what I perceived as a personal defect. I forced myself to go to sleep sooner, even though I’d still be full of energy and toss and turn. As an adult, I came to rely on enormous amounts of coffee to keep from falling asleep.
But I also noticed that when others were burning out by 2 or 3 PM, I was hitting my stride. I could work very well, late into the night.
I ultimately failed at “correcting” my sleep cycle. But in the process I learned that I was stronger at different times in the day. So I focused my work in those parts of my day instead of trying to force energy and wakefulness into my morning.
Failure leads to success
Failing is fantastic because you learn what not to do. And the faster you fail, the more quickly you can achieve success.
When you do find something successful for you, that is the time to replicate it. Success builds on success. Pretty soon, you won’t be failing that often because you will have a better process in place, and a better understanding of your tendencies.
When you fail you can have two responses:
- you can dwell on the failure, or
- you can iterate.
I hope you see that there isn’t really a choice here.
Trust that the dots will connect in your future.
Image by comedy_nose.