Success or Failure? You Decide!

We’ve all had those days. You established certain targets or goals that you sought to meet. And when push came to shove, you were unable to reach them. As athletes, this happens to us with regularity (at least with me!). On paper, your effort might look like a failure, as you did not meet the targets you set out for yourself. But I’ve learned that every workout, every day, every moment can be viewed as a success. It’s all a matter of the mindset with which you approach the situation and how you adjust your expectations when things don’t go according to plan.

Last week, I was doing a fairly challenging trainer ride on Trainer Road. Some very tall, daunting blue boxes representing my targets loomed on my computer screen. Would I hit those targets? Could I hit them? I really wasn’t sure. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in myself. I just wasn’t sure if I physically had the capability to hit the targets. The workout consisted of 3 sets of 4 x 2 minute VO2 Max / Anaerobic intervals. The sets went from very hard, to hellishly hard, to just flat out hard. I got through the first set, staying pretty close to my target. Although after I completed the hard set, I wasn’t sure I had too much more to give. I knew the next set would be even harder. Two minutes of all an all out effort. Beep, beep, beep, BEEP! I started pedaling as hard as I could. After about a minute my body started sending those signals — signals of pain: my quads burned, my heart raced, my chest heaved, and sweat dripped in my eyes. I counted down the seconds until the interval ended. The numbers came in. I fell short. 18 watts short. My head dropped. I couldn’t hit the target. The next interval loomed in a couple of minutes. How could I turn this around? Where do I go from here?

Instead of internalizing the situation and thinking negatively about myself, I thought about how I could turn this workout into a positive experience. What could I do moving forward to feel successful when the workout was over? To feel like I accomplished something, despite not hitting the established targets? Maybe if I paced myself better on this next interval, I could come closer to the target. Next interval completed: 1 watt higher. Success. I held steady. I increased my power output. Two intervals down, two to go. The initial power target now became obsolete. My re-framed goal now consisted of simply keeping my effort consistent and steady. The third interval complete: 6 watts higher than the first. Success! 4th interval: 5 watts higher than the first. I pumped my fist in exuberance. Despite not hitting any of the 4 assigned targets (or even coming close), I felt like I had accomplished something significant. I improved my performance. I held steady. On that day, those factors defined my success.

I do try to objectively think about the situation and analyze why I couldn’t hit those power targets in the workout. Maybe I was fatigued from previous workouts. Maybe I need to build my anaerobic capacity. Maybe I was not 100% due to a cold I had been fighting. It could have been a variety of factors. But I know that I need to personally detach myself from this type of analysis. My success is not defined by whether or not I hit the initial targets. My success is defined by how I handled the situation. How I adapted, changed my expectations, and ultimately found a way to feel successful in the moment.

I truly believe that you can be successful in every situation. It’s all in how you define success. You might think from the outset that success is defined by whether or not you reach your initial targets or goals. But if you enter the situation with a flexible mindset, you can easily re-frame your goals and targets along the way setting yourself up for success in any situation. It brings me back to my first half ironman of the 2015 season when I missed a turn and rode an extra 17 miles (yes 17 miles!) on the bike. I remember a bystander (my mom!) commenting on how disappointed I must have been after the race. Sure I had high hopes for performing well in the race, and that initial goal had to be tossed out the window. BUT I finished the race with the fastest female run split in the race, despite biking 17 miles more than anyone else. And that was a HUGE success in my book! On paper, I failed during that race. But in my mind, I was successful.

We all strive to be successful in whatever we do in life. With a flexible mindset and a willingness to adapt and change your expectations, you will find that success will be much more readily available to you!

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