Last week I failed ... and I hope to fail again this week

A couple of weeks ago I had the priviledge of conducting a gamification workshop at the USDLA conference in St. Louis. I will write more about that later but the key point I was reminded about in a very painful fashion over the past couple of weeks was about practicing what I preach. In this case, dealing with failure.

I was not the only speaker at the conference to discuss the importance of failure in learning or to talk about the way we perceive and need to reframe failure. It has been cited that gamers can spend up to 80% of their time failing and in fact find games in which they fail some to be far preferable and rate as more enjoyable than those in which the win comes without the struggle. Failure is the pathway to learning, to progress and mastery. Dr. Jason Fox goes so far in his book The Game Changer to say that "Success is simply the failure to fail." So failure is good, right? Well, yes, until it happens to us. Then is often feels really sucky.

That was where I was last week when I finally had to conceed that I needed to break a streak that had been going on for about 18 months. I had succeeded every day to meet my walking goals on Fitbit. I had gotten my stars and badges and I had a streak going that I had started to actually believe would never end. Until it did. Ugggh. And it did so in crashing fashion. I hurt my hip and despite my insistence that I could "walk it off" or power through or whatever, it became increasingly apparent that that was not going to be an option. I reach the point that it was excruciating to go from a standing to sitting position and I couldn't properly lift my leg to go up stairs. I had to admit defeat. It was tortuous. It was the emotional version of the physical pain times ten. But I survived the end of the streak and now I have some new perspective.

I started reflecting on the experience and tried to break down why it was so hard to admit failure. I was the one only the week before extolling it. Encouraging it. And now I was being a hypocrit. Licking my wounds and feeling, well, like a failure. But in failing I had a chance to win. My hip slowly started to feel better. Today I may (but I'm not going to push) get back to my goal level of walking. But it will be slower. More methodical. And if not today, that's OK, because I had begrudingly given myself permission to refrain from walking until June 1. 

Just to be clear, though. It was not about the stars. I have witnessed first-hand that moment when the extrinsic rewards used to conjole kids cease working. I remember clearly watching a friend's daughter defiantly refuse her dinner, followed quickly with the reward-slashing retort of "and I don't want any dessert." Ouch, mom. I know that smarted. She outsmarted you. She refused the "star." But my stars were different, I realized. They had a meaning. They represented a trend. They showed my determination, commitment, progress, and yes completion of the task. It wasn't that I didn't get the star per se, it was how I was perceiving my failure. I was placing more importance on completing an admittedly arbitrary goal than I was in taking good care of myself, which was part of the point of walking to begin with.

This got me to thinking about other failures and how I could reframe them. Reboot projects. Re-energize my motivations. Like this blog, for instance. Due to a family emergency and other factors I have been woefully neglectful of sharing things here, but today I start anew. I am finding a new balance. I am resetting and realigning my goals. I will fail some more, but it is in the learning from the failure that success happens.

I'm also thinking a lot about failure today because I started reading The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games by Jesper Juul. I highlighted the following passage among others as I dug into the book on my morning commute: "Video games are for me a space of reflection, a constant measuring of my abilities, a mirror in which I can see my everyday behavior reflected, amplified, distorted, and revealed, a place where I deal with failure and learn how to rise to a challenge." I realized as I read this how much of a gameful mindset I have adopted over the years. I could easily exchange "Real life is" for the introductory words "Video games are" in his passage. I am ever mindful of checking in with myself, although as confessed above, I sometimes need a nudge to check in.

But this also got me thinking about Carol Dweck's work with fixed and growth mindsets. A gameful mindset is essentially another name or variety of the growth mindset. To play games is to believe that there is the possibility of success with the acknowledgement that failure is an option. I may not win this time, but I can try again. And in simply trying again there is success. So play some games. Win some. Lose some. Learning stuff and you will get smarter. Just check out this video from AsapSCIENCE.