Learning from Success with NaNoWriMo


Three years in a row! Hooray for me. Okay, enough celebrating.

As a Neo-Renaissance man, I’m all about learning from life’s experiences, good and bad, successes and failures. The old saying is, “You learn more from failure than success.” But is that true?

I’m not so sure. Of course, touching the hot pan when you are two years old and getting a burn that sends you running and screaming to mom teaches you one of the great lessons of all: fire and heat can kill you, or at least hurt like hell. So yes, some failures teach us great lessons.

But what about small failures that maybe repeat themselves, like promising yourself you’ll exercise five days a week for 30 minutes starting on January 1? Or vowing for the tenth time that same January first to lose 10 pounds, but failing the previous nine times. Don’t those failures reinforce the belief that we are failures at “something,”  with the implication of “Once a failure, always a failure”?

Maybe learning something from success is a better way to go. Your success reinforces positive feelings as well as positive habits. At least for things you attempt that reinforce a positive behavior you want to develop, or help you reach some more tangible goal like saving money or learning a new language.

My three-years-in-a-row success in writing 50,000 words each November reinforces the belief that I am a real writer. That I can achieve challenging goals that few people are capable of. That I can have discipline to stick to my task when TV beckons, or friends invite me over, or Thanksgiving intrudes and gives me a great excuse not to write. That I can prepare extensively before NNWM to outline or plot or develop characters or settings and focus on the big picture.

So learning from success might teach us more. Perhaps instead of trying to achieve grand goals such as getting in shape, losing 20 pounds, writing the Great American Novel, we should set smaller goals that we have a much better chance of succeeding at. Instead of getting in shape, my goal will be to exercise for 15 minutes today. And when I succeed at that goal, I can tell myself I’ve started on the path to success and all I need to do to reinforce it is exercise for 15 minutes tomorrow. And so on, until I’ve built up a bunch of small successes into a bigger success. Okay, I exercised five times this week, 15 minutes each time, which means I’ve exercised for one whole week. Now my goal is to repeat that success and exercise for another week, but now I know that it’s better to set that daily goal and celebrate each day’s success to build up my resolve and my good habit, rather than delay celebrating until that second week of exercise is completed.

A Neo Renaissance life can always be looked at from different angles, turned upside down or inside out, and help us learn how we learn, how we find ways to succeed, rather than rack up a string of failures at seemingly insurmountable goals and end up not growing or learning anything other than “Failure sucks.”

My question: What have  you succeeded at recently and learned from more than you would have if you had failed? What have you failed at but only learned something negative about yourself? Do you agree with my idea that we can learn more from success IF we restructure our challenges?

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