Sarah Robb O’Hagan is a triathlete, activist, entrepreneur, Strava Board Member, CEO of Flywheel Sports, former President of Gatorade and Equinox, and executive at Nike and Virgin Atlantic – and most importantly – Sarah will tell you that she’s a frequent failure. Her new book EXTREME YOU explores many of the parallels between achieving the most of your potential as an athlete and in life. Here are her “Extreme Moves” to turn a tough injury or loss into your next achievement.
The way you beat failure is to live through it enough – pushing yourself harder but also drawing on the supportive people around you – to realize it won’t kill you, which means you can risk failing again. Failure has not only given me the fuel to overcome my setbacks, it has built up a deep reservoir of resilience in me – like an inoculation, a vaccine, against my future fears, so I can take the risks that will keep me true to my Extreme Self. I’ve learned that in frightening times, I can look around at everyone else and think, “You all don’t know you’re going to be fine. But I do.” Here are some techniques to get you through.
1. Tell the Truth and Feel the Pain
Okay, so you’ve had a setback. Well, a significant loss. No, um, actually, a great big stinking failure. If you want to turn your failure into fuel, you have to tell the truth about it, to yourself and to others you can trust. You need to admit you failed. You do actually need to feel, for a wee while, that you are a failure. The pain and the humiliation give you something to prove, and that “prove it” feeling is what you rally against. “Oh yeah? I’ll show you!”
One of my favorite tricks is to sit down and write the experience out. Journal the whole story, what really happened, until you start to feel it, the real emotion underneath. In the end, it’s not about the failure; it’s about how you react. So go ahead, write it out, imagine yourself as a big loser. Can you possibly tolerate what it would feel like to be that person? Try on the feeling of giving up the dream. See how angry that makes you. Will you close the curtains and turn off the light, curling up in the fetal position and giving up? Or will you get so fucking angry that you turn your failure into fresh determination and desire?
2. Learn How to Crash
Most skiers, like most people in general, try hard not to crash. Extremers realize that there are times you need to crash more. The person who helped me to understand that secret is Bode Miller, the most decorated downhill skier in American history. From his point of view, repeatedly crashing and failing on the slopes was what saved him from being just pretty good and trained him to become an Olympic and World champion.
“The best outcomes for me came when I performed at my maximum, got comfortable there, and made my skill set catch up,” he told me. Bode realized that he needed to crash more. He needed to fail more so he could learn what failure could teach him.
“Because I had more crashes than anyone else, because I was constantly putting myself in these extreme situations in training, I developed a skill set to manage those crashes.”
Failure was teaching Bode how to ski Extreme with minimal consequences. Instead of letting painful crashes scare him into skiing slower, he let it train him to do just the opposite: to grow more confident and capable of skiing faster, not less but more willing to take the big risks. To make the most of your Extreme gifts, you must fail, and fail well, and then, by failing, fail less.
3. Drive On
Of course, a crash is still a crash. Failure hurts like hell. When I am in pain, I get relief by doing something. I need to get to work. If I can throw my energy into doing something positive, it at least helps to numb some of the pain.
The most important thing is to maintain your forward momentum. Give yourself the gift of your next goal. Yes, you are going to be processing your failure for weeks and months to come, but you can still start marching forward toward your next success. Maybe you lost the big tennis match or you didn’t get the PR you were training for in the marathon. Commit to your next sporting challenge and face forward to achieve it. Or maybe you just missed out on a huge promotion. Scan the landscape around you, and set your sights on the next great mountain to climb. As Dan and Chip Heath, the authors of Made to Stick, wrote in Fast Company, “Retrenchment is the wrong response to adversity. Adversity calls for change, and change doesn’t arrive via a miracle: It arrives via a kick start.”
So give that motor a kick!
This is just a tiny little excerpt from Sarah’s new book EXTREME YOU. If you ask us, it’s required reading for the ambitious athlete. Preorder your copy now and get a special gift for Strava athletes – a free copy of “The Workbook of Extreme Badassery” for you to immediately get under way in exploring your unique Extreme Potential.