The Successful Failure

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03 Dec 2013

scale squeezeMany of you surely remember the 1960s, when the United States and the Soviet Union were embroiled in the space race.  As we all know, the USA won, eventually landing a man on the moon.  In spite of many bumps along the way, they reached President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade was out.  This was a success by all definitions!  However, two moon flights later, the unthinkable occurred when an oxygen tank in the Apollo 13 spacecraft exploded on the way to the moon.  Landing on the moon, the goal of the mission was no longer an option.  However, against all odds and with every complication happening to prevent it, the engineers at NASA managed to bring home the three astronauts alive and well.  The mission was stated as a failure because the astronauts didn’t achieve their goal. However, many people will tell you that it was NASA’s finest hour.  This is known in spaceflight history as the successful failure. When it comes to our health, I see successful failures every day.  People have goals they want to accomplish.  Some people reach them while others don’t, but not reaching a goal isn’t necessarily failure.

People call my office all the time to speak about our weight loss track.  They ask how the program works and what is involved financially.  Then inevitably, they ask the big question; what is your rate of success?  I have to respond by explaining that it depends on your definition of success.  What measures success in improving your health?

Let’s take a case of someone I worked with a few years ago.  A 52 year old woman entered my program with the specific goal of losing 15 kilo (33 lbs).  When we took a closer look, we also saw that she could not climb two flights of stairs in order to visit her grandchildren.  Her blood test showed elevated cholesterol levels and pre diabetes.  It took a while, but ultimately she lost half of the weight she wanted to which left her very much short of her stated weight loss goal.  But what did she accomplish?  She became an avid exerciser. Assignments like walking 30 minutes daily turned into walking briskly 45 minutes to work 5 days a week, going to spin classes twice a week, changing her eating habits enough to make a difference in her health and getting her cholesterol levels down to acceptable levels. She lost weight but not as much as she had hoped to.  However, from the point of view of overall health, her risk of serious disease was greatly diminished and her quality of life improved beyond her expectations.

Unfortunately, many physicians and other health care providers focus on one thing all the time, whether it be weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, or a host of other factors.  What is needed is a more global view of the person.  Make progress where progress can be made.  If restricting calories is too difficult for a person, start by changing their food intake to more healthful choices.  If doing a comprehensive exercise program is too overwhelming for someone, how about three 10 minute walks spread over the day? Telling someone, “You need to lose weight,” or that they should go on a diet is rarely successful.  Instead, discussing lifestyle changes and altering certain habits incrementally brings partial results quickly and motivates the person to take further steps.  It is important to set realistic goals. Goals that take a long time to achieve will only make a person feel like a failure if they don’t achieve them.

On the other hand, as in the case of our 52 year old woman, partial success can end up with incredible gains in overall health.

How we set our goals is very important.  It is overwhelming to have to lose 30 kilo (66 pounds) or more. I continuously emphasize working on one kilo at a time, one week at a time.  It might take two years, but one morning you will wake up, look in the mirror and see you are a different person.  Along the way, every pound that you lose is a pound MORE of health.  And even though the goal is to lose 30 kilo, the improvements along the way due to partial weight loss, exercise and better eating are very pronounced.  I have personally seen people go off of their blood pressure medications with very little weight loss but with important changes in lifestyle habits.
How do you set a reasonable goal?

First, Identify Your Problem Areas.    Everyone is a little different. While late night heavy meals might be one person’s reason for weight gain,  inactive lifestyle is the main problem for another. Decide for yourself where changes will benefit you the most. Don’t waste your time or effort setting goals in areas where you already do well. Prioritize your energy on those which will make the biggest differences in your life.

Second, Select a Behavior To Work On.  What new behavior pattern would you like to develop? Is there a dietary change you want to make or would you like to change something about the way you eat? Perhaps exercise is where you want to begin.  It is up to you to select a problem behavior or pattern to work on. Let’s say you determine that you are inactive and that a daily brisk walk would help you lose weight or lower your blood pressure. You should identify the problem, state your goal and starting point and get to work. That is all there is to it.

The bottom line is that with all the lofty goals we set, we have to remember that partial success is not only NOT failure, but that it brings great benefit.  Just like the rocket that went to the moon but never got there, you can be a very successful failure, which is really not failing at all.
Setting long term and reasonable goals, and enjoying and benefiting from even partial success is another way to “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”  



Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at Check out the his web site – US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.