10 Ways to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Success is within reach just when you want to give up.

Posted Jan 13, 2019

Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash
You've got this!
Source: Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

At this writing, I can bench press 185 pounds. It wasn’t easy. I put everything I had into it. My personal trainer kept saying, “Let me see your tremor of truth.” Raising an inquisitive eyebrow at her, I grunted and trembled and sweated before reaching the goal. After the workout, she explained that the phrase “tremor of truth” is used in physical fitness circles when you push yourself to the max.

Lifting weights, you grimace as a tremor of unease shoots through your body. Your arm muscles quiver during pushups. Your legs tremble with exhaustion running a marathon. Your brain says you can’t do it. But just as grass grows through concrete, you get a second wind, persevere, and discover mental and physical reserves you didn’t know you had. And just before giving up, you push through the challenge.

So what does working out have to do with meeting your goals? The key to success—even more important than skill—is resilience, dogged determination in the face of defeat. Tremor of truth builds muscles on the physical plane and a growth mindset on the psychological plane. Meteoric obstacles often seem too great, as if you’re pushing through relentless steel, a vein of encased ore: an impossible deadline, a heartbreaking rejection, impassible obstacles, a lousy job review, or the rumble of your own self-doubt. Sometimes the setbacks make it too hard to bounce back. The hole feels too deep, too dark, the disillusionment too wide and overwhelming.

Over time rejections and disappointments nibble away at you like torture from half a million cuts. It starts to feel as if you’re bleeding to death and can’t tolerate one more slash. Statistics say more of us have the stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue following a series of psychological defeats. What about you? After repeated failure, do you throw in the towel to avoid more disappointment? Attempts to bring quick relief to the misery of defeat rob you of knowing what missed opportunities lay beyond the barrier. This impulsive reaction—scientists call it the what-the-hell effect—is a way out: permission to give up. Adding insult to injury, you seek comfort in the very thing you’re trying to conquer: failure.

Although personal growth is painful, it can be even more painful to remain tight in a secure little nest. Skill alone won’t carry you through the massive hurdles to success. Perhaps when obstacles knock you down in the success arena, the setback slams the wind out of you. Marred by dust and sweat and blood, you try again. Just when you’re ready to give up, one more tremor unearths a second wind and a vein of resilience that you didn’t know you had. A sudden jolt sizzles through you, fueling you with pit-bull determination. One extra push and you plow through the smackdown moments that brought you to your knees, moving you over the finish line.  

You can build a growth mindset by waiting for your reserves to kick in and learning how much more you’re capable of. If you give up too soon, you’ll never know if you had it in you to pull it off. And that’s a tough unknown to live with. In the heat of the moment, ask if you’re pushing hard and far enough through the gray mist of uncertainty. Or do you need to amp up your efforts? And how far do you stretch before reaching your breaking point? If you’re like most people, you can go farther than you think.

The term “springback” refers to a process when metal returns to its original shape after undergoing compression and tension (stretching). You, too, have an elastic limit to which you can stretch to a certain point before returning to our original shape. Springback moments happen after failure, mistakes, or hopelessness over seemingly impossible odds, preventing you from giving up on your dreams, no matter how improbable they seem.  

Here are ways your “tremor of truth” can mine the hidden reserves you didn’t know you had—golden opportunities to cultivate a growth mindset and push through veins of what seem like impossible hardships:

  1. Grow thick skin and expect rejections and setbacks. Commit yourself in advance to facing the many smackdowns you will encounter like all successful people do.
  2. Ditch the desire for comfort and be willing to go to the edge of your emotional pain so you can be fully present with what lays beyond the barrier.   
  3. Cultivate creative sustainability. Think of yourself as an elastic band that bends and stretches to a certain point before you spring back higher than you fall.
  4. Turn roadblocks into steppingstones. Pinpoint opportunity contained in difficulty. Make it a goal to use negative challenges—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—as lessons from which to learn. Ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or “How can I turn this matter around to my advantage?”
  5. Refer to previous experience. Reflect on past obstacles you’ve overcome. Point to lessons learned and underscore ways you have grown stronger through life’s hard knocks.
  6. Take risks. Find that one place in your life where you’ve been hiding, then stick your neck out from your comfort zone. Ask what edge you can go to. Seek challenging experiences that help you bloom instead of low-risk situations that keep you safe in a bud.
  7. Identify self-doubts that have crippled you from growing fully. Harness them—instead of running from them—and channel them into useful fuel so they don’t paralyze you.
  8. Stay off the roller coaster. Manage the ups-and-downs by treating success and defeat equally. Celebrate the highs but don’t take them anymore seriously than the lows, and don’t take downturns anymore seriously than upswings.
  9. Catch yourself when you fall. After a setback or discouraging situation, you bounce back quicker when you support yourself with loving-kindness. Instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, be on your own side, wish yourself well, and be your best advocate as you progress on your journey to success.
  10. Eschew the what-the-hell effect. This attitude only adds insult to injury. You’re never defeated until you quit. Face letdowns by taking the towel you want to throw in and use it to wipe the sweat off your face then hop back into the saddle on your journey to success.

Baseball great Babe Ruth said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” So file away this winning frame of mind and keep swinging until you hit your dreams out of the park.