“How failing, losing or looking foolish is often the fastest way to become good at something!” Here’s my experience…

I like to ski, I’m not exceptionally good and it’s not a pursuit that I do with great regularity, but I’ve attacked my share of slopes in the past and the lessons I’ve learnt from them seem very appropriate to share now…

Best-selling authors such as Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code) and Matthew Syed (Bounce) have repeatedly emphasised the concept of learning, developing and improving through stretching yourself beyond your existing level of competence, to the point where you are failing with far greater regularity than succeeding).

Both state in their books that this is one of the most effective methods of becoming better at something, reinforcing their arguments with an abundance of research and evidence.

With that premise in mind, I cast my mind back to my own personal experience of this, notably when I’ve been skiing.

Most of you will be aware that ski slopes are graded from Red (easiest) to Black (hardest).

I used to find that when I was skiing by myself, I would naturally gravitate to the Greens and the (easier) Blues – the slopes where I felt (and looked) most in control. This was clearly my comfort zone.

However I clearly remember one trip I was on with a very adventurous skier (Derek was his name) and he took me away from my familiar slopes off to some ‘Double Diamond Black’ Slopes.

Quite simply, I crashed and burned on these slopes, spending more time on my backside and putting repeatedly re-fixing my skis, than anything you could remotely call skiing. I was on this slope for what seemed like an eternity, trying to make turns, attempting not to sink into deep powder. All the time becoming more and more frustrated, angry and feeling quite useless and inept.


Once I finally got off those crazy slopes, I still needed to negotiate a series of Black and then Blue runs in order to make my way back down the mountains – slopes that I had not ever ventured onto before (And all I am thinking is ‘here we go again’).

You’ve probably guessed what happens next!

To my surprise, I was able to negotiate these slopes far better than I had ever imagined. I actually enjoyed the challenge of coming down a Black run and felt quite accomplished at how I then handled the Blue’s.

Looking back at the experience, I can now see that I was clearly learning and developing (whilst feeling at my most useless and pathetic if I’m honest!) through pushing my limits beyond anything they’d ever encountered before.

The shame of this experience is that it is only now, with the knowledge I’ve gained through reading the excellent work of Coyle and Syed that I’ve been able to reflect on this and other similar experiences in my life.

Unfortunately, my reaction at that time was to feel foolish for attempting something ‘that was clearly for people who are more talented than me.’ As a result I regretfully never returned to repeat the process, preferring to return to my areas of comfort and familiarity (in my case the easier Blue runs).

So, now that I’ve made this a conscious thought, I need to go and find some more Double Black Diamond Slopes in other areas of my life and become far more comfortable with feeling completely out of my depth, failing with regularity and looking incredibly foolish!

More information:

If you’ve enjoyed this article, then can I recommend that you listen to to audio interviews; the first is Pen Hadow (Polar Explorer) discussing ‘learning through failure’ and the second is with Matthew Syed, author of Bounce.

And, just so you know who I am…. I’m Kevin Matthews, Producer of the Maximise Potential Podcast, and from time to time I try and put my own perspective on situations I’ve faced over the years and share the lessons that I’ve learnt.

If you’re a fan of TWITTER, please come and connect with me and share your experiences @maximisemylife!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!