It’s easy to get frustrated with yourself when you don’t get things right first time. Tony says we should remember that we’re only human and give ourselves a break.

Have you ever watched a toddler taking his or her first steps? If you have (and even if you haven’t) every toddler who is learning to walk will take one or two (maybe more) very wobbly steps and will then fall over. Assuming that there is an adult watching, it is very rare that the toddler will cry because the nearby adult will probably do two things.

The adult will leap up, rush over to the toddler, pick the toddler back up onto their feet, and congratulate and encourage the toddler until they try again.

This process will continue until the toddler is tired, at which point the adult will distract them with something else to do until they are ready to try again or perhaps until the next day. And so the process goes… Eventually, the toddler will be walking.

What about learning to ride a bike? If you remember learning, or have observed a child learning, the process is remarkably similar. And I’m curious: have you ever heard an adult saying to a toddler or a youngster learning to ride a bike: “Look, you’ve fallen over two or three times now. I can’t see any obvious improvement. You’re obviously not any good at this walking (or cycling) thing, so I suggest that you just give up and stick to crawling (or that scooter).”

I would bet anything that there isn’t one person reading this who has ever heard anything like that comment in their entire life. I’m sure you would be shocked and horrified if you ever heard that.

Learning curve

Try, fail, pick up, encourage; try, fail, pick up, encourage; try, fail, pick up, encourage … try, fail, pick up, encourage; try, succeed is pretty much the way we humans learn anything. It was the same when you learnt to drive wasn’t it? I don’t mean that you necessarily failed your test multiple times, although you might have done, but that was the way your driving lessons went (well, mine did).

So if all that’s true, when adults take up running again after years of not doing it, or they start training to run a distance they’ve never done before, why is it that they speak to themselves in exactly the way I described above

Perhaps they have forgotten that a graph showing the improvement of any human learning a new skill doesn’t resemble a smooth curve steadily increasing as time passes. Instead, it looks more like a serrated edge moving up a bit, falling back a little and so on.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm”. Perhaps he observed one of his own children learning to walk?

So how do you maintain enthusiasm when you keep falling, or you appear to be moving backwards? Research carried out on service personnel wounded in combat has found that having support networks is a key factor in helping develop resilience – it comes back to having someone pick you up and encourage you.

This is why so many new runners or runners attempting new challenges are far more likely to achieve their goals when they join a running group or have someone who runs with them.


Tony Phillips is a personal coach working with entrepreneurs and business leaders. An enthusiastic back of the pack runner, in January 2010 he began an experiment to see how many consecutive days he could run at least a mile. Tony is fascinated by the lessons running and daily habits teach him about life.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @AMileEachDay or