When I read this quote by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” I was struck by the power of his words. Though few, they tell an inspiring story. Reading them carefully, you’ll see that the only word missing is the conclusion of the story: “succeed.”
Not to bore you with an English lesson, but let’s dissect what Beckett is saying. “Ever tried.” I hear from clients all the time how hard they’ve tried…and how long they’ve been trying. By the time they reach me, they’re often at the end of their rope, having lost 100 pounds or more two or three times and regained it all and then some. Which brings us to “Ever failed.” All of them feel like utter and complete failures, never realizing that it’s diets which have failed them. Diets do work for some people—about 5% of the population—but they don’t cut it for the other 95% of us!
Moving on to “No matter. Try again,” Beckett is saying that failing is no big deal. It’s par for the course, so just get up, dust yourself off and give it another go because you’re not the failure you think you are. He knows that progress is a process. What a hopeful message! He’s saying that in the trying and failing, something vital is going on. He’s saying, don’t simply take trying and failing at face value; look beneath them.
And here’s where we get to the essence of Beckett’s message. If you missed the change in direction of “No matter. Try again,” you might think that “Fail again” is more of the same and that trying and failing might go on as long as you live. But that’s not where Beckett is going. He has a totally different agenda than rubbing your face in it. He’s reframing what’s happening when he says, “Fail again. Fail better.” Failing better means doing it differently each attempt, learning more, starting in a new place, perhaps even feeling better about the failure which means that you may not yet be succeeding, but that you’re actually moving forward each time you fail.
His point is that every failure is not the same nor has it the same chance of success. Each failure teaches us something that baby-steps us closer to our goals because we’ve acquired new information. You’re far from the same person you were when you first—or even last—dieted and regained weight. You’re wiser and know more clearly what works and what doesn’t. You know now that diets don’t work. Learning “normal” eating skills does. Not at first and not quickly. But with each step forward and each setback, you’re growing and changing. By failing better, you’re closing in on success.