Geoff Miller

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Mental Skills Manual Part VI: Dealing With Failure

In Tips for Improving Performance on December 10, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Dealing with Failure

Know what to do when you don’t get what you want

The first question players must ask themselves in this section is whether they are optimists or pessimists.  Dealing with failure is very different depending on whether your glass is half empty or half full.  And the way we perceive the presence of “luck” has something to do with dealing with failure, as well.  This section will mostly be about the concept of framing and strategies that you can use to develop a positive attitude, even in the worst of times.

Key ideas:

  1. Optimism vs. Pessimism
  2. Silver Lining and  “movie editing”
  3. Luck = Hard Work + Opportunity + Randomness

Optimism vs. Pessimism

The simplest way to find out how a person will deal with failure is to find out if he is an optimist or a pessimist.

The Optimist sees the glass as half full.  Optimists naturally have positive attitudes and they will notice the good things that happen in their lives.  They may notice when bad things happen, but they don’t dwell on them.

The Pessimist sees the glass as half empty.  Pessimists naturally notice the bad things that happen in their lives.  They may notice when good things happen, but they don’t generally attribute those good things to themselves, often referring to luck and wondering when it will run out when things are good.

It is easy to tell the difference between an optimist and a pessimist.  Ask a few simple questions about how someone’s day is going, how they are playing, how the season is faring and you can know all you need to know.

Building Optimism

Dealing with failure is important in baseball because there is so much of it.  There are tons of clichés about failing 70% of the time and going to the Hall of Fame and so on.  And anyone who has been around professional baseball for any amount of time can get a sense for how drastic the difference can be from the amateur game.  One of the biggest adjustments that professional players make is learning to deal with failing much more than they did in high school or college.  And the difference between the big leagues and the minor leagues can make you feel like you are completely starting over in what you know about the game.  Our first strategy for dealing with failure is to build as much optimism as possible.

  1. Get a notebook and start writing down three things you did well every single day, no matter how bad that day turned out.
  2. This might be extremely difficult at first, but keep doing it every day and it will get easier.
  3. As you continue writing things, you start looking for them all day long instead of just being able to remember them at the end of the day.
  4. Every few weeks, review your notebook to see how much progress you’ve made at noticing the good things and just how many of them happen to you on any given day.


In my classroom session on framing, I use two movie trailers from The Shining to demonstrate this point:

we decide how we remember our experiences in baseball and in life.

The first clip provides an accurate depiction of the movie, complete with haunting music, dark footage, bloody violence, and general horror.  The second clip is the complete opposite.  It’s a parody of the movie, challenging viewers to think about what it would be like if it had been made as a happy story about a foster father who takes his family up to the mountains to rediscover themselves.  The trailer is sunny, has upbeat music playing, smiles from all the characters, and Jack Nicholson pouring his heart out for his son.

EVERY bit of footage in the happy clip is an authentic clip from The Shining.  Someone pieced together enough bright, feel-good moments to turn the story into something else.

And that’s the challenge that we face in our daily lives…to find the good parts of every story we encounter.

Framing is nothing more than demonstrating a positive attitude.  The optimist has no trouble framing because he is already looking to find the best spin to his stories.  For the pessimist, framing is an exercise that needs to be undertaken so when we fail, we don’t keep playing the horror movie in our heads.  And making that feel-good movie isn’t as easy as just grabbing the good memories and tying a ribbon around them.

For the pessimist who naturally sees the glass half empty, he will need practice at slowly starting to see that there is plenty of water left in the glass and nothing he can do about the water that is gone.

The first instinct for the pessimist is going to be to notice everything that has gone wrong when he is unsuccessful.  So he is going to have to REFRAME in order to make progress until he gets better at building his optimism.

We Frame in the Style we Know

When I first presented this lesson, players were asked which of the two clips they liked better.  One player said he liked the original version, the horror plot, best.  When asked why, he said,

“Because that’s the version I know.”

This simple statement sums up the tough obstacle that we all have to overcome at some point in our lives…our experiences shape how we look at the world and how we deal with the future.  Your comfort zone isn’t always built around things that are good for you.  And venturing outside your comfort zone can prove to be difficult, even when you know that you would be better off if you did.

Movie Editing

“Movie editing” is another strategy that can be used for dealing with failure.  When a movie is being filmed and an actor fumbles a line or makes some other kind of mistake, the scene keeps rolling and the actors just start over where they messed up.  When they get the scene right, they move on to the next one.  And sometimes there are lots and lots of retakes of the same scene. But when you watch the finished product, you only see all the good scenes and the bad ones have been edited out.

Your brain has the ability to edit movies, too.  Here’s how:

  1. After you’ve had a bad day, allow yourself some time to think about the mistakes you’ve made. This first step shows what a tremendous learning opportunity players miss when they “just forget about today and move on to tomorrow” as they so often say they do when quoted in the papers.
  2. Decide what you would have done differently if the cameras had kept rolling and you could have had a do-over.
  3. Make a specific image of those plays done right in your head and really see them play out. If you hung a slider, then replay the pitch and see yourself executing it properly.  See it going to the right spot and getting the outcome you had hoped it would produce.
  4. Edit out the bad play in the sequence and then watch your edited movie from start to finish.
  5. When you’re done, you’ve just seen yourself execute successfully, and you’ve had a chance to fix the plays that didn’t go your way that day.  Now you’re ready to move on and think about the next day’s game.

In my next installment of the manual, I’ll discuss the role that luck plays in dealing with failure.

Click Here for Part I of the Manual, which offers an Introduction.

Click Here for Part II of the Manual, which begins the unit on self-knowledge.

Click Here for Part III of the Manual, which discusses Comfort Zones, Confidence, and Keeping it Simple.

Click Here for Part IV, introduction to goal setting.

Click Here for Part V, goal setting continued.

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Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, was released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:

For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at

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