LifestyleSuccessThe Competitive Spirit

Use the Pain of Failure to Come Back Stronger Than Ever

The Pain of Failure

Losers make excuses. Winners make adjustments.

I remember reading an article in Flex Magazine that told the story of how the greatest bodybuilders of all-time used the pain of failure to come back bigger and better than ever before.

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dorian Yates. Ronnie Coleman. All three individuals dealt with defeat. They didn’t lie down and take it. They didn’t think “I was robbed.” They took responsibility and dug deep. They took themselves to places where they had never been before physically or mentally. The next time they got up on stage they smoked the competition.

How exactly did they do this? I’ll tell you. First off, it’s very common for people to get sad when they fail. They get depressed and their minds become cluttered with negative affirmations:

“I’m done.”

“It’s not fair.”

“I give up.”

These are the opposite of positive affirmations. Those legends of bodybuilding did not think like that. Instead, failure angered them. Winning the silver medal disgusted them. They were true #1’s so the idea of being knocked down a peg enraged them.

They developed a newfound obsession (they had to get better and reclaim the throne) that kicked their competitive spirits into overdrive. They would not tolerate defeat. They would use the pain of failure to come back stronger than ever.

Positive Anger is a powerful motivator (and your best friend after failure).

I like to think of positive anger as that motivation or drive you feel after you fail. You’re not sad or depressed.

You’re angry. You’re angry because you know you are better. Instead of pouting, you tell yourself that you’re going to use that anger as motivation. You’re going to use it as fuel to work on yourself and come back better than ever.

You are on a mission. You are out to prove to yourself that you are a winner. You will not let temporary failure stop you. You are furious at the very thought of it. Positive anger becomes your best friend.

How do I know this? Because I’ve been their many times before.

2004: How I Used the Pain of Failure to Save My Baseball Career

Albert Pujols hitting a titanic home run off of Brad Lidge during the 2005 NLCS. He was one of the players I looked up to.

In 2002, I was at the top of my game. I was an animal at the plate. I was a hitting machine.

However, that started to change in 2003. I started middle school and at that age you start playing on the “big fields.” 90 foot base paths… just like the pros. No more 75 foot base paths. Everyone went through a bit of an adjustment period for the first year. By 2004, everyone’s game was beginning to come along. Everyone except me… 2004 was an absolute disaster for me.

I just wasn’t the same player I was two years prior. I had lost all confidence in the batter’s box. During the spring school season, my batting average was an atrocious .083. The summer wasn’t much better.

For me baseball just stopped being fun. I felt like the game had outgrew me. I hadn’t grown much taller in that two year span so I was one of the shorter kids. The field still felt “big” to me. I had lost my desire to compete. In fact, I dreaded it. It even got to the point where I secretly hoped for my games to get cancelled.

After the 2004 season, I was so discouraged with my baseball career that I came close to quitting all together.

Then I came to my senses. I realized that I had just started high school. I felt so refreshed in every aspect of my life. I was in a completely different environment. I was no longer in public school because I went to a catholic high school. Had I stayed at public school, I would have definitely quit. I was that embarrassed by my previous year’s performance in school ball.

But this was a new high school… a completely new beginning. Deep down I knew I wasn’t ready to quit just yet. I still had some fight left in me.

I became motivated beyond belief. I told myself that I was going to reinvent myself as a baseball player. I was going to go back to the drawing board and change everything about my approach at the plate. I was going to use the pain of failure to destroy the competition.

It helped that my parents backed me 100% and assured me that they would they would do what they could to help me.

The first thing that helped was my mom taking me to the eye doctor. It turned out that I had poor vision and needed to wear contacts. No wonder why I was squinting all the time. My newfound perfect vision gave me a boost in confidence. I knew no matter what that I would at least see the ball better.

I became a true hitter once I started taking hitting lessons with a private instructor. He helped me out tremendously with my hitting. He was a former Major League Baseball player so he had experience competing at the highest level.

He wiped the slate clean and literally built me up from scratch. With his help, I created a new batting stance, a new way to load up, and a short compact swing with incredible bat speed.

I became obsessed with the art of hitting.

It became my craft. I worked my ass off during that winter. Not a day went by when I didn’t swing my bat.

I took hundreds of swings a day. I took swings in my living room. I took swings off of a tee I set up in my nana’s backyard. Everything was geared towards perfecting the craft of becoming a dominant power hitter.

My confidence grew by the day. I remembered how low I had felt. I remembered how close I came to quitting. I was absolutely embarrassed at my performance in 2004. I told myself that I was never going to let that happen again. I was angry but that anger made me focus on my mission.

I visualized myself hitting home runs and lining doubles in the gap. I visualized myself staring the pitcher down and daring him to challenge me. I thought about it every night. I also prayed to God every night before bed:

“Please God let my hard work pay off. Give me the strength to be the best hitter I can be.”

I worked with my hitting instructor right after school on every Friday. Starting in January 2005, I went go to the school team’s optional workouts to basically put on a hitting clinic.

All of my future teammates had slacked all winter. They hadn’t done anything since the fall so the majority of them were still very rusty. Not me. I had been in the trenches busting my ass, waiting for the chance to play again.

Every coach (and player) knew I was going to be the best pure hitter in the school. I had put in the work. They knew I had put in the work. I was a shoe-in to make the team.

I saw all of my hard work pay off immediately. Tryouts were a formality (The coach had already asked me what number I was going to wear before the team was officially picked).

My first game of high school baseball was an absolute slugfest. I went 5-5 with 2 home runs and three doubles. For me, it served as immediate validation. I was on top of the world.

The player I was in 2004 (the player who would often overthink and second guess himself at the plate) was gone. I was destined to be unstoppable in 2005. Fuck thinking. I just went up there and let it rip. I did all the thinking and tinkering with my swing in the offseason. I was locked and loaded. I was a machine and every part was working as it should.

I was supremely confident because I told myself that none of my competitors had put in the amount of work that I put in.

No one had dedicated themselves to the art of hitting to the degree that I had. No one could compete with me because no one had put in the amount of work and preparation that I had put in. I had paid the price of a good trick.

The rest of the school season followed suit. My final batting average was a whopping .577 (which led the league). I also led the league in home runs, RBI, and runs scored. I ended up winning league MVP as well as Freshman Athlete of the year for my school.

I killed it in summer baseball as well. I was very proud of myself because of the fact that I was so close to quitting the previous fall. I was so close to just packing it in. But I didn’t… I decided to give it one more shot and use the pain of failure to come back stronger than ever.

I was very grateful for the experience. I was grateful that my hitting instructor came into my life. When I was broken down, he helped me build myself back up. With his help, I was able to rediscover my love of the game and my self-confidence. This translated into my on-field performance. This made me a happier person (it also made me very popular in school).

Most importantly, I was grateful for all of my parents’ support during the entire process.

2006: How I Used the Pain of Failure to Get Over a Cheating Girlfriend

Sunrise Fitness in Holbrook, NY. This was the very first gym that I went to. It closed in 2009.

To answer your question, yes, I have been cheated on. It sucked. It made me angry. It made me angry because I knew. Deep down I knew she wasn’t good girlfriend material. Back then, I still had a basic understanding of judging a book by its cover.

She was really hot and two years older than me. Like many hot popular chicks at the top of the high school food chain, she was also a party girl.

To make a long story short, she cheated on me at an end of the school year party. She lied to me (her whore mother who paraded different men in and out of her house backed up her lies) saying that she was at her aunt’s house. Instead, she got drunk and banged some pot dealer. I dumped her ass as soon as I found out from a friend.

It wasn’t a shocking or heartbreaking experience. I knew time was running out because she was going off to college. Obviously, it still pissed me off.

My father knew that it would be unhealthy for me to just let those negative emotions simmer.

So he signed me up for my very first gym membership.

I was angry but again, it was a positive anger. I wasn’t down on myself or depressed. I was furious because I felt emasculated. I was absolutely going to do something about it. In my mind, lifting weights and getting jacked was a way for me to become more manly and intimidating.

I was motivated by the possibilities. I visualized myself weeks… months… years down the road. To be honest, I forgot about her almost immediately. I was too busy killing it in the gym. I was too busy gaining slabs of muscle. I was too busy gaining more confidence. I was too busy making new friends and hooking up with higher quality girls.

The summer of 2006 was a magical summer because that’s when my journey in the gym started. I’ve mentioned it before but now you guys know. I started working out because it was my initial escape from a failed relationship.

Once again, instinct told me to use the pain of failure to come back stronger than ever.

And that’s what I did. I shocked everyone in school when I came back with an additional 20 lbs. of muscle hanging off me. Since then it’s been all uphill. I’ve continued to develop both physically and mentally. In fact, I’ve made it my mission to never ever put myself in a position of potential weakness again.

*** I am preparing a free e-book that will specifically explain what I did in the gym (and kitchen) to make those gains in such a short period of time. That should be available soon.

2008: How I Used the Pain of Failure to Become a Better Leader and Go Out on Top

Ulf Timmerman (East Germany) was my idol in the ring. I molded my technique and emphasis on speed off of his approach.

By senior year of high school, track and field was my new “thing.” I was a natural athlete so track and field was easy for me. I won gold medals in both the sprints and the shot put on the regular.

I had helped our team win league championships by winning two gold medals and one silver (came in 2nd in shot put). Once it was time for the Winter Sports Awards dinner, I knew I was going to be leaving with some hardware. I expected to win the Coach’s Award (pretty much like team MVP).

However, it didn’t happen. I was snubbed. One of my teammates was given the award instead. He was a great athlete but he wasn’t breaking school and meet records like I was. When it was announced, a few of my teammates even gave me look like they knew I should have won.

I was so furious that I left. I drove straight to my dad’s restaurant and had a drink with him at the bar. I was so pissed at my track coach that I contemplated fucking him over by returning to the baseball field in the spring instead of staying on for spring track. If I had left it would have been a major blow to the track team.

However, I received a call from my coach later that night. We talked for about an hour. He told me that he knew his decision to pass on giving me the award was going to piss me off.

He said that was a good thing because I was the type of competitor who does better when they are angry.

He told me that I did not deserve the award because until that point I had gotten by on talent. He held me to a higher standard and said I should not be satisfied with doing just enough to win. I had to compete with emotion and leave it all out there.

I had to dedicate myself to the sport. Namely, I had to dedicate myself to becoming the number one thrower in the league. He told me that I had been satisfied with second place because everyone was giving me props on breaking school records and bringing relevancy to our throwing program (our school was known for have zero capable throwers).

He told me I had to be a better leader and be there for my team (I was notorious for never going to practice). Normally, I would just show up to the meets and dust everyone.

He ended our phone call with a challenge. He told me that he knew the baseball coaches were secretly lobbying for me to come back to the diamond. He told me he knew I had it in me to come back in the spring and sweep all three of my events.

He knew I wouldn’t call it quits because “quitting wasn’t in my DNA”. He told me that he knew I was going to plow full steam ahead and do everything I could to beat that one competitor who had always beat me in the shot put.

That’s exactly what I did. For my final track season, I was on a mission. I promised my coach that I was going to win triple gold at our league championship and help our team win. I told him I was pissed off.

I used that initial anger as motivation to go back to the drawing board and fully dedicate myself to my craft.

I continued to work on my speed for the sprints (I wasn’t worried about that).

I fully dedicated myself to the shot put. I made little adjustments to my technique. I watched hours of film and studied all of the greats. I went to practice and stayed late. I even threw my shot put in the woods behind my house. The point is, I worked on my craft every single day. In my mind, I was chasing number one. I became obsessed with it.

For the entire spring season, I continued to beat the competition. The only exceptions were the meets where the current number one attended as well. He continued to beat me and it pissed me off.

But I kept working. Finally, at the championship meet, I got him. I unleashed a monster throw and won 1st place in the shot put (and defended my other events as well). It meant a lot to me because I was chasing him (the guy I finally beat) for a year. I had put in the work and it paid off at my very last meet. I went out on top.

A few weeks later at the Spring Awards Dinner, I earned the Coach’s Award. My transition from pain (disappointment) into triumph was complete.

Thank you guys for taking the time to read this article. It’s an important lesson that we can all continue to implement into our lives.

Sonny

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11 Comments

  1. January 26, 2015 at 10:11 pm — Reply

    Sonny,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I feel like a lot of people don’t understand baseball, but reading about your experience makes me think of all the sports I played during high school and working for 4 years to win a gold in the 800 meters my senior year. Reading this post is reinforcing my decision to go completely above and beyond in training for softball this year.

    Every year our softball team makes it to the semi finals or the finals and we lose. It fucking pisses me off beyond comprehension. I’m at the point now that I don’t even want to play because I know what a time commitment it is. What keeps bringing me back is that I need to win the championship. I have trained each of the past 4 years merely by doing weight lifting. This year I’m going nuts. I committed to not drinking all year, juicing every day, and practicing my pitching every day.

    There’s something about committing to a practice regimen and following through that gives you mad confidence in your ability. It may not even be that you are physically more prepared. It may have a lot more to do with you know you mentally did everything possible and all that’s left is to play the game.

    Anyway, this is a great article and your writing is kicking ass.

    • January 27, 2015 at 5:23 pm — Reply

      Thanks dude. Yea after failure gets rubbed in your face you’re bound to get pissed off enough to want to do something about it.

  2. Conor
    January 26, 2015 at 10:34 pm — Reply

    Damn that was fantastic, definitely needed this. Sounds like your coach was a great guy and his challenge really worked.

    Looking forward to the e-book

    • January 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm — Reply

      Yea he’s a great guy.

  3. Oscar
    January 26, 2015 at 10:39 pm — Reply

    This post was inspirational, Sonny.

    Without failures there is no growth.

    Most people fear failures, and that is because they are afraid of peoples opinions and when you care about other peoples opinions, you have already lost.

    Your post reminded me of how failures are the key to success. Thomas Edison is a fine example of this, he failed over a thousand times before he succeeded.

    Your friend, Oscar.

    • January 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm — Reply

      Thanks Oscar!

  4. Jordan
    January 27, 2015 at 1:10 am — Reply

    Just wanted to let you know I enjoy reading your articles. They all sound very genuine and have a clear moral/lesson to each post. Good work bro!

    • January 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm — Reply

      Thanks brother!

  5. January 27, 2015 at 9:37 am — Reply

    I really enjoyed this story, Sonny. Thank you for sharing.
    – it’s a great example on how you can fuel your success with failure and disappointment. I can also relate to this, as I’ve had a similar external motivation for my fitness journey.
    In retrospect, ‘the push that gets one over the edge’ is often ridiculous – yet it’s worth its weight in gold.

    Personally, ‘I was thrown off a cliff’ aswell, I was born with internal motivation – it was all about deceiving disability. Being a boy with hip problems is exactly as fun as it sounds – so you learn to compensate. Check out my story, http://themindovercomes.com/legg-calve-perthes-disease/

    I’ll be looking forward to that next e-mail from strengthbysonny!

    • January 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm — Reply

      Awesome man. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. February 16, 2015 at 1:19 am — Reply

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