My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
~ Abraham Lincoln
Simply put, what does every person want? Success in their pursuits. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and here are the top 9 reasons why people fail.
9. They don’t plan
Improvised living will give you unexpected results. You will always have a better chance to succeed in any venture if you have a plan. By forming a simple plan, former non-planners will increase their rate of success.
When you make your plan, be sure it’s specific. Don’t say, “I’m going to exercise tomorrow.” Say, “I’m taking the red van to the YMCA at 3 PM tomorrow to complete a 35 minute leg workout, starting with squats.” Having a complete vision of your intentions prepares you to execute them and you’ll be more likely to flatten obstacles in your way. I’m not just saying that. It’s been proven to be more effective.
Specific intentions work better because vague intentions are open to interpretation. What does “exercise” mean? Is walking around the house one time good enough? What happens when it’s 11:30 PM and you haven’t done anything yet? Do you exercise then?
When King Kong envisioned himself together with a specific human female, which is weird, the helicopters trying to stop him had a very difficult time doing so. King Kong knew exactly what (i.e. who) he wanted. You’ll be like King Kong if your plan is clear and desirable.
Case study: Mike Tyson didn’t plan for retirement. He made about $300 million in his career, but filed for bankruptcy in 2003. This is only possible without a solid financial plan.
8. They try to climb a mountain before they even leave the house
For 2013, my goal is to do one push-up per day. One push-up a day is easy, but it doesn’t get you very far. The value comes from starting.
In other words, I rarely stop at one push-up and I often get a solid 30 minute workout from it. I am never intimidated by the challenge, even when I’m sick or tired. This one tiny step helps me bridge the gap between couch and exercise. (Update: I’ve been going to the gym consistently for two years now, and it’s because doing one push-up a day destroyed my resistance to exercising. I wrote an acclaimed, international-bestselling book about this concept called Mini Habits.)
When you aim high, intimidation is common, and that puts your goal at risk. If my goal was 50 push-ups a day, I would have failed at times and gotten discouraged. Sometimes I do 50 push-ups a day with my “too easy” challenge, and I don’t ever feel discouraged.
This is more relevant for daily tasks and goals than long term dreams. Don’t dream to be a mediocre person. Dream big, but break that dream down into small, daily actions that inch you closer to it every day.
Lesson: One tiny step forward beats one giant leap sideways.
7. A single battle distracts them from the war
It is disappointing to lose any battle. Sometimes it’s devastating. If your business fails, if your book or script is rejected, if you don’t make the basketball team, it’s tough to be positive.
But the war is not over, is it? If your business fails, won’t you know several key things NOT to do next time? Objectively, it’s a highly useful learning experience.
Make sure you’re not one of the many people who attach their identity to a submarine. If you mentally attach your identity and your chance to succeed to your business, and your business fails… ouch. Your really cool submarine is destroyed, and you’re stuck 1000 feet under water. Instead, why not see your business as a ship that could possibly take you where you’d like to go. That way, if it sinks, you can jump overboard and still join a pirate crew.
The optimal strategy in life is to focus on winning the battle you’re in. I think most of us get this step right, but miss the next crucial one.
In real war, conditions and scenarios are altered after a battle. Both sides have gained intel about the other side’s firepower and tactics, and both sides have lost men. This calls for a modified strategy, which means zooming out for a broader view of the war.
Immediately after you receive that rejection letter, re-strategize for your “war.” Are you going to edit your book and submit it to a new publisher? Are you going to self-publish it as is? Are you going to use the same strategy until you strike gold?
The most successful leaders in the history of warfare were the ones who could modify their strategy quickly, decidedly, and strategically. Do you do the same in your life?
Even if you win a battle, you can lose ground in the war by not anticipating and preparing for the next battle. Life is full of battles, and the key is not letting any single battle distract you from your main objective in your “war” – living how you want to live.
Lesson: If you’re not currently in battle or have just finished (an event), zoom out your focus to determine the current best strategy, then zoom back in and prepare for your next battle.
6. They’re pessimists
If you go in expecting to fail, you’ve got a great chance to do it. If I expected Deep Existence to wear me out, be unpopular, and waste my time, why would I write this? Pessimism leads to failure because it decreases the amount of effort a person will put forth. Success requires effort, which is fueled by the perspective that your efforts are not in vain.
Lesson: You instinctively hesitate to invest in a sinking ship, even if you’re the one sinking it.
5. They’re scared
Fear must be cold, because it freezes people. Deer are famous for freezing right before a car hits them. Like that situation, freezing in place isn’t a smart strategy in life.
If it takes 10,000 hours to master something (as Malcolm Gladwell suggests) and fear makes us do nothing, then fear needs to go. Face your fears head on and you’ll find success right behind them. Overcoming fear is success in itself, and it opens the door for more.
Lesson: Fear is failure’s not-so-secret weapon.
Bonus tip: Fear itself is afraid of the spotlight. Get into the habit of confronting it, and soon enough, it will be afraid of YOU.
4. Excuses – they blame anyone and everything but themselves
“If she didn’t … If I wasn’t living here… If the economy… If that hadn’t happened…”
Blaming others, while a lousy thing to do, isn’t even the problem – it’s the poisoned perspective it reveals! Do you know what it really means?
Excuses and throwing blame are the same way of saying, “I’m not in control.” Now that’s scary.
Everyone had a perfect excuse when the economy went into a recession in these past few years, but after telling everyone their perfect excuse, they were still in the same mess. Meanwhile, other people did well because they adapted.
Excuses feel good temporarily, but don’t be fooled, they can only hurt you. Accept full responsibility for where you are, and you’ll have a chance to change it for the better.
Lesson: You are the only variable you can control in this world.
3. They’re in the wrong place
Sometimes failure is simply a matter of location – the wrong country, the wrong state, the wrong job, the wrong hobby. This is the tricky aspect of failure – knowing when to move on to something else. Not all people are capable of success in all things.
I’m very fast and athletic, but I weigh 140 pounds and have a difficult time gaining weight due to my cheetah-style metabolism. I would literally get crushed in the NFL. There was a point in my life when I had to accept the reality that I wasn’t built for professional football, my favorite sport. Anyone need a tissue? Oh come on! It’s so sad!
Right now, there is someone doing a mediocre job at work, who could be world class in another field. Is it you? This is a good reason to experiment and try different things – you might latch on to something and love it enough to succeed with it.
Lesson: If a fish and a human switch places, they will both die of suffocation. Location matters.
2. They don’t care
Obviously, if you don’t care about doing it well, you won’t. Apathy can infect any area of our lives, and when it strikes, it produces bucketfuls of failure. The scariest part of apathy is how contagious it is. You’ll have it in one area of life, feel the resulting failure, and let it spread to another area. Or your apathetic friends will rub off on you.
This is one more reason to experiment and try different things – to ward off apathy. The more excited about your life and the possibilities to explore, the better! Apathy can often lead to the worst-case scenario of human life. That worst-case scenario is next on the list as the number one reason for failure, and it’s the saddest thing you’ll ever see in a human being.
Lesson: The more you care, the more you’ll succeed.
1. They give up
It crushes me to see it – a human being full of potential…giving up. Suicide is the ultimate expression of giving up, and in my opinion it is life’s most tragic event. We all have a place in this world, and suicide is giving up before you find it.
Giving up isn’t always so obvious. It can be the guy in the cubicle making 90k a year, who has been slowly drained of his vigor for life, accepting misery because it’s bundled with a nice paycheck. It might be the popular girl in class, who secretly hates herself for being fake and not having any real friends, feeling hopelessly trapped by the facade she’s created. Anybody you see could be giving up in some area of their life.
If you’ve ever seen someone you love give up on their dream or struggle, even temporarily, you know of the sinking feeling you get. Giving up is the number one reason people fail because it is the only permanent failure. As long as you are actively trying, you have not failed yet. But once you give up, success will not arrive unexpectedly.
You can have the worst strategy and focus on all of the wrong things, but as long as you keep trying, you will learn and have hope. That is an important truth.
Failure happens; none of us escape unblemished. But for every single person who has ever lived, the secret of life is an unflinching, inspiring little phrase that has shaped nations, bought freedom, saved lives, and fulfilled so many dreams…