9 Reasons People Fail In Life (And How To Succeed Instead)

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
~ Abraham Lincoln

man failed

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.

Fantastic submarine

Don’t view your business or current life pursuit as a submarine. If it fails, you’ll drown in disappointment. View it as a ship, preferably with lifeboats. What’s that? Yes, I know submarines are cooler. Oh, you’d like your submarine painted to look like a shark? Fine. You may view your business as a submarine shark. Sigh.

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.

Progress paves the the way to success.

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…

Never.

Give.

Up.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Jessica Flory

“Fear must be cold, because it freezes people.” Love this! I think it’s especially true with writing. People are afraid of the blank page, afraid of people hating their work, afraid of rejection. Yes, those fears are real, but if publishing is your dream, overcoming them is all worth it. Thanks for the great article!

Stephen Guise

Did you hear that? It was all of the writers in the world agreeing with you. 🙂

You’re welcome Jessica. It’s important to write, even if you’re horrible, because that’s how you get better. I also think it’s important to publish your work. Getting feedback, direct or indirect, helps you know what people like to read.

You write about story tips? Awesome. I’ll have to visit.

Yusef

Great article – although one comment struck a chord with me: about your ‘cheetah style metabolism’. This is an excuse that goes against the ethos of the rest of the article (particularly point 4!). The data suggests that individual differences in metabolic rate (ceteris paribus) are not significant bar anything pathological.

If you were to track your calories consistently for 2 weeks I would bet money that you would find that you’ve been eating at or below the calculated maintenance for your bodyweight.

Stephen Guise

You got me Yusef. Seriously, that is good information.

It is an excuse. As a kid I didn’t try to bulk up in the weight room and eat more. Instead I chose to build up my aerobic abilities playing basketball, football in the street, and swimming. I just really love the game of football, but I suppose I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to give myself a chance.

Your point about the metabolic rate is interesting. I’ve always thought/heard that genetics played a key role, and my parents were both thin.

I have been known to eat a lot, but I can’t prove anything. And I would not take you up on that bet. I suspect I would lose. 🙂

I appreciate you calling me out on that. You’re welcome here anytime, Yusef. 🙂

Do you have a link to the data you mentioned? I’d be interested to see that.

Yusef

Thanks for the response stephen 🙂

I hope my last comment didn’t come across as a dig – it’s something that I went through myself until I took an objective measure and realised that I was chronically undereating. Genetics does play a role, but more so in appetite regulation and insulin sensitivity, thus indirectly affecting weight – calories still being the boss.

Anyway, subscribed to the blog and looking forward to future posts!

Iro - Ivy

Hi Stephen,

so glad I have subscribed to deep existence. The points here are more than well written + to the point.

They are truly an applicable guide to success.

Going through tough times currently, I thank you graciously for this reminder:

N e v e r . G i v e . U p .

My dreams are too nice to abandon them.
My current life situation should only make them stronger + their completion just another big step closer.

All the very best of wishes to you,
Iro

Stephen Guise

It didn’t come across that way. I love being corrected. I love criticism. So even if it did come across as a dig (again, it did not), I wouldn’t mind. I’m very pro-learning and try to leave my ego out of discussions, because egos prevent learning. I don’t always succeed, but I always try. 🙂

That makes sense. I’ve noticed that I do regulate my food consumption more than most people do – not purposefully, but just as a healthy habit if that makes sense. Calories are boss.

Great, I’m glad you subscribed. 🙂

Stephen Guise

Iro, thanks so much for the comment and subscribing! That’s very encouraging for me. I put in a good amount of time to make these articles high quality. Thank you for noticing. 🙂

Never give up! It’s a simple, powerful phrase, isn’t it?

You said you’re going through tough times now. You might like my guest post on Pick The Brain. I wrote about the positives of hitting rock bottom. In it, I talk about when I hit rock bottom and how I came out of it (though rock bottom can be in many forms – financial, health, depression, etc).

Here’s the article: http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/the-bright-side-of-hitting-rock-bottom/

Martin

I do recognize a lot of this, especially “they dont plan”, that is often the problem for me, starting something but never ends it.

Iro - Ivy

Hi Stephen,

nice to hear from you 🙂

I’ve already read that inspiring article too. I think it is through “pick the brain” that I landed in your deep

existence world 😉

Also super precious!

I hope to see you passing by my little blog space {just click on my name} once…

You’d be mostly welcome,
Kind regards,
Iro

Stephen Guise

That’s historically been a struggle for me too. It’s a lot of fun to start something, but it takes some resolve to see it through, because there are always new possibilities and ideas to pursue. Lately, I’ve just been more decisive before I take something on, that I’m going to see it through. It has helped.

Jim Burnett

#4 was something I really had to work on but once I figured it out I was good to go. I find that you have to fight your surroundings in order to not fall into this trap but it will also pay off in the long run.

Stephen Guise

That’s true. You’ll either fight your surroundings to create your own path or submit to what you’re given (which is usually not what you want).

Jim Burnett

At first I was “going along” with it. Then i saw the negative effects and decided to do what was right and take responsibility.

Trevor Wilson

Love this one Stephen! All great points. And the image of a shark painted submarine made my morning.

One other major reason that people fail is they never even start. There are a hundred and one reasons they don’t start, from procrastination to fear of failure to self-doubt. But all will kill a dream as surely as giving up.

Cheers!

Stephen Guise

I think it’s a great idea to paint a submarine like a shark. I bet someone will do it eventually. There just aren’t too many submarine owners out there.

Starting is tough for many. It’s a culmination of a lot of these points, such as fear, thinking small, not giving up, etc. Though I have a harder time with finishing once a new pursuit loses the “shiny factor.” Thankfully, I’m getting a lot better at finishing what I start.

Vishaun Kistan

This one really makes sense! Very helpful!

Luke Heyer

Number 5 describes me well and Number 9 to a point. I’m one of just those college kids who jumps from one major to another, and my grades took a bit of a tumble because I worry a lot about my future career. I believe deeply in finding a job I will enjoy doing because I personally know that job satisfaction is connected to experience happiness in other aspects of one’s life.

Néo L. Sandja

Joe, I was like you in college. I wanted to study everything because I had a lot of interests. College is only preparing you for a career. I think you should find your true passion in life. Something that’s beyond a career. Something that fulfills you soul and your spirit! Good luck!

Neo

sandesh

Im an finance post graduate searching fa job from last 7 months, people having less skills and knowledge got job through reference I lack those employe referals,, im just a waste

Comments are closed