Do You Fail More Than You Succeed?

Small daily improvements create long-term results

Do you focus on failure? Or on success? Are you unintentionally planning to fail?

Often I find people being unhappy about all the things at which they’re failing. They’re asking for my advice and help about how to turn the situation around. And knowing how reluctant most people are to ask for help, you can imagine how long they’ve been trying on their own!

Last week someone said “I know you’re a business coach, so this probably isn’t your thing, but I just can’t seem to maintain the discipline to exercise every day!”. I asked how often they do exercise? They said “Not every day…”. So I asked again, “Understood, so on average how many days per week on average do you exercise?”. Their answer was quite complicated, as is often the case. But if I can summarise it like this: Most weeks would start well, and she’d exercise each day, until life got in the way of she just didn’t feel like it, and then she would probably not exercise again or just once, then the next week would start over.

This is a familiar pattern, not just with exercise, but with many things in life and business. I regularly see the same things in the workplace. Someone makes a list of what to accomplish in the month or the week, get a few days in, and then something gets in the way and they miss a deadline, followed quickly by another and another until they pretty much give up on the plan until the next “fresh start”. Maybe it’s a pattern that’s familiar to you? Do it enough and soon you stop making plans or making commitments because it feels too miserable when you fail.

The problem can be a combination of:

  1. Setting a goal that requires too much change too quickly, from 0-60 in 1 second
  2. Setting a goal that’s hard to exceed
  3. Being too hard on ourselves, and our resulting ‘feelings’

There are those who say it’s all a matter of discipline. And for those who can just set a big goal and stick to it, good luck and well done, but don’t assume everyone is the same.

Motivation is definitely a factor too. “If you want the result enough, you’ll do whatever it takes”. But sometimes we want the result, but not at the expense of everything it will take to achieve instant results. By all means focus on the result and make sure you are fully imagining and wanting the end result. It just still isn’t enough for everyone.

Instead, imagine your goal is like winning a 1 mile race. The world record is 3:43.13 so if your goal is to set a new world record, you’ll need to be exceptional. But if you’re in a race with some pretty average competitors, as we often are in business, and they’re doing the equivalent of running a mile in 5 minutes… then you only need to run it in 4:59 to be the best in the business! If you mistakenly set your goal as beating 3:43.13 then you’re going to be pretty disappointed.

Our ability to perform well is very much related to how we feel. If we feel like a failure, we’re most likely to keep failing. But if we feel like we’re winning, we’re most likely to perform better and enjoy it more too.

If you set a goal to do something EVERY day, how are you going to exceed your goal? In any one week you have seven opportunities to fail, one opportunity to succeed, and absolutely no chance of exceeding your goal. This is what I’d describe as setting yourself up to fail and feel miserably. With a goal to do something every day, you have 365 opportunities to fail in a year and only one chance to succeed. How likely is it that you’ll feel good? In real life, the vast majority of people will not do what they set out to do every single day, and hence continually feel they are failing and continually give up and then hit the mental reset button and try again.

So here’s a thought: The best way to achieve success is to learn to have a great attitude towards failure”. You can choose your own attitude, but mine is this: Failing is a sign that you’re trying, and it’s a good thing! Someone who never fails is someone who isn’t trying very hard. Obviously if you fail in the same way multiple times, it’s a sign that maybe you need to improve your skills or get some help. 

Obviously failure due to inappropriate planning, eg none, is foolish. Catastrophic failure due to poor planning and preparation is even more foolish! But in day to day life, the quickest route to success is to set small goals, plan and prepare, and have a go. When you’re consistently successful, increase the goal and try again. Each small failure along the way is cause for celebration.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Leave a Comment