Why Do We Fail?

…and perhaps more importantly, why do we view failure as a bad thing?

Failure is an inevitable part of life. Before you can succeed, you must fail — sometimes once, sometimes hundreds of times. Edison failed over 1,000 times before successfully inventing the light bulb. There’s a popular quote which states that the only thing guaranteed in life is death, but that’s not quite true. Yeah, you’re guaranteed to die… but you’re also guaranteed to fail. In the words of J.K. Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”

Failures are a normal part of the journey toward any goal, yet we often internalize them as crushing blows. As if failure is life’s mean little way of coming after us, and us alone. Most people quit after their first failed attempt at something and are then dumbfounded by the fact that they never accomplish any of their goals. If it doesn’t work out the first time, it isn’t meant to be. Toss in the towel. Go eat some ice cream.

And then there are those who never get their goals off the ground because fear prevents them from taking the first necessary steps (or should I say, they allow fear to prevent them…). I’m guilty of this. Big time. I’ve lived with the threat of failure hanging over my head for most of my life. It was always there, creeping in the shadows of my existence, threatening to wreak havoc on anything I ever attempted. Failure is perhaps the biggest culprit of most fears. It’s fear’s right-hand man — his main thug. And for me, that fear would often become so real and so intense as to cause complete paralysis. As Rowling explained, by never even attempting to fly, I breathed life into each of those fears and failed by default.

There are so many problems with a fear-based mentality, but the big issue in light of this topic is simple: you can’t finish what you don’t start.

The problem here isn’t failure itself, it’s how we frame failure. If you fail at something, view it as an indication that change, not forfeiture, is necessary. Maybe it’s a sign that you need to try a completely different tactic, or maybe it’s just an indication that your effort level isn’t quite where it needs to be. For example, if you find that you haven’t lost any weight after the first week of dieting, the universe isn’t telling you that you’re destined to be overweight. It’s just a cue that something’s off. View it as a signal to reevaluate your tactics, make adjustments when necessary, and try again. You didn’t fail — your strategy did. You haven’t failed unless you give up — you’re just in the process of working out the details.

When people do give up, it’s because they lack vision and faith. You can write your goals out on paper and post them in every crevice of your personal space to serve as constant reminders, but until you can actually visualize your success, your goals will lie flat. It’s one thing to make an amorphous proclamation that you want to get into shape, fit in your skinny jeans, look good in a swimsuit, etc., but that’s only the first step in goal setting. The second part is to visualize your success. Close your eyes and see what your body will look like once you’ve reached your goal. Savor the feeling of success, knowing that the only things that lie between you and your achievement is the time and work you’ve already committed to putting in. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote, “the body achieves what the mind believes.” There is so much powerful truth in that statement, both good and bad. If you visualize yourself achieving your goals, lay claim to your success, and wholeheartedly believe that you’re destined to succeed, you will succeed. You will become unstoppable. There will be no force that can stand in your way. Will you encounter obstacles? Sure. Challenges? You bet. But they won’t be showstoppers because you’ve already requisitioned your success. You’ll adjust and adapt, and you’ll do whatever you have to do to keep moving forward.

And you will win.

On the flip side, however, if you start working toward a goal without absolutely believing that the prize is yours, your odds of succeeding become very slim. When unanticipated issues pop up (and they will), you’ll get sidelined. It will be much easier to throw in the towel because you only went into this thing half-heartedly. There was no gusto. You may have wanted to reach your goal, but you weren’t determined to stop at nothing to achieve it. And that is what makes all the difference.

Remember, you don’t fail until you quit. Every little failure on the road to success is not actually a failure at all – it’s called progress. Those experiences are tools. The only time you truly fail is when you never have the courage to start something, or lack vision and give up on a goal before you’ve finished. If you learn to visualize your success and come to recognize it as yours, there will never be any reason to fear failure again. It simply will not be an option. And once you’ve harnessed the power of visualization, no obstacle will stand in your way. Once you’ve visualized and claimed your success, crossing the finish line will just be a formality.