A bold statement you might think. Because by definition, ‘failure’ is essentially an inability to succeed, and we can’t possibly expect to successful in everything we attempt. But then I suppose it all depends upon your definition of success. Whether you only deal in ‘absolutes’, or if you’re capable of seeing the bigger picture.

Think of it this way. If a Premier League footballer misses a penalty, in essence, he failed to score…and yet….. Given his life as a whole, and his achievements just to get to where he is at that moment, could you really regard one missed shot as a failure, all things considered.

Why People Don’t Set Goals.

Probably the biggest reason why people don’t set goals is a fear of failure. But surely nothing of real value ever comes easy? If it did, then given human nature, we probably wouldn’t fully appreciate it. I believe we need to get comfortable taking risks. By this I don’t mean gambling on blind luck, or putting one’s faith entirely in the hands of fate. We still need to take action.

To take meaningful risks we have to go outside of our comfort zone. We tend to find comfort in what’s familiar, even if deep down we know we’re capable of so much more. A fear of the unknown can be a powerful factor in restricting ambition, so be prepared to push through it.

Why Fear Failure?

Why do we have an inherent fear of failure? Is it because we attach so much negative emotion to this word? Having done so, we then have to accommodate this label within the narrative of our life. In other words the story we tell ourselves……about ourselves. This can easily get absorbed within our subconscious at an identity level, which is damaging to our self-image.

But it really depends upon whether you see failure as a ‘binary’ issue; something that’s black and white, cut and dried. In other words do you class any goal that isn’t fully realised as a failure?

What if instead, we look at ‘goals’ as being flexible and evolving entities that take time and effort to achieve. If you think about it, every serious developmental goal (because let’s face it, these are the ones that really matter to us) requires a journey of sorts. A process of development that leads us to our ideal end point.

‘Goals’ after all, are very often only ‘ideals’ without all the detail; and as we progress along our journey, our perceptions are naturally prone to change. The point is, that what we end up wanting may be very different to what we originally set our sights upon.

Multiple Goals

Personally I think it’s healthy to set multiple goals or targets. I certainly have no expectation that I’ll hit every one, and I’m OK with that. But by working towards each of them, I’ll develop new skills, greater resources, and become a more rounded person in the process.

I know it may sound ambitious, or that I can’t possibly apply enough attention and focus when I’m spreading myself so thin. But there is always a limited number of things that can be actively influenced or actioned at any one time. All the rest effectively wait in limbo until circumstances change. All you can do is be patient until they enter your sphere of influence. By having multiple goals in mind, there is always something you can action, and you don’t need to worry about the stuff you can’t.

This approach ensures that there is always scope for forward momentum, and thus you get to experience many small successes as you progress towards your larger goals.

Looking Forward To Failure.

As bizarre as this may sound, I’ve learned to to look forward to failure. No it’s not out of some weird sense of masochism. I actually found that it accelerates the learning process. If babies never got back on their feet after falling that very first time, then they’d never learn how to walk. The key is not to fear it, but to embrace and make the most of it.

Think about it, if you did something perfectly the very first time, would you really ‘know’ what you did. More importantly, would you then be able to replicate the experience? I believe there is a basic ‘formula’ to everything. If you never fail, then you miss an opportunity to unlock it. Consider it an opportunity to build resilience, obtain a wider skill base and an ability to plan for contingencies.

The more you ‘fail’ the more you learn how not to fail. It’s experiential, and if you embrace the process without self-judgement, it teaches you a more considered approach to tasks in general. Because exposure to risk creates resilience, and gives you the ability to ‘trouble-shoot’, and mitigate against negative factors.

A perfect example of all this is learning to drive. Imagine if someone took all their lessons at 3am in the morning, and also took their test at that time. I’m pretty sure a pass would be a ‘cake walk’. However, I’d put money on them completely falling apart the first time they had to drive during rush hour. They would have no point of reference with which to cope with all the bad drivers and navigate the multitude of hazards that we face daily out on the roads.

It’s Only A Setback

Being ‘risk averse’ often results in severe fear and anxiety, as people avoid situations they feel would be bad for them. Not being tested means they lose touch with their inner resources, and no longer believe in their ability to cope with life’s challenges.

In order to maintain a ‘progressive’ mindset and sustain momentum, it’s helpful to think in terms of ‘setbacks’ rather than failures. If everything boils down to our determination to better our lot in life, then setbacks are only temporary, and it’s accepted that we’re meant to overcome a setback.

Deconstruction and Reverse Engineering

I mentioned earlier that there’s usually a ‘formula’ for success in pretty much everything we do. By reflecting on what did or didn’t work previously, you can decipher this formula and replicate it at will. Even when something goes perfectly, you can still ‘reverse engineer’ your actions, feelings and thoughts, from the point of success to the starting point. It’s also not that difficult to look at the actions of an expert and ‘de-construct’ what they did. By that I mean look analytically at what they did, and break their actions down into component parts. You can then begin to integrate those parts into your own way of doing things.

Don’t forget that it’s not a case of outright mimicry. We all have a unique set of strengths and skills, so you play to those strengths and put your own slant on it. Think of it as integrating good practice, helpful guidelines that enhance what you do. This viewpoint means you retain complete ownership of everything you do, which creates a greater sense of achievement. Good coaches know this…be your own coach.

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

So what if you don’t actually manage to achieve a goal? Is it really all that important? You have to ask yourself, have you really fallen short, or have you succeeded in building a broader skill base, increasing your resources in the process.

Sometimes the goal I originally set my sights on changes the closer I get, and my perspective changes. I might decide that the original goal no longer inspires, or that it’s not enough anymore and I want to aim bigger. I might even set an entirely new set of goals that once seemed out of reach, yet are now more than possible given how much I’ve developed as a person. New skills create new opportunities. What’s more they’re transferable.

So I ask you, what’s worse? Not achieving your exact goal, or never trying! Falling down and getting up is character building; it creates a ‘Survivor Personality’, which is something you can’t put a price on. You could argue that never trying means that you never lose. I’d argue that the opposite is true. You can’t accurately measure a lost opportunity, and it may just have been the one that transformed your life.