Why we fail and what to do about it

It's always your move

There’s a general belief that people fail because they lack the skills or the ‘special talent’ to succeed. It’s easy to look at others and admire what they‘ve achieved and wonder why we haven’t done it too. Often we see the exploits of celebrity entrepreneurs and think that there’sno way we could ever do that.

Watching world class Tour de France riders on TV doesn’t prevent us from jumping on a mountain bike with the kids on the weekend. Business and life are the same – you don’t have to be perfect or the best to give them a go. We all have to start somewhere,  and a positive attitude and willingness to try is an ideal starting point.

To demystify failure, we can look at its causes and thus give ourselves the best chance of success. The following are 10 key reasons for failure:

1. You base your self-worth on what others think. If you define your sense of worth based on how you assume others see you, you’ll make decisions that you believe will please others rather than yourself. As soon as you stop being true to yourself, success will elude you.

2. You assume that your past defines your future. If you have failed in the past you may find yourself expecting to fail again. Your past results may have been so unpleasant that you try to avoid failure at all costs. As a result you avoid any situations where failure is a risk, and  then you don’t take action at all. As any meaningful outcome usually entails some risk, you rarely, if ever, accomplish anything significant. So you fail by default.

3. You don’t learn from your mistakes. Most people either take past failures to heart and give up or continue on in the same way, pretending they didn’t fail or that things will change. They rarely do.  Unless you’re able to face up to failure and understand how and why you failed, it’s impossible to change your approach and try new ways to succeed.

4. You won’t do what’s necessary to succeed. In most cases people know what needs to be done, and can do it, but simply aren’t willing to take the action or do the work required to make it happen. The best example of this is weight loss – the concept is easy, people know what they need to do, but they find endless excuses why they won’t.

5. You believe that luck or fate or determine success. Some people believe that their success is determined by events outside their control, and put down other people’s success to good luck rather than good management. They don’t take responsibility for their result, and so won’t make changes to their approach. Rarely do they acknowledge skill, determination or persistence as key ingredients for success.  This beliefs keep you focused on what you can’t change (luck) rather than what you can (skill set and effort).

6. Related to point 5 is an attitude of entitlement; a belief that the government, other successful people or the world in general owes you a living. You expect someone else to do the heavy lifting and provide an easy path to your success, while providing nothing in return. It doesn’t work that way.

7. You aren’t willing to try new things. Many people become resistant to learning new approaches or trying different things, especially if they’ve already achieved a certain level of success.  The skill set required to take a business to $1m in sales can be completely different to taking it to $5m. Some people won’t accept that future growth requires a different approach.

8. You ask for advice but fail to listen. If you ask a successful person for advice, be prepared to listen. Many will switch off or even argue if the advice they receive differs from their beliefs. If that’s the case, don’t ask!

9. You fail to realise when enough is enough. Persistence is a great trait of the successful but so too is knowing when something is just not going to work. It’s always hard to go back to square one but sometimes it’s the only sensible option.

10. Your attitude stinks. It always amazes me how many people look at everything with a ‘glass half empty’ attitude. Their negativity pervades everything they do, kills off enthusiasm and repels people who could help. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can expect others to?

It’s not possible to be super positive and run at 100% all day every day. Reality dictates that things won’t always go your way, but success comes from dealing with life and moving on. Many people who fall at the first hurdle fail to get up. Be clear on your objectives and outcomes, work hard, persist, learn from your results, be prepared to try different things, and take advice when warranted. Most of all it’s you who is responsible for your success – remember this: if it’s to be, it’s up to me.

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