The Goal Triangle Setting and Achieving Ambitious Goals To Become… Unstoppable!


Fail In Order To Achieve

For most things in life, you have to fail – and fail many times – before you achieve your goal.  Sometimes it means sticking to your goal and trying many, many times.  Occasionally it means trying something, and if it fails, switching gears to try it differently or try something new.

You may have heard the mantra “fail often and fail quickly” – the point being that you have to stretch yourself, expand your boundaries.  Doing so will accomplish many things:

-          You’ll try more things – if you aren’t afraid to fail, you’ll attempt more; if you fail quickly, you’ll have more total attempts which means more overall successes

-          You’ll learn to stop wasting time on efforts that aren’t worth it – if that goal isn’t that important to you you’ll stop after the first time you fail; if it is important to you, you’ll keep trying

-          You’ll learn from your mistakes (yes, that’s a cliché) – every time you fail, if you’re smart, you learn something that helps you either succeed the next time you try or gives you insight into a new and different goal that you value more

-          When you do achieve, you’ll appreciate it more – succeeding after failure tastes much sweeter than the easy successes; though I’m not a fan of intentionally failing or anything, nor do I advocate taking the hard path just to “build character”

There are very few successes without failures.  Take basketball great Michael Jordan.  Do you know how many times he missed shots?  He’s missed more shots than I’ve even attempted. A constant refrain from parents of elementary school basketball players is “I wish they were less afraid to just take some shots”.  Lesson:  life is a numbers game.

Does this mean you should bang your head against a wall and fail repeatedly in the delusional hope that you’ll eventually win?  Of course not.  You need so see measureable progress.  The young Michael Jordan, even when failing and missing shots and losing games, was able to see his own progress.  The pro Michael Jordan was able to make more shots than he missed and win more than he lost.   Lesson:  you need a way to measure progress, or lack thereof.

I’ve started several companies in my life.  One recent effort involved selling someone else’s product in an industry/market I didn’t really understand.  After several months, I still wasn’t making any money.  And I was wasting my time because there were several other opportunities I had that were being neglected.  I didn’t give up soon enough because I didn’t want to fail.  After many more months, I finally through in the towel and the next thing I started was much more successful.  Lesson:  recognize failure and don’t let your ego interfere because success may be hidden behind a different rock.

Imagine a child learning to walk.  He takes that first step, and immediately falls.  Does he say “Wow, this is too tough.  I think I’ll stick with crawling.”?  No, he tries again.  He really has no other option and doesn’t even consider giving up forever on his dream of walking.  Lesson:  for life’s most important goals, never ever give up.

What lessons do you have about failure that you are willing to share?

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  1. Hello Darrin,

    I’ve started body building last year. When comparing what I was lifting before and now, I’ve achieved good progress. However, if I were to represent my progress on a graph, it’d be close to a sine curve… just come out of an A-level Math lesson 🙂

    I pause every now and then due to whatever reason. However, when this happens, I usually STOP for several weeks before pushing myself back into the routine. I can describe these weeks as a “slump”. Usually my motivation is almost not there and my feeding and sleeping habits are at their worst. When things don’t go according to plan, I usually screw it all up (all or none rule). I face the same problem in other things as well. In my studies, there are days that I perform very good progress and weeks that are an absolute mess.

    At the same time, I know that I only fail when I stop trying. So I dig myself out of the hole and remember that this is a lifestyle rather than a short-term thing. I think it’s OK to have ups and downs, but my problem is that my downs are taking longer than the ups.

    What’s the relationship between the two quotes: “No journey is perfect” and “You’ll never fail until you stop trying”? Any advice would be appreciated.

  2. @Mustafa – first off, you are not alone in the ups and downs. But you are right to want the ups to be longer than the downs, and you also want the amplitude of your “sine curve” to be small. The peaks and the valleys shouldn’t be too far from each other.

    In terms of those quotes, like most quotes, they are cliche but partly true. My interpretation of the first is: don’t expect perfection, but do expect excellence. I have a distaste for the second quote though, because sometimes, the best thing you can do is to stop trying! That’s the point of failing fast. But it’s hard to know if you are facing a dead end or just a dip. Read Seth Godin’s great book called The Dip. He’s great at simplifying this concept.

    As it applies to fitness, you are NEVER facing a dead-end (until you are, well, dead). Fitness is an area where I would say “never give up”. But there are fitness strategies, diets, programs, etc. that may not work for you and in that limited sense, there are cases where you should abandon a failing approach and try another.

    Hope this helps!

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