Many of us fear failing… so we try to avoid failure at all costs.
Although a common fear, failure is something that will happen to us all.
We often have a very vague notion of what failure actually is.
‘Failure’ usually means making mistakes, admitting we were wrong, and looking foolish.
These questions of pride and ego are often our biggest fears.
There are also more concrete concerns, such as not making enough money, missing out on a promotion, and applying for another job.
While you can not avoid failure, you can redefine it
The very definition of the word ‘failure,’ however, is not meeting an intended objective – so if we didn’t set that objective in the first place, how can we know if we’ve failed?
More importantly, how can we know if we’ve succeeded?
We can’t fail if we haven’t defined success in the first place!
When we don’t set clear objectives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything we want to do.
It’s also easy to let other people’s priorities influence us and, therefore, to let other people’s interpretation of failure be our own.
We’re likely then to feel bad about ourselves, whatever the result.
The key to being successful in your life is first to define what “successful” means to you.
For example, if success in the workplace means supporting your team and helping them shine, having fun with your colleagues, and enjoying the work you do, then a promotion and fancy job title may not be the most important goal for you.
Although, those are often outward signs of “success.”
So how can you define what success, and therefore also failure, looks like?
Define goals that are meaningful to you
When you choose the “wrong” goal, someone else’s definition of success, or some vague idea that might not even be achievable, you will inevitably be half-hearted in your attempts at achieving it.
Which means you’re likely to fail.
This has implications for the particular goal in question and, more broadly, as you create a precedent for failure and start thinking of yourself as a “quitter.”
It’s much harder to achieve a goal where you’ve already failed in the past.
Even if you achieve that goal, what’s the point if you don’t care about the result?
Or, worse, if the result is detrimental to you somehow?
Having the right goals in place is fundamental to successfully achieving them and for that achievement to really contribute to your happiness and life satisfaction.
So what is a “good” goal, a meaningful goal?
You’ve been thinking about a meaningful goal for months or even years.
This shows commitment, which will be important in getting you over that finishing line.
A meaningful goal is one for which you are intrinsically motivated versus someone else telling you that you should do it.
Again, this will ensure you’re committed to achieving it.
A meaningful goal is consistent with your personal values.
A meaningful goal is one that you’re willing to work hard for.
More than what you have to do to achieve it, ask yourself: what are you willing to give up?
And a meaningful goal will truly impact your life in terms of your happiness, well-being, general life satisfaction, or any other aspect of your life that is important to you.
Start by defining a maximum of three goals for the coming year.
When prioritizing, choose goals that are tied to a specific date or event this year, goals that will lay the foundation for other goals on your list and goals that really make your heart SING.
Make sure your goals are SMART instead of focusing on avoiding failure
Once you’ve identified your three big goals, you can use the classic SMART criteria to make these goals more robust.
You may have seen these criteria in different variations, but the acronym stands for something like: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
S – Specific
Getting specific on the goals you want to achieve will give you more clarity on what success looks like and help you identify the concrete steps that will get you there.
You can use the ‘W’ questions to get more specific:
- What exactly is it that you want to achieve?
- Who is involved?
- Where will this take place?
- When will you do it?
M – Measurable
How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal if you can’t measure it?
What are your concrete criteria for “success”?
Perhaps you can consider a minimum level as well as a stretch target.
Try to get as precise as possible, and think of how and when you will track your results.
A – Achievable
Although goals should be big and ambitious, they must also be realistic.
That being said, big goals that may seem completely out of your reach can become achievable if you break them down into smaller steps and give yourself a reasonable time frame in which to achieve them.
R – Relevant
A relevant goal is a goal that is meaningful to you.
How does your goal fit with your bigger life purpose?
And with your other goals?
Depending on who is involved in achieving it, the goal may also need to be relevant for your team or the broader organization.
T – Time-bound
Finally, ensure you’ve defined a time frame for achieving your goal.
Setting a deadline will help you focus and give you a sense of urgency, which can motivate you to act now rather than put it off until later.
Ensuring your goals meet these SMART criteria will give you clear goals to work towards, with corresponding success criteria and deadlines.
This is already a huge step toward achieving the goals themselves!
Taking just one step toward your goal is avoiding failure
The best way to guarantee success and avoid failure is to actually do something.
So once you’ve defined meaningful goals for yourself and made sure they are SMART, you need to move into action.
This means that you need to define what actions to take, and there are different ways to do this.
One interesting way is to work backward: start by imagining that you’ve already achieved your goal and define what must have happened for that to be true.
You can also brainstorm and list everything that comes to mind, organizing your thoughts later.
Whatever works for you!
Once you’ve got a list of actions, you can get more specific regarding who is involved and WHEN it needs to happen.
This becomes your action plan with an overview of all the building blocks toward your big goal with corresponding details and deadlines.
Repeat the exercise for each of your three goals.
An action plan is all well and good, but you need to implement it
To kick things off, start by identifying just one thing, one step that you can take already today.
This step can be incredibly small – in fact, it’s much better if it’s really specific – but it has to move you one step closer to your goal, and you have to do it today.
Taking that “one step,” even a teeny tiny baby step, will build your confidence and encourage you to take another step, and then another, in a virtuous spiral toward achieving the ultimate goal.
Taking this step will not help you avoid failure.
In fact, you will likely fail at the first few attempts.
However, you will learn and grow and adapt each time.
When doubling your failure rate, success almost becomes inevitable.
Ultimately, setting goals is about creating the life you want, one step at a time.
So instead of worrying that you might fail, with failure hanging over you like some dark and hazy cloud without knowing what that failure would look like, focus on defining meaningful goals.
This applies equally to your business or professional career as it does to your personal life.
Defining meaningful goals, and making sure they are specific and measurable, achievable and realistic, and time-bound, will mean striving towards your own definition of success.
Working towards your own definition of success, in turn, means that if you fail, you do so on your own terms; but it also means that you’re less likely to do so!
Stop trying to avoid failure
You can not run from failure or hide from it.
In fact, you need it to keep you grounded, help you grow, and teach you life lessons.
Learning how to overcome failure is what will ultimately help you be the best version of yourself.
By redefining failure and focusing on your goals and actions you will get where you want to be.
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