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How To Avoid Failure By Redefining It

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Many of us are afraid of failing… but what does that mean?

Although a common fear, it’s not very well defined.

We often have a very vague notion of what failure actually is.

‘Failure’ usually means making mistakes, having to admit that 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, having to apply for another job.

How To Avoid Failure By Redefining 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 to you means supporting your team and helping them shine, having fun with your colleagues, and enjoying the work that you do, then a promotion and fancy job title may not be the most important goal for you – although it may be an outwards sign of “success”.

So how can you go about defining what success, and therefore also failure, looks like?

1. 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’re inevitably going to be half hearted in your attempts at achieving it, which means you’re likely to fail.

This has implications not just for the particular goal in question but also more broadly, as you create a precedent for failure and you start to think of yourself as a “quitter”.

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It’s much harder to achieve a goal where you’ve already failed in the past.

Even if you do achieve that goal, what’s the point if you don’t actually care about the result?

Or, worse, if the result is detrimental to you in some way?

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?

A meaningful goal is one that you’ve been thinking about 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 make sure that you’re committed to working hard in order to achieve it.

A meaningful goal is one that 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 is one that will truly have an impact on 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 an event that is happening this year; goals that will lay the foundation for other goals on your list; and goals that really make your heart SING.

2. Make sure your goals are SMART

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 that you want to achieve will give you more clarity on what success looks like, and will help you to identify the concrete steps that will get you there.

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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

If you can’t measure your goal, how will you know if you’ve achieved 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’re going to track your results.

A – Achievable

Although goals should be big and ambitious, they also need to 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 organisation.

T – Time-bound

Finally, make sure that you’ve defined a time frame for achieving your goal.

Setting a deadline will help you to focus and will also give you a sense of urgency, which can motivate you to act now rather than putting it off until later.

Ensuring that 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 in the direction of achieving the goals themselves!

3. Take just one step towards your goal

The best way to guarantee success and avoid failure is to actually do something.


So once you’ve defined meaningful goals for yourself, and you’ve made sure that 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 in which you can do this.

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One interesting way is actually to work backwards: start by imagining that you’ve already achieved your goal, and define what needs to have happened for that to be true.

You can also just brainstorm and list everything that comes to mind, organizing your thoughts later on.

Whatever works for you!

Once you’ve got a list of actions, you can get more specific in terms of WHO is involved and WHEN it needs to happen.

This becomes your action plan with an overview of all the building blocks towards your big goal with corresponding details and deadlines.

Repeat the exercise for each of your three goals.

Now an action plan is all well and good but you need to actually 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 towards achieving the ultimate goal.

Success almost becomes inevitable.

Ultimately, setting goals is about intentionally creating the life that 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 really knowing what that failure would really 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 that they are specific and measurable, achievable and realistic, and time-bound, will mean that you are 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!

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