Coming Up Short: How to Triage Your Failures and Not Do Them Again

In the past few weeks leading up to Christmas, I’ve found myself noticing little failures in my life. I’m not talking big ones, like “WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!?”-type failures, but little things. These are times where I’ve come up short, and often, they can be more frustrating than big problems.

  • Copy projects aren’t getting turned around fast enough. I’m catching myself running out of time at the end of the day, causing me to put copy projects off to “tomorrow” over and over again. This not only negatively affects me mentally, but financially as well.
  • Journal entries are getting spaced out farther and farther. I want to journal a little bit every day, but now I see a few days in between journal entries. It’s easy to put that off too.
  • Blog posts aren’t getting done. “Five days a week,” I said. “Write every day,” I said. “Make it easy for yourself,” I said.
  • I’m not exercising every day anymore. I L-O-V-E my yoga workouts, and I would love to get out in that 20-degree Wisconsin air and go for a run, too. And yet, I catch myself with a stiff neck and antsy legs because I haven’t worked out for days and days.
  • Finances are a mess. Without going into detail, we’re just not where we expected to be when we started out the year.

When you sit and dwell on this kind of stuff – as we all do – we start to get down on ourselves. We stop trying, because we feel like we not only have failed, but that we are failures. That’s a really dangerous jump to make, because it impacts our mood, our health, and our relationships.

Fortunately, there’s a way to address this and never let it get you down too far. I’m in a slump personally, but that’s why I’m writing about it. Because before you can triage your shortcomings and deal with them, you need to acknowledge that they are there. They exist, and they’re painful to admit to yourself. But like they always say, “Admitting you have a problem is the first step.”

Now, let’s look at what I call the Failure Triage: the three steps I take to look at my failures, assess them, and move on.

Step 1: Look at Why You Failed

There’s very careful wording here: “why you failed”. This isn’t about “why this happened to you” or “why you got screwed”, or even “what happened”. This is why YOU FAILED.

We live in a society that likes to point blame. When somebody gets shot, we blame guns. When divorce happens, we blame the comical “irreconcilable differences”. When a kid beats up another kid, we blame violent video games or television.

But that attitude (which, in my opinion, is so backwards that it’s endangering our society) spills into our personal lives. We don’t exercise because we’re so busy we don’t have time! We don’t have money because we don’t make enough and everything is so expensive now! I’m not writing because I’ve been so focused on the holidays that I haven’t been in that mindset!

Ninety-nine percent of the time, we are in our current situations because of something we did. It’s because of some action we took, even if it was a reaction to something that happened to us.

Things happen to use every day, and it’s how we respond that makes us different from the other people who fail or succeed. As ay-yo Rocky Balboa said in one of the most underrated inspiring movies I’ve ever seen, it’s not about getting hit by life, it’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward.

Most people view this as a negative way of thinking: “It’s my fault” is not something you want to say to yourself. But there’s a hidden beauty in figuring this out: now, you have the power.

Once you start telling yourself that you are the reason why these things are happening to you, then you have the power to change it. You know that you can decide to do something different and change the circumstances of your life.

Instead of “Why bother, it’s not going to make a difference anyway…”, your actions suddenly have power.

Step 2: Figure Out the Steps You Need to Take

What are those actions? Hey, determining the source of the failure means there are ways to avoid it in the future.

Maybe you’ve found the triggers to a bad habit. Or you pointed out something in your environment driving you to make bad decisions. Now you have an idea of what to do about it.

For me, in the above situations, it really just comes down to priorities (and it often does for most people). Our finances are bad because we prioritized other things this year. I haven’t been writing because I’ve been prioritizing my time elsewhere (and often wasting it). I haven’t been exercising because I haven’t made the time.

Writing down ways to turn the ship around is a great way to brainstorm. As I learned in an excellent book*, one way to turn problems around is to just set a timer for 10 minutes, pick up a pen, and write until the timer ends. List any idea you have, no matter how outlandish it is. Doing this trains your brain to find a solution, and you might find some hidden gems amidst all the crazy ideas.

Here’s one thing to remember here, too, and it’s almost the same as the last step: these are things that you can do. Nobody else.

For example, I can’t write down, “Win the lottery” to fix my finances. Why? Because that is entirely dependent on somebody else’s actions. I can’t write “Get more clients”. Why? Because that depends on other clients signing up.

  • Instead of “get more clients”, it’s “Make 10 phone calls a day to prospects.”
  • Instead of “win the lottery”, it’s “Get on a strict budget and find ways to cut costs around the house.”
  • Instead of “lose weight”, it’s “Do some activity for 15 minutes a day, starting at 11am, no excuses.”

And so on. You get the idea. Look at what you can control – you’d be surprised at how much you can do.

Step 3: Forget the Past Failures

Once you’ve learned from your past, ditch it. There is no other value in dwelling on it.

All it does is breed negative energy that will do nothing for you. So instead of sitting around thinking about how you failed, just focus on today (or tomorrow), and how you’re not going to fail that time.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward. Don’t look back. Move on. It’s the only way you can make a difference.

How do you deal with failure?

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