Choose Not to Fail

Much of the time when we set out to do something, we go in with a mindset of trying. We attempt to do it. We “test it out” to see if we can handle it.

While this approach is certainly useful in many contexts, at some point it’s more beneficial to discard it.

At some point, we must decide to stop trying and deliberately choose not to fail; simply choose to succeed.

This often happens inadvertently when your back is up against a wall. If you’re hanging from a cliff, your survival instinct will kick in and you will choose not to fall. You don’t try to lift yourself back up, you don’t have a choice, you simply do. If you get laid off from your job and no longer have an income, you will probably choose not to be broke. That might mean immediately finding new work or starting a business where you don’t try to make it succeed, you will it to succeed. The greater the probability of succeeding is usually directly related to how little of a safety net is in place.

What this comes down to ultimately is no margin of uncertainty. You simply decide that it’s going to happen.

Here are some of the ways I’ve experienced this:

  • In martial arts. I can “try” to not get hit, and I may or may not succeed. However, if I choose to not get hit, I most often don’t get hit.
  • In business. I can try to make a decent income, and sometimes I will. Or I can choose to make a specific amount and work backward to see what I will have to do in order to make it happen.
  • With health. I can try to eat right, and maybe I will. But when I deliberately decide that I will eat the healthiest food possible, I nearly always do.
  • In my relationship to my wife. I can have the desire to be loving, and it may work out. However, I always seem to express love more profoundly when I consciously choose that my actions reflect love.
  • With fitness. I can really have the intention to be fit, but that’s not enough. By choosing to create a certain level of fitness and determining what it will take to achieve it, I greatly increase my chances of success.

I’m not saying this always works. Sometimes it will be highly beneficial for you to fail, because often it isn’t until you fail enough times that you actually succeed. But even then, you can deliberately choose to fail, instead of avoiding it in fear of embarrassment or injury to your ego.

I’m not really sure what it is, but something interesting happens in your brain when you deliberately decide something will happen. When you decide that the outcome you want is inevitable, your mind and the universe tend to agree. When you’re internally wavering and unsure, the world will undoubtedly agree.

How you’ll get there isn’t very important compared to knowing undeniably that you will, no matter what it takes.

When you know there is no other alternative, you remove all the mental weight of indecision. You know that what you want isn’t a probability, it’s an inevitability. It’s just a matter of time.

[Note: This post was inspired by this amazing Parkour video.]

photo courtesy of will-lion

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Tracy Lee Carroll March 2, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I think this would be better titled, “Choose to Succeed”

Just my thought…

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Mike Tiojanco March 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Good stuff Jonathan,

Removing mental blocks is a great start.

I would contend that one of the necessary qualities for a person destined for success is the ability to see the value in “failure.” A person has to not let failures knock them out. Take what you can learn from the experience, get back up, and go at it again.

Another point on your martial arts point, but I’m not quite sure how it would fit in with the comparison you’re trying to create: in Karate, we were always taught that once you decide to fight, which was always the last resort, you end it with one punch. Maybe that’s how you “choose not to get hit.”

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Steve March 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

“I deliberately decide” “I consciously choose to”
= clear and focused energy. It’s knocking on heaven’s door. Coincidences and solutions show up to align with our intentions…
Why does it work? I don’t know but as you say it’s inevitable

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Minimalist Ninja March 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Great post Jonathan! Keeping this perspective in mind is challenging, but so worth it!

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Gary Bamberger March 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Thank you for this post! It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart!

I went through Rapport Leadership Breakthrough training a few years back and learned how “powerless words”, as we call them, like try, attempt, perhaps, maybe, etc., sap the energy, commitment, & enthusiasm from the goal or task at hand. There’s a whole list of these words! When communicating with people, I keep attuned for these powerless words and will probe to find out whether there is any commitment to the goal or task when they are used by someone. This lets me know how serious people are about their commitments.

I also want to point out that “failing forward” [another term from Rapport training] is a learning tool. We’ve all heard about Thomas Edison and his multitude of failures while inventing the light bulb. I believe the most meaningful and powerful learning people get, with some exceptions, are based in a failure of some sort. In my mind, it is only when people repeat the same failures that it indicates something else at play that requires further examination and analysis.

Thanks for posting on this topic!

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Ryan March 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm

The power of intent. Emphasis on power. Make up your mind to do something – I mean *really* do something – and it’s getting done. No matter what obstacles pop up you see the goal.

That’s why it’s vital to become a good decision maker. Make them quickly and definitely. If you see the goal, you should have no problem in making quick and definite decisions.

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Antonio M. Fisher II March 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I completely agree with this post. As of recent times I have started using this mentality and it has produced amazing results. It seems like something extra turns on internally that gives you the power to overcome anything.

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colbycheeze March 2, 2010 at 8:19 pm

It is the Law of Attraction of which you speak. The most powerful and important concept to accept and master. Without understanding and properly using it, you will never achieve everything that you desire consistently.

Making a deliberate decision to do something sparks emotion, and clear focus on the outcome, thus triggering the power of LoA.

Great post!

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Sonicsuns March 2, 2010 at 11:07 pm

We are more capable than we realize, if we simply decide what to do.

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Craig Thomas March 3, 2010 at 1:15 am

Nice post – I definitely agree. We have to take responsibility to succeed. Everything is a choice, even failing.

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Brian Garbisch March 3, 2010 at 3:17 am

Jonathan –
In the words of an Ancient Jedi Master, “Do or Do Not, there is no try.”
To me this didn’t mean don’t do something. Instead I took it as an opportunity, either I took action and was successful(do) or I took action and wasn’t successful(do not). The key part was “there is no try.”
As a manager and leader of people in the workplace, it grates my nerves when someone says “I’ll try.” or “I’ll try my best.” It’s unfortunate that people take this stand and set themselves up to fail with a lack of conviction with attempts.
Make it inevitable and choose to succeed.
Thanks for the streetlight.

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Bert Meert March 3, 2010 at 4:06 am

More than often we fail, because we haven’t faced our own truth yet: that we don’t really care about the end result.

When your desire is not in line with that which you are trying to accomplish, then you have already made a (subconscious) choice that you don’t want to succeed.

On the other hand, when there is no doubt about what you want or need, then failure is not something you should try to avoid. Failing then becomes the obstacle that allows you to grow.

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mary March 3, 2010 at 4:19 am

This was a great post. It is so true that “trying” just doesn’t cut it. There isn’t enough focus or passion in that.
Thanks for sharing!

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Leir March 3, 2010 at 6:04 am

Hello Jonathan. I’ve come here to say that i love to read your content. But since you write in english (and I’m Brazilian), i’ve been translating some of your articles *and* posting it at my blog in brazilian portuguese. Believe me, it’s helping people!

Don’t worry, i preserve the original links and all credits are directed to you.

Hope there’s no problem with that. If you dont want me to do it or wanna tell me something about it, you can contact me by the email i’ve posted in the “required” field.

Keep up the excelent work!
Leir.

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Jonny | thelifething.com March 3, 2010 at 6:06 am

Sorry have to disagree, good points but I always play to win, not play not to lose.

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Marly March 3, 2010 at 8:18 am

I have to admit that when I first started reading your post I thought it sounded a little testosterone driven. Do we have to be so accomplishment oriented in our day to day activities? Can’t we just let things evolve. But the more I read, the more I started to see your point. It’s not about accomplishing these outer goals as much as being focused on how we’re going to “be” in our days. I love it. I agree with you that if I start a day saying I really want to try to be healthy today, 9 times out of 10 those cookies will get the better of me. But beginning the day by being focused on how I want to be a beneficial presence to myself and others? That seems very inspiring. Thanks for you post. Loved it and just what I needed today!

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Srinivas Rao March 3, 2010 at 9:01 am

I think that quote in your picture sums it up perfectly. We often don’t want to take responsibility for our failures. I’ve found more the same to be true for surfing. When I wipe out it’s almost always because I’m thinking about wiping out.

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Justin Dixon March 3, 2010 at 9:27 am

I’ve noticed this whenever I have nowhere else to turn I find more power in myself than I knew I had. I actually take bigger risks hoping to put myself into the state where my mind doesn’t have a choice but to do this. It can be scary but its amazing how well it works out.

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Raj March 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Sorry to disagree, Even I play to win

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Iván March 3, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Great stuff really

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Ian Coburn March 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Love it! Great quote that we don’t take responsibility–it’s always someone else’s fault when we fail. “I got hit a lot in martial arts today because I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” really is, “I got hit a lot in martial arts today because I chose to do things that kept me from getting enough sleep last night.”

As for the debate over “playing to win” versus “playing not to lose,” another way to say what Jonathan is saying is not playing not to lose but rather playing to improve. If you play to win, it’s hard to replicate. If you play to improve, the wins come on their own and keep coming. Compare NFL teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh. The Bears play to win and their seasons are all over the place; the Steelers play to improve and almost always make the postseason, usually winning their division. Even when they beat a good team, they talk about all the improvements they need to make. (When the Bears beat even a bad team, they talk about how they “proved skeptics wrong” with their win.) Play to win and you will succeed but often without consistency. Play to improve (or to not lose) and you will succeed with consistency.

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Jonathan March 4, 2010 at 7:43 pm

@ Leir: Thank you, I would love to connect with all different types of people.

@ Marly: I’m glad that I violated your expectations. =]

@ Raj: Of course, that’s the entire point of this article.

@ Ian: Personal responsibility is hard. But I think you’re right that it starts to connect a lot more when you look at the interconnectedness of your choices.

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Klaus | Guitarhabits March 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

As long as you really honestly do what you love you can not fail and will always succeed because you obviously will never stop doing what you love.

Klaus

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Laura Lee Bloor March 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

With the comment, “You know that what you want isn’t a probability, it’s an inevitability. It’s just a matter of time,” I would emphasize the, “It’s just a matter of time” portion. That matter of time could be one year for some or 10 for others. One of the biggest reasons people fail at goals is that they get impatient.

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Alex Monroe March 7, 2010 at 6:38 am

This post is just perfect. Too often do people fall victim of the failing notion. Even I will think like this sometimes and have to shake my head real quick to get myself out of it. Good points that I can relate to.

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Leslie March 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

Wow. I really needed to read this today. Thanks!

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Selene Tellman May 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

I adore your wp design, wherever did you obtain it through?

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