“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”
John Foster Dulles, statesman (1888-1959)
Not too long ago, I was reading … or should I say re-reading … Napoleon Hill’s famous book, “Think and Grow Rich”. Mr. Hill listed thirty reasons for failure, including: lack of purpose, lack of a defined goal, lack of ambition, lack of self-discipline, lack of persistence, lack of concentration, lack of enthusiasm, lack of decision, and a lack of patience.
What struck me about his list was the number of times he referred to “lack.” Fourteen of his thirty reasons for failure were due to “lack” in one form or another. It was also clear that those areas of “lack” could have been turned around, if the person knew what was lacking and took steps to fill in those gaps.
The problem is … fourteen different “lacks” are too much to remember let alone work on. So I would suggest a simpler understanding of failure … and that is … all failure can be placed into one of two categories: 1) those who thought and never did, and 2) those who did and never thought.
Let’s take a look at those categories and what you can do about them, if one or both of those elements are present in your personal or professional lives.
=> 1. Those who thought and never did.
We all know people who are big thinkers and big talkers but they’re mighty small on follow-through. It’s a sure recipe for failure … or at the very least … mediocrity.
Of course it’s safer to live that way. The more things you try to do and the more risks you take, the greater your potential for failure. But as I tell people in my “The Payoff Principle: How You Can Motivate Yourself To Win Every Time In Any Situation” program, the person who never made a mistake never made anything.
If you’re gripped by the fear of failure, if you’re one of “those folks who thought and never did,” tell yourself a couple of affirmations. Remind yourself, “If at first you don’t succeed, you’re running about average.” And remind yourself, “If at first you don’t succeed, no one will be surprised.”
You need to grow up. You need to mature. You need to learn the art of follow-through. As one wise person put it, “Maturity is the ability to make a decision, to act on that decision, and to accept full responsibility for the outcome … Maturity is perseverance, sweating out a project or a situation in spite of opposition and discouraging setbacks.”
Face it. There will be times when you will become discouraged and lose heart. There will be days when you will not feel like getting up and going to work or pursuing your goals. “When that happens,” according to Zig Ziglar in his book “Over The Top,” character and commitment take over. It is character that gets you out of bed, commitment that moves you into action, and discipline that enables you to follow through.”
I couldn’t agree more. That’s why every participant in my “Journey To The Extraordinary” program gets a 10-week reinforcement program from me. I send them special e-mail assignments three times a week for ten weeks to help them develop the discipline to follow through on all the things they learned.
You might fall into this category … of “those who thought and never did” … or you might fall into the category of …
=> 2. Those who did and never thought.
Perhaps you’ve done something that didn’t work out very well, and people responded by asking, “What were you thinking?” If so, you know something about the second major cause of failure.
Jim Rohn talks about this in his book, “The Five Major Pieces To The Life Puzzle.” Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. We do not fail overnight. “Failure is the inevitable result of an accumulation of poor thinking and poor choices. To put it more simply, failure is nothing more than a few errors in judgment repeated every day.”
Of course, you may wonder why someone would make an error in judgment and then be so foolish as to repeat it every day? Because it doesn’t seem to matter.
You see … those who eat too many of the wrong foods are contributing to a future health problem, but in the moment it doesn’t seem to matter. Those who smoke too much or drink too much probably know better, but right now it doesn’t seem to matter. On their own, daily errors in judgment don’t seem that important. A minor oversight, a poor decision, or a wasted hour very seldom bring about an instant, measurable, negative consequence.
That’s why the most dangerous attribute of failure is its subtlety. In the short term, those little errors don’t seem to make any difference. We don’t seem to be failing. And since nothing terrible seems to happen to us, we simply drift from one day to the next, repeating the errors, thinking the wrong thoughts, listening to the wrong voices, and making the wrong choices. The sky did not fall in on us yesterday; therefore the act was probably harmless. Since it seemed to have no measurable consequence, it is probably safe to repeat.
However, as Rohn goes on to say, “The pain and regret of these errors in judgment have only been delayed for a future time. Consequences are seldom instant; instead, they accumulate until the inevitable day of reckoning finally arrives and the price must be paid for our poor choices — choices that didn’t seem to matter.”
So how can you get beyond the trap of “those who did and never thought”? Actually, it’s fairly simple. Spend a couple of minutes a day pondering the future. Think about the future. Think about tomorrow. Look beyond the blessings and problems of today to look further down the road. Discipline yourself to see the future in advance.
And ask yourself a key question, and that is, “If I keep on doing what I’m doing, will that bring me the outcomes, the future, and the life I want?” If your answer is “yes,” great. Congratulations! But if your answer is “no,” you’ll know immediately that you need to amend your errors in judgment and develop some new success-producing behaviors to replace your old self-destructive actions.
In short, all failure can be traced to one of two causes: 1) those who thought and never did, and 2) those who did and never thought. But even you if avoid or overcome those two causes, you’re still going to have a few challenges in life. The key in all of that is to …
=> 3. Make sure you change your circumstances rather than be changed by them.
The point is so well made in the old and often repeated story that follows.
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, Mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrots went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, they softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?
How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Great questions. Ones worth pondering.
As the story concludes: May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, and enough hope to make you happy. That’s because … the happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes their way.