Why your 2020 New Year Resolutions should be focused on failure

There’s a better way to do January. A better way to set goals and steer your business in 2020. Embrace the elephant in the room – that failure is a crucial part of success.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, mainly because the last thing I feel like doing after a hard year of work is setting myself a challenging goal.

The only sort of goal I’m interested in around the holidays is whether I can fit four segments of Terry’s chocolate orange in my mouth at once. Failing that, I might have a go at persuading the family to watch Attack the Block yet again (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s clearly one of the greatest British movies ever made). It’s a time of year when even the thought of making myself a better person sounds exhausting.

Even so, I also get that New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs) are a thing, as is goal setting in business. For those driven people who can actually be bothered to get dressed between Xmas and New Year, the symbolism that 1st January represents is compelling.

If you insist on doing the resolution thing, then this year, how about starting a new tradition – focus on failure. I think every NYR I’ve ever heard is about success; 5 kilos lighter, 5 kilos heavier, stop swearing so much, swear more than ever, blah blah blah.

That’s all good, they all share that characteristic about winning. Goal setting geeks (there is such a species, I work with a few of them) might add layers to this in the form of different levels of success. It goes something like this; Gold – swear every day and make one of them a word that would shock your ancestors; Silver – swear at least 3 days a week; Bronze… oh fuck this, I’m bored; pass me that chocolate orange.

Anyway, you get the jist.

Failure: it’s different to not winning

The thing with goals and new year resolutions is that they’re all different versions of winning. So when we set them, we only focus on success.

Of course it’s helpful to know where we’re headed, but when we’re thinking about NYRs or setting business goals, how often do we factor in failure?

In fact, the big drivers of success (motivation, focus, discipline of choice etc) are equally served by a decent picture of failure.

Failure is much more than simply not winning.

Failure: the key ingredient to winning

When I was a kid, there was a particular week I can still remember; in 7 days, I fell off my bike trying to ride with no hands while eating a banana, the girl I fancied told me she’d rather eat her own hair than go to the cinema with me and I caught one of my body parts in the zip of my jeans.

It taught me two things. Firstly, that God didn’t love me and secondly, that failure was part of the human condition.

If that’s true (and I’m pretty sure it is), then if we don’t define failure, our only reference point is some sort of victory. But life’s just not like that. If we don’t define failure, then we deny our humanity and our reality – so improvement on last year might still feel like losing, even though we’re better than we were. That can’t be right.

Instead, define failure as the baseline below which you’re determined not to fall. That’s very different from not winning.

Acceptable failure. What’s your definition?

Nelson Mandela once said “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

My jeans meant I learned to take more care and to go a little slower.

Failure is an opportunity to learn and start again. It doesn’t mean the goal has ended or your picture of success has been erased.

And knowing what failure looks like means defining what you don’t want to happen. That’s just as important as defining what you do want to happen. It’s the full picture.

Like winning, failure is relative. It’s available in acceptable or unacceptable flavours. What is acceptable failure to you and your business? What’s unacceptable failure?

If you can’t answer that yet, then then expect to feel like you’ve failed, even though the truth is that you just haven’t won…yet.

Choose a better way

With all this in mind, clearly there’s a better way to do January and a better way to steer your business in 2020.

How much more could you win if you define acceptable failure first? 

If you’re ready to find out, then why not get in touch.



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