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7 Habits to Help you Overcome Failure

Updated on November 14, 2014
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What are Failure Habits?

We all fail in life at something at some point or another. Nobody is perfect, and no one should attain to be either. In fact, failure and suffering through setbacks are an important part of the life-learning process.

What we don't see at first as something beneficial, is later looked upon as providing a platform and foundation for growth, understanding, maturation, and ultimately, success.

Success can't exist without failure.

In fact, some of the most successful people have failed the most times in life.

  • Thomas Edison went through over 10,000 iterations while trying to invent a commercially-viable electric lightbulb, failing each time
  • J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected by all 12 major publishers.
  • Henry Ford's first two businesses went bankrupt.
  • And, with only a $105 social security check to his name, the founder of KFC was turned away by 1,009 restaurants when trying to launch his franchise model for chicken restaurants.


But none of these people gave up.

And, throughout the course of history, there have been thousands upon thousands of brilliant failures who toughed it through the setbacks and defeats. To do this, they employed what I like to call "failure habits."


So, what are failure habits?

These 7 habits are what will help you overcome and get through the failures in life.

When you fail, and you do so repeatedly, as long as you can harbor these 7 habits, then you'll likely end up sticking it through rather than throwing in that proverbial towel. Embody these habits and watch your productivity and success explode over time.


The Habit-Formation Process

If you've followed along with any of my other posts, or are a regular reader of my books or blog, then you know that I have a mild obsession with habits.

There was a time, not that long ago, where I allowed my bad habits to outrun my good habits. At that point, I knew it was time to make some drastic changes.

It was back then, years ago, when I really started learning about the power of habits. At one point, it actually became the sole focus of my life. I really wanted to understand just how to develop good habits that actually stuck.

I came to learn that, in our lives, 40% of our behavior is dictated by habits. So, in an average 16-hour day, that's 6.4 hours on autopilot. Pretty tremendous, right?

When you realize the power of habits, and you understand just how to make the necessary changes, you can explode your productivity and build a successful life.

But, through that process, you'll suffer some setbacks and some failures, which is why I wanted to put this list together for everyone who may or may not be struggling through some of the same things in life as I did.

However, before we talk about any of these so-called "failure habits," let's look at the components involved in the habit-formation process. Overall, there are four components involved:



#1 - Cue

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, every habit has a cue. The cue (or trigger) is an event that signals the start of the habit. This could be after the alarm clock gets shut off in the morning, after you step out of the shower, or at a certain time in the day such as 3pm. For your habits, you have to select a cue that will signify that the habit must be performed.


#2 - Repetition

Every behavior must be repeated consistently in order to form a habit. Although we can miss a day here or there, true habits are ingrained in the mind, making them almost as big a part of us as the limbs attached to our bodies. The longer we go without performing a habit, the harder it will be to start back up again. Likewise, if it's a bad habit, the longer we abstain from that behavior, the less likely we'll be to start back up again.


#3 - Reward

Every habit has a reward at the end. This reward can be the simple satisfaction in the performance of the habit, or it could be something far greater. For example, the habit of running in the morning could be rewarded with a delicious protein smoothie. Or, the habit of abstaining from cigarette smoking for one day could be rewarded with the simple satisfaction of moving one day closer to freedom from nicotine addiction. It can go both ways.


#4 - Time

The habit-formation process takes approximately 90 days. In a recent study, it was determined that habits form anywhere after 18 to 254 days of constant repetition. On average, it was determined that 66 days of repetitive behavior helped to form a habit. But, in my opinion, it's going to take slightly longer, and each person is different, so ensure that you tough it out for a minimum of 90 days.



Overall, my recommendation is that, if you're trying to form a habit, you get organized. Set alarms on your smartphone or some other device that will serve as daily reminders of when to start the habit. Or, place notes somewhere you can see them every single day asking you if you've performed your habit.

In the beginning, forming a habit is hard. But, after 3 or more months, the behavior becomes autonomous. And, if we can focus our efforts on keystone habits, we can actually make the most improvements in our lives. Keystone habits are the gateway to good habit development. And, in fact, some of these failure habits can be considered keystone habits.


Failure Habit #1 - Active Goal Setting

Beyond passive goal setting that we tend to do every now and then, active goal setting is something done on a daily basis. Active goal setting involves setting goals for the end of the day, and asking yourself a question first thing in the morning such as, "What did I achieve today?"

This also involves helping to establish some ground rules for tackling the Most Important Tasks (MITs) that we have for the day. When we can set active goals, and pursue our MITs, even in the face of failure, we can make a little bit of progress every day.

Start each morning by asking yourself the question, "What did I achieve today?" When you come to the end of the day and you look back, what did you accomplish? Then, set about defining three MITs, and working on those first thing in the morning.

When we work on something first thing in the morning, it helps to build momentum. Mark Twain termed this eating the frog. But, however you want to phrase it, active goal setting is what allows us to put the day in perspective before it even begins, helping to thwart off failure.


#2 - Daily Gratitude

It's easy to take things for granted when we're so focused on achieving and doing things. We look to future milestones rather than our present-day achievements. Simply put, we just don't feel satisfied with how far we've come in life.

But, daily gratitude sees us thanking the universe for what we do have as opposed to lamenting what we don't have. If you think that there's nothing to be thankful for, think again. There's always something to be thankful for when we search hard enough.

Even when our lives are riddled with problems, by focusing on what we do have rather than what we don't have, we move from a state of lack to a state of abundance. Please note that the mind will move towards that which it focuses on. If we focus on problems, we'll see and get more problems.

Every day, pick a time when you can focus on being grateful for what you have. If it's only the air in your lungs and the intellect in your mind, so be it. If it's the family and friends around you or the country you live in, even better. Whatever it is, write about for 10 to 15 minutes, and focus on the abundant love in your life rather than any state of lack or problems.


Habit #3 - Exercise

Thirty minutes of lightly strenuous exercise every single day can help you to avoid failure. Exercise allows us to get the body moving and improve our physical health.

In fact, it provides numerous health benefits, such as reducing our risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses, while also improving our mental health, weight, and emotional well-being.

Exercise does so much for us that, simply put, if you're not doing at least 30 minutes of exercise every single day, then you're robbing yourself of both the short-term and long-term benefits that this habit provides.

Motion creates emotion, so if you find yourself vacant of joy and cheer, get up and get moving. You can walk, run, jog, go to the gym, or do something else for at least 30 minutes.

This is a great failure habit that allows us to avoid failure because it also helps improve blood flow and the oxygenation of our blood, while also releasing positive neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin into the brain.


#4 - Learn Something New

One way to help thwart off failure is to learn something new. This habit involves studying or learning something new every single day. This can be just 10 or 15 minutes of your time, or longer if you choose.

Pick something that you want to learn about each week or month, and focus your attention on that subject or topic. It could be about business, politics, culture, or anything else. Simply pick it and learn.

Learning is a great failure habit because it sends a strong signal to the mind that proves we're not stationary - we're growing, learning, and maturing, while coming to new understandings about life, love, and other people.

If you choose to learn a new language, you could make that your obsession for the year and commit to just learning 2 or 3 new words every day. Over time, it adds up to a lot. Why not make learning a commitment right now?


Failure Habit # 5 - Give Back

Giving back is a way that we can donate some portion of our life or time to a good cause. Often, we're more busy worried about what we'll get rather than what we'll give.

But, giving back is a failure habit because it causes a visceral shift in the mind. We go from a state of lack to a state of abundance, similar to the habit of daily gratitude. Giving back shows us that we have more than enough for ourselves, and that it's time to donate something to others.

This doesn't have to involve money. It can be as simple as reading through message boards on the Internet and sending helpful information or tips to others that might be going through something that you once struggled with.

Spend a little bit of time on this every single day. Pick a time when you'll give back, and just do it.


#6 - Say "Yes"

Often, we're so busy saying "No" that we forget to say "Yes." But, this habit is a simple habit to employ. All you have to do is say yes to something that you would normally have said no to, just once each day.

When we learn to say "Yes," some tremendous things happen. Keep in mind that most of us are caught up in routines and habits that dictate our lives. We're so used to living a certain way that we become closed off to all new things.

But, saying yes helps to change all of that. You never actually know when a decision is going to change your life. It might just change your life or it might do nothing at all. Regardless, saying yes will help you discover new opportunities and possibilities in the world.

If you're not the type of person that gets asked to do many things, sit down at a specific time every day, and think about one way you could say yes to something. This doesn't mean saying yes to everything; just say yes to one thing a day.


Failure Habit #7 - Time Management

Last, but certainly not least, is the failure habit of time management. Yes, you're already actively setting your goals every day. But, managing your time allows you to cut out all the fat, so to speak, in your daily activities.

To employ this failure habit, you first have to audit your time. For one week, write down everything that you do throughout your day and the amount of time you spend on it. If you surfed the web from 1-2pm, write it down, if you shopped for groceries from 7-7:30pm, write it down.

Get the picture?

Once you've done that, you can audit your time, and break it down into four distinct categories, or quadrants:


Quadrant #1 - Urgent and Important

These are for the immediate deadlines in life, or crises that spring up. For example, if your child was involved in an accident and needs to be rushed to the hospital, or a deadline that needs to be met for something like taxes or legal issues.


Quadrant #2 - Not Urgent but Important

These are the long-term goals in life. For example, working on a business idea that isn't urgent but is important to your long-term success. Financial planning is another one that fits in this category, so is personal care and relationships building.


Quadrant #3 - Urgent but not Important

These are the "interrupts" that we experience in the day. An example would be when a co-worker has a problem and asks for your help, a bill collector calls trying to collect a debt, or any other time-pressured distraction.


Quadrant #4 - Not Urgent and Not Important

These are the time-wasters in life. Browsing social media, watching too much television, constantly going out with friends, and so on. These are also all the activities that we do that help to enable procrastination.


Now, that you can see the quadrants involved, it's easy to understand that, in order for us to progress in life, we must be living in Quadrant 2 as much as possible. So, when you audit your time spent for the week, write the quadrant of each activity next to it.

Then, you can look back to see just how much time you spent in each quadrant. Once you've done that, you can manage your time every single morning. Just look at your active goals for the day, and write down what you need to do.

Front-load as many Quadrant 2 tasks as you can in the beginning of the day, and do what you can to avoid the other quadrants, especially quadrant 4. Do this every single day for 3 months and watch your life transform before your very eyes.


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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderful advice, I need to devote my time to more quadrant 2 tasks. Thank you for sharing this helpful information. Voted up.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I wholeheartedly agree that our habits are what carries us through to success, especially when things don't seem to be going our way. Each little thing that we do is a building block in the house of our lives, giving us the stability and strength to go forward, especially when we fall back.