Scott H Young

Seven Questions For When You Are Failing Miserably


All your hard work is getting you nowhere. Your dieting attempts fail to shed a single pound, your extra postings to your blog leave your traffic flatlining and your last date won’t return your phone calls. Failing sucks and it can be hard to muster up the courage to continue when you see it constantly.

If this situation sound familiar I have seven questions you can ask yourself to help identify the source of your problem and hopefully regain some of your sanity. Persistence can be hard, but with a little bit of reasoning and logical thinking it is definitely possible.

1) How much action have I been taking?

Colonel Sanders brought his chicken recipe to over a thousand venues before one of them took it. Thomas Edison had thousands of trials for materials to create his lightbulb. The first question you need to ask yourself is how much action have I really been taking? Most times you get stuck it is because you simply aren’t trying enough.

Now this approach won’t clarify any specific problems you have. It will, however, give you a sure indicator of whether your problem is just that you haven’t taken enough action. If you give up on having a great relationship because you go on three dates and they bust, that really isn’t a large enough sample set to judge, isn’t it?

2) What assumptions do I have?

Ask yourself what assumptions you have been making about your problem. When you buy into a false assumption about reality that is when you will fail constantly despite your efforts. By checking and testing these assumptions regularly, you can uncover a whole new approach that might be successful.

Maybe your assumption is that if you work harder at your job but don’t mention it to anyone, your boss will still recognize it and reward you. Maybe your assumption is that your product will market itself and advertising is sleazy and unnecessary. Maybe your assumption is that if you do thirty minutes of exercise a week, this is enough to get fit.

Assumptions are deadly. Although you need to make assumptions whenever you approach any problem, if your old solutions aren’t working, check some of those assumptions. If you were trying to fix a computer problem and you just assume it is a problem with the monitor, you might end up fixing dozens of monitors before you realize that the problem is with the display card.

3) How much have I been experimenting?

If you are failing it usually means you are doing something wrong. If you are doing something wrong, then you need to experiment more with what you are doing. This may seem like commonsense, but I know many people who refuse to address a problem in a different method even though they fail continuously.

Consider social relationships. If you are looking for more friends but are continually failing to do so, you need to think about how you are going about it. Some people adamantly refuse to change the way they meet and interact with people and end up stuck with the results they are getting.

This form of stubbornness is often the reason so many powerful, intelligent people fail in certain areas of there life. Their pride won’t let them admit that they really have no clue what they are doing. A little humility and an open willingness to experiment stuff (even if you don’t think it will work) can work wonders.

4) Do I have the proper attitude?

What is your attitude towards your specific task? Are you motivated out of anger, greed or revenge? Do you feel hurt and poisoned inside? Your attitude has a huge impact on your results and without the proper attitude, success is going to be a lot harder.

You need to approach your problem from one of a passionate interest in helping others while helping yourself. If you take a scarcity, me vs them attitude into your problem, that is going to reflect in every interaction you have. Worse, this attitude is going to reflect in your interactions with yourself.

Are you seeking a promotion so you can have more money than friends? Are you seeking a relationship so you can prove to yourself that you are worthy of one? Are you seeking a beautiful figure so you can reject the people who rejected you? There is a continuum from negative to positive attitudes, if your motivation is negative it is going to be very difficult to succeed.

5) Have I gathered outside experience on this matter?

Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you’ve had a problem, someone else has had that problem. Go out and consult with other people who have overcome the problems you are facing. Read material from someone who has beaten the issue you are struggling with. You will need to adapt every solution to your situation, but don’t try to relearn everything when others can help.

If you are trying to quit an addiction like smoking, talk to other people that have kicked the habit successfully and ask what they did. If you are trying to become a better salesperson, pick up some reading material from world-class sellers.

No problem exists in a vacuum. If you haven’t gotten others experience to help you with your problem, then you are needlessly wasting your time.

6) Have I looked at the problem through multiple perspectives?

This one is a biggie. No problem can be viewed from only one vantage point. Consider this problem:

Bob is currently stuck in his position with his job. He wants to advance, but his efforts keep appearing to fail. With the company going through a rough period it doesn’t look too good for his future, but he doesn’t know what to do.

Now this problem has an infinite amount of perspectives from which it can be viewed. Some will be more effective than others, but if you don’t use multiple perspectives, the chances of stumbling upon a correct one are slim.

This problem could be seen as an energy problem. Bob can’t work harder because he doesn’t have the energy. Getting healthy, fit and mentally sharp could be a possible solution with this perspective.

The problem could be seen as a networking problem. Bob can’t get ahead because he hasn’t established a connection with people he works for or in the industry. He should go to more functions and create relationships so even if his job here goes nowhere, he can get his foot in the door in many different companies.

The problem could also be seen as a skills problem. Bob can’t get ahead because his skills aren’t as sharp as the people he works with. By educating himself with the latest updates in his industry, he can be more effective at his job and a more valuable resource.

This is just an example but this method works for almost all problems. Viewing them from different perspectives and experimenting with solutions can allow you to snap out of your pattern of failure. Don’t settle for only one way of looking at the problem and consider all alternatives.

7) How long have I been working at this?

Sometimes you aren’t doing anything wrong. Sometimes the only answer is just to be patient and wait for the results to come to you. Few successes in life are immediate, even with a perfect strategy. Patience is definitely a virtue, so sometimes you need to just wait it out.

Blogging is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Although I believe my posting quality has gone up, I don’t believe it is a few dozen times as good as it was since this blog started. Yet, my traffic levels are at least that much higher than they were when I started this blog and I expect them to continue on this trend. Had I been impatient, I might have given up too early.

The more challenging the problem the more satisfying the success. Stick at it and have faith. Retest your assumptions, experiment constantly, develop the proper attitude, get outside experience, reframe the problem and be patient. Failing miserably only means you are growing, go ask yourself these questions and face the challenge.


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12 Responses to “Seven Questions For When You Are Failing Miserably”

  1. Thanks Scott, for the much-needed perspective today!

  2. Scott Young says:

    No problem, Charlie.

  3. Mike says:

    Considering #3…..One of my favorite stories is the one about Thomas Edison answering a reporter’s question: “Mr. Edison, you’ve had 999 failures. Aren’t you ready to admit you can’t make an electric light bulb?” Edison replied, “I have not had 999 failures. I’ve discovered 999 ways NOT to make an electric light bulb.” Of course, Edison went back to the lab and persisted until……well, we know the rest of the story. Reframe your failures and keep moving forward and, of course, don’t give up!

  4. Scott Young says:

    Thanks Mike,

    Every failure is a learning experience. Great way to put things into perspective. Keep it up!

  5. Excellent check-list, Scott. Personally, I have found number 4 to be pretty key. The attitude you go about things with can change the way you see your world. But it took a while for me to realise that you have to work at it for more than a weekend =)

  6. Andrea Waltz says:

    All 7 questions you posed extremely insightful. Also important to remember as in #7: sometimes breakthroughs take time and we do give up too soon. Example: if you had to hit a rock 150 times to crack it open, was it the final 150th time that did or did each swing contribute to your ultimate victory? Often that’s what those small “failures” are along the road to success.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Great comments, Henrik and Andrea.

    Attitudes and success can’t change overnight (I wrote a bit about this in my epiphany entry recently). Failures do contribute to success. In truth there aren’t really success or failures, just experiences. What matters is how the contribute to you as a person.

  8. Kevin Agot says:

    Just found this site, Scott. Thanks for putting your thoughts, energies and creativity online. These great articles help a lot.

  9. Erica Korb says:

    Stumbled onto your site – WOW. It’s now on my favorites list.
    I enjoyed the insight and felt motivated to tackle both my studies and personal life with new vigor.

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