There is no failure, only feedback

Change comes from action, not from intellectual understanding. This action results in feedback and learning. You could consider it a lifelong experiment on you, where you move towards your goals, live your values and challenge your limiting beliefs about yourself and others. There is no failure, only feedback. 


Failure is not a person i.e. you cannot be a failure. You can experience failures along the way – in some ideas and processes. However, failure is only a judgement about short-term results. If you haven’t reached your goal, all it means is that you haven’t met your goal, yet


Therefore, if we want to achieve our goals we must collect data on what’s happening. Where is it not working and what can we do differently? If there’s something obvious in the feedback then aim to fix it. If not, as always, we start with some self-reflection.


What is stopping you from achieving your goals?

Limiting beliefs are usually lurking behind the scenes when we “fail” at our goals. They act as rules to stop us from reaching what is possible, what we are capable of and what we deserve. When I ask someone: “What stops you from achieving your goal?”, the answers are very often limiting beliefs. 


These beliefs may come from childhood when we copied our parents/guardians/teachers – and our role models are never perfect. These early beliefs often stay hidden and we do not consciously evaluate them as adults. We also pick up limiting beliefs from the media. Here is some typical limiting beliefs:


  • No pain, no gain 
  • Success takes a long time 
  • I can’t trust anyone
  • Most people are luckier than me 
  • I can’t work a computer 
  • I never get what I want 
  • Other people are better than me 
  • I do not deserve to succeed 
  • What I want is not available to me
  • I’ve reached my limits


These and similar beliefs are only true if you act as if they are. Suppose they’re mistaken? What difference would that make to you?


Do you believe your goals are possible?

In order to be successful in your goals, you have to believe that your goals are possible for you, otherwise, you will not try and achieve them. We all have physical limits because we are human, not superheroes. However, we do not know what those limits are. We cannot know what they are until we reach them. That’s why watching people attempting the most incredible sporting endeavours, trekking over Antarctica or sailing around the world solo is so inspiring. Often, we mistake possibility for competence. We think it is not possible, when in fact, we just not do not know how to do it. 


Once you believe your goal is possible the next block is believing whether you are capable of achieving the goal. We often put a mental ceiling on our achievements. The truth is, you have not yet reached the limit of what you are capable of and the only way you can prove you are capable of achieving the goal is when you achieve it. Until then you do not know so it is better to believe that you can. It is just as realistic to believe that you can as it is to believe you cannot. 


You can never prove you cannot achieve a goal because you cannot prove a negative. You can only say that you have not achieved yet. Once, it was thought impossible for any human to run a mile in less than 4 minutes, then Roger Bannister did it on the 6th of May 1954. After that, a strange thing happened, more and more athletes started running a mile in under 4 minutes and many people had done it 2 years on. This impossible achievement is now commonplace because Roger Bannister’s achievement changed a worldwide belief in what was possible. 


How can you change your language?

So I ask you to keep an open mind about your ability. Sometimes you might think sharing your limitations makes you modest, you might say “I’m no good at exams” or “I can’t control my diet” or “I just can’t arrive on time for anything” but I would challenge you to change your language. Instead, you might say: 


  • “I’m not good at exams at the moment” 
  • “I do not believe I am any good at exams”
  • “I’m not controlling my eating habits at the moment”
  • “In the past, I have not arrived on time for appointments”


Changing your language is the first step to change your thinking and therefore your beliefs. You do not have to say that you’re brilliant at things or even shout about how you can do them at all. In fact, you don’t have to say anything out loud, in public or to anyone else if you don’t want to. All you have to do is stop saying that you cannot do them. This might feel a bit uncomfortable at first but it’s the first step to becoming more realistic about your abilities. 


Are you making excuses in advance?

The other common thing we do is to give excuses before we take action. We talk about how we are going to fail or we plead extenuating circumstances in advance. This happens because you feel you’re going to need the excuse. You’re setting yourself up for failure. There may be some really good reasons why you don’t achieve a particular goal, for example, you may have been feeling unwell before a crucial presentation and so unable to think/speak as clearly as you’d like. Having prior excuses makes it easier to fail. I might go as far as to say that in doing so, you are choosing to fail. 


Are you worthy of achieving success?

You must believe that you deserve to reach your goals. Many of us have a belief leftover from childhood that we do not deserve anything that we have not worked hard for. This is a particularly strong cultural belief in Northern Europe. You may have the belief that you only receive things because of others’ generosity, not for yourself. You may even believe that others have to fail in order for you to succeed and this makes you feel incongruent about success 


If this resonates with you, I would encourage you to re-evaluate your childhood from the point of view that you do deserve things but others do not think that you do, i.e. this belief comes from other people. Some of the most valuable coaching I do is getting my clients to feel that they deserve things; they deserve to have the feelings they have and they deserve to get the goals they want. I might ask: “What would have to happen for you to deserve it?” or “Under what circumstances would you deserve it?”


Believing that there are opportunities that are possible for you that you are capable of achieving them and that you are worthy of that success is key to your achievement. We cannot know the limits of what is possible for us until we reach them and it is impossible to prove you cannot do something or that something is impossible. 


There is no failure, only feedback

I hope I have convinced you that there is no failure, only feedback. By understanding what’s going on – whether your limiting beliefs are getting in the way, you don’t believe you can be successful or are worthy of success or if you’re subconsciously choosing to fail, then you can take action to make your next move. You might need to change your limiting beliefs and/or examine your motivation further but whatever it is, use the feedback to hone your experiment and take you towards your goals. 

A quick coaching exercise


  1. What three things would you attempt if you thought you could not fail? Write them down. 
  2. Why are you not attempting them now? Write the reasons on another sheet of paper 
  3. Look at the second sheet of paper. How sure are you that these are the real obstacles to achieving the things you want to do?


2 thoughts on “There is no failure, only feedback”

  1. What about a situation where reaching for a goal results in death, like climbing Mount Everest. I don’t see any opportunity for feedback for the deceased in this case.


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