How to Analyze Your Failures

It does not feel good, to know you have failed.

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It does not feel good, to know you have failed.

However, you can feel better by taking an analytical approach to the goals you were not able to achieve. It sounds scary, but it’s not. We spend too much time running as far away from our failures as we can. They have things to teach us. Learn from them, before you walk away.

Look closely at all the things you wanted to do, but did not end up doing, this year. Not to bring yourself down or remind yourself how much of a failure you think you are, but instead to figure out why you didn’t get that thing done. How can you prevent a similar thing from happening again next year?

I’ll use my 2016 reading goal as an example here. I wanted to read 50 books. Currently I have finished reading 25 – and there is zero hope of reading 25 more books in three weeks. So what went wrong? Reading, on average, a book a week for an entire year isn’t THAT hard, is it?

Ask yourself these questions when looking at your unachieved writing, reading or creative goals:

  • Did you set a goal you could actually accomplish?
  • What was your initial reason for setting this goal in the first place?
  • Did you dedicate enough time every day to making that goal happen?
  • Did you set smaller goals to help make your big goal seem more realistic?
  • Did you put off starting? Why?
  • Did things, either in or outside of your control, get in your way?
  • Do you still want to work toward achieving this goal? If yes, how do you plan to do so? If no, what made you lose interest in working toward your goal?

Looking at this list of questions, I can already point to time as a major factor in my “failure.” There were days I barely squeezed in a few pages of reading before moving on to a different activity. A few pages a day, even for a few days in a row, set me far enough behind that I could not catch up.

It’s just a reading goal – it’s not the end of the world. But you may have wanted to do something HUGE this year – write a book or start a blog or submit an article somewhere. So why didn’t you? What stopped you? Most importantly – what are you going to do differently, now, to make sure this goal finally gets accomplished (if you’re still interested)?

This is different than dwelling on your failures. Yes, it is still important to look ahead and not let your past drag you down. But you have to learn from your mistakes, if you do not want to repeat them. It’s not enough to assume ‘not wanting to feel bad about yourself again like you did after this failure’ will be enough to motivate you to do better. No – you need to look closely at what did not work, so you can change your behavior next time.

There are so many great things coming your way – as long as you prepare for them. Action is the only way to accomplish anything, writing-wise or otherwise. Not just as you’re working, but before you even start. Look back – but only to remind yourself that there is a different, hopefully better way to make X happen. Try again. Maybe set the bar a little lower. I’m not going to try aiming for 50 books again in 2017, I don’t think. But that’s OK. Sometimes smaller goals are the best kinds.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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