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10 Reasons You Aren’t Achieving Success

10 Reasons You Aren’t Achieving Success
10 Reasons You Aren't Achieving Success

    A couple of months ago, I asked you not to fear failure, saying that embracing failure — or at least the possibility of failure — was essential to success. But, of course, in the end the goal is to succeed, and fear of failing isn’t the only thing that keeps us from succeeding.

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    I speak from experience here. Six or seven years ago, I was the picture of success — a straight-A graduate student, top of my class, a job I loved, a relationship that I was happy in, the whole enchilada. And then, those successes started slipping away. Nothing obvious at first, but gradually I found myself stuck in a rut academically, my relationship dissolved, things just weren’t going my way. I wasn’t failing, per se, just losing my grip on the successes I had won.

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    In the last couple of years, I’ve been reassessing some aspects of my life, trying to figure out what had happened so I could rebuild. To some extent this has worked well — I have a job I love (although I need to develop it into a career, not just a job), I have a book coming out in my academic field, I’m writing quite a bit, and most importantly I have a new relationship that is going strong. To get here, I’ve had to figure out what I was doing wrong in the years in between, where I had lost my footing, and I think I’ve figured out a thing or two in doing so.

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    If you’re not reaching the kind of success you imagine in the areas that area important to you, one or more of the following things might well be true of you, too:

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    1. You don’t have a goal. A lot of time we find ourselves “spinning our wheels”, struggling through a day-to-day routine that isn’t getting us anywhere because we don’t know where we want to go. Sometimes we had goals when we set ourselves on a particular path, but we’ve changed along the way and those goals are no longer that important. Sometimes we simply did what was expected of us without ever stopping to think about what we eventually wanted to accomplish for ourselves. Whatever the case, figuring out what your goals are and, just as importantly, whether your current actions are helping to achieve them, is important.
    2. You don’t have a vision. Setting goals is important but isn’t enough to drive you to the finish line; it’s important, too, to be able to imagine yourself as the achiever of your goals. How will you feel, what’s the payoff, why is it worthwhile to follow these goals and not some other ones? If goals are the end result of a journey, your vision is the fuel to get you there.
    3. You don’t have a plan. If goals are your destination and a vision is your fuel, your plan is the map to get you there; without a plan, you have no idea what immediate steps to take to achieve your goals. Planning means taking stock of the resources you have, the resources you need, and the steps you have to take to put those resources into action. The world is full of people with goals they have never accomplished because they didn’t have a plan — don’t you be one of them.
    4. You’re too certain. Too much certainty creates inflexibility. If you’re sure that your plan is correct, and refuse to accept the possibility of error, you may well find yourself stuck when an unexpected change comes about, or when your plan takes you in an unexpected direction. However strong your plan and however sure you are of your goals, make room for periodic reassessment.
    5. You’re not certain enough. At the same time, too little certainty will paralyze you. If you refuse to take a step because you aren’t positive it will move you towards success, you won’t make any better progress than if you had no goals at all. Keep your eyes open and be willing to change, but have faith in yourself, too.
    6. You don’t learn from your mistakes. A lot of people take their mistakes as signs of their unworthiness. They take setbacks as proof that they were never meant to achieve anything in the first place, and that they were stupid to even try. Mistakes are crucial to success — if we take the time to analyze them and learn from them. Even when they bar us irrevocably from attaining a goal, the lessons we learn from our mistakes help us to make new and better goals.
    7. You reject outside influences. A lot of people see the influence of others as a weakness, or worse, a restriction or even “pollution” of their innate creativity. This is, in a word, hogwash. We are first and foremost social beings, none of whom has ever accomplished anything without the help of others. Welcome and accept other perspectives on your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures. Accept help graciously when it’s offered. This doesn’t mean you should take every piece of advice offered you, but you should listen seriously and openly and weigh carefully the input of others. And learn from their mistakes, when you can.
    8. You worry about being copied. Often we close ourselves off from other people not because we’re afraid that they will influence us but that we will influence them, that our brilliant ideas will be taken up by someone else and no longer be solely ours. So we avoid sharing our passions, and spend our energy jealously guarding our “secret” rather than simply moving forward. In the end, we turn our passions into burdens that become difficult to carry instead of a joy.
    9. You use up your reserves. When I’ve found myself at my lowest points, it’s always been for lack of a reserve — whether of money, of time, or most crucially of energy. In part this was the fault of inadequate planning and over-certainty — I should have reassessed my situation more realistically before exhausting my resources — but whatever the cause, it’s a dangerous place to be. A mistake that could be easily recovered from under normal circumstances becomes overwhelming when you’re too broke or too exhausted to respond adequately. Keep track of where you are financially, materially, and emotionally before you find yourself too worn down to continue.
    10. You fear success. Forget fear of failure, it’s fear of success that kicks us the hardest. It’s the darnedest thing, too — the kind of thing that you don’t imagine possible, until one day you realize that you really don’t know what to do with yourself if you ever accomplish your goals. On the other side of success is the unknown, and believe it or not, the unknown is often scarier than the known world of struggle and unfulfillment this side of success. When I realized this, one night as I drifted unhappily to sleep, it jerked me straight up in my bed!

    My father, an avid collector of seemingly random quotes, is fond of saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. (I’ve never had the heart to ask him why he keeps saying this….) At some point, you have to stop doing whatever you’re doing and figure out why you’re doing it, especially if it doesn’t seem to be getting you where you want to be. When you do, I think you’ll find that at least one of the above applies to you. Whatever your reasons, though, the important thing is to realize that it’s in your nature neither to be a failure, nor to be a success, that success is something we make rather than something that happens to us — and when you realize that, you can start to make the changes that move you from “insanity” to success.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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