“You actually learn so much more from your failures, or the things that don’t go according to plan than the things that do.”

What if I told you that one of the key missing ingredients from your goal setting is you haven’t planned to fail?

Why, you might ask, should you plan to fail? Isn’t the whole point of going after your goals is to be successful?

You’re absolutely right. But here’s what happens when we’re going after our goals — and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a big goal or a little goal. Going after your goals is not a linear line to success. What inevitably happens is that along the way we meet with challenges and things we didn’t expect, or things just don’t go the way that we expected.

The key to success is really preparing ourselves for that, preparing our minds for the fact that, things could go wrong. Things could fail.

So how do you do it?

To explain this, let me first take you back to my former life. I used to work as a management consultant. I managed multi million dollar projects, so there was a lot at stake. One of the things that I would do as a project manager was to prepare a document called a Risk Mitigation Strategy. So what does that mean? What I would do literally at its simplest is:

  • I would go and meet with the various people who would be involved in the project. This can be the leaders, it could be the actual team members who would be doing the work.
  • I’d sit down with them and we’d have a conversation around what was some of the risks that they saw with the project? What was some of the things that they could anticipate could go wrong. Based on their previous experiences, they could then say, “Hey, this is what went wrong with a previous project we did.” Or it could be from things they’d heard in the industry about projects that had gone sideways, or even just their own gut feel about what they would feel concerned about.
  • I would write all of those things down. We would also brainstorm about things they may haven’t thought about yet and come up with this list of risks and things that could go wrong on the path towards this goal.
  • And then we would rank them. We’d give them a probability — how likely is it that this thing will happen? We rank them high, medium, low in terms of probability, then we would look at them, especially the ones that were high and medium, and say, “Okay, if this thing happened, how would we deal with it.?”
  • We do an exercise of, “Okay, this happens, this is what we do to make sure that it doesn’t impact the rest of the project”, or “Here’s how we change course,” or “Here are the things that we’d need to do to deviate from our original plan.” We’d write all of this down and I maintained a risk log throughout the project.

Something that would come to frequently in a project are assessing past risks. Have any of these happened? What have we done about them? And what are we going to do if they’re new risks that identify themselves?

Now, here’s what I am saying about how that relates to your goals. What many of us never stopped to think about is what will I do if things don’t go according to plan? It helps by having this sort of risk mitigation strategy.

First of all, it allows you to allow your mind to acknowledge that you know what things could go wrong, so that when things do go wrong, it’s not a total surprise to you, and it doesn’t leave you stranded on the ropes or knocked out.

But you can’t anticipate everything that could go wrong. That’s not the point. Coming into 2020, for example, nobody could have said that there’s going to be a global pandemic that is going to shut the whole world down. But as I said, what it does is prime your mind to think about, hey, things could go wrong. But I’ll still be okay.

So what are some of the things that could go wrong? When it comes to going towards your goals? And how do you start to identify those?

For many of us, we have obviously chased goals in the past that we did not achieve. I really don’t know anybody who has achieved every single goal that they were going after. That’s a great starting point to think about what went wrong. Many of us don’t like to do the reflection after things go wrong. We just want to park it in the cupboard, close the door on that and never look at it again. But you actually learn so much more from your failures, or the things that don’t go according to plan than the things that do. There’s so much to be learned from that information that comes from not achieving the goal. That’s a great starting place.

1. Make a written list about things that haven’t gone wrong before.

That could based on what you know about the goal that you’re going after, based on looking at maybe other people who have achieved a similar goal.

2. Rank the items on your list.

Rank them on how likely is it that this thing could go wrong or not go according to plan.

3. Come up with an action plan.

Think about if this thing did go wrong, how am I going to deal with it?

You are ready start to get into that mindset of problem-solving. Prime your mind for the fact that things may not go according to plan. I love to call it a GPS — like you’re going from San Diego to LA. On your way, you might miss a turn, or you might get to a road that is closed and you have to take a different plan. That’s exactly what this is — allowing you to anticipate some of those things doesn’t mean you’re not going to get to your goal. It just means you might need to take a different path towards that.

Write down things you know could go wrong, you write down the things that you think could go wrong, and then rank them, then think about what to do if this didn’t go according to plan. That, for many people, is the difference between success and failure. Those who haven’t anticipated the fact that things won’t go according to plan get caught flat footed. And for a lot of people, they get knocked down, and then they never get up again. They get discouraged from going after their goals. I hate to break the team Buttercup, things are going to go wrong. And what differentiates the people who succeed from those who don’t, is the fact that they’re willing to pivot, to take a different path, to do something different.

So that’s what I would like for you to think about as you go towards your goal. How can I plan to fail? What are the things that could go wrong? And when you have anticipated at least at best you can, you can start to mentally prepare yourself for what that will look like. You absolutely have the skills and the abilities to figure out a different plan.


Sandra has a podcast episode on this topic, you can listen to it here:

You can also watch it on her YouTube channel: