Why You Fail

It's not why you think.

You have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity.

David Goggins

How an Ironic Failure Led to Success

Why do you fail?

Why do you know where you want to be, know how to get there, and yet somehow always fall off the wagon?

Briefly: You’re thinking about your goals all wrong.

In November 2015, I asked my girlfriend to marry me. It wasn’t long before we were out with friends who’d gotten married only a year-and-a-half earlier, and the subject of getting in shape came up.

Though I’m a strength coach, I had a few years following grad school where I was nowhere near my fittest. Naturally, then, I was training hard to get in shape for the wedding.

I mentioned this to our friends, who, predictably, let out a knowing laugh: “Yep, that was us!”

What followed was equally predictable. They swore to me that, no matter how successful I was before the wedding, I was guaranteed to gain the “Marriage 25” immediately afterward.

So, I took this as a challenge. And though I successfully proved them wrong about the Marriage 25, ironically, I failed to achieve my goal before the wedding. I actually went into my wedding less fit than when I’d gotten engaged – and the reason that happened is the same reason you fail now.

Fortunately, I discovered that reason and transformed my fitness as I transformed my thinking. Three years later, I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve been in years.

Transform your thinking the way I did, and I promise you’ll be able to break your own cycle of perpetual failure, no matter what area it’s in.

Here’s how.

Achieving Versus Becoming

You may be familiar with the old goal setting acronym, S.M.A.R.T. (more recently, S.M.A.R.T.E.R.). You know, the “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, yadda, yadda” method for developing “effective” goals.

Truth is, that method rarely works.


Because it fails to produce the fundamental change that makes behaviour alterations stick. That is, it focuses on what you want to achieve, rather than who you need to become.

For example, let’s say you want to lose some weight. Being a savvy goal-setter, you break that down into a realistic, timely, specific statement: “I want to lose 20lbs of fat in a year.”

Totally reasonable.

You might even be more skilled as a goal-setter and notice that what you’ve set is an outcome goal, rather than a process goal. You know you can’t control outcomes, but you can control the behaviours that lead to the outcomes you want.

So, you take your SMART goal and translate it into steps. Maybe you set smaller, short-term weight loss goals that will eventually add up. Maybe you determine how to add manageable exercise and nutrition changes to your routine. And maybe you determine how you’ll progress in difficulty as you become fitter and stronger.

That’s a great plan. Follow it, and it will get you to where you want to go.

But will you follow it until you’ve arrived? And will your changes stick long-term?

If you’re not becoming the type of person who naturally does the things fitter, leaner people do, then the answer is No.

Superhero in the Sunset

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about sunset pictures. There’s power in imagining yourself in the future, looking back to now, and being totally satisfied with how things have gone. I wrote that turning that image into a reality requires taking planned, practical steps to get there.

I should have added, however, that you can’t just look at the process. Rather, you must look at the person.

Let’s take a step back from your sunset picture for a moment. Imagine now that you’re in the body of a bystander, noticing your (actual) self standing on the beach by the water, reflecting on your life.

How do you look from back here?  

Do you look like the fit dad you hope to have been? Or the strong, masculine, good-natured husband? The lean, well-kept business exec? The broad-shouldered, tanned general labourer? The truck driver who didn’t let himself go?

Do you look like the superhero in the sunset: the idealized picture of a guy who, though flawed, is a genuinely good guy, well thought-of, respected, caring, strong, fit, and can handle himself in a fight?

You might not see yourself this way now. You probably aren’t this way now.

But becoming that way little by little, adopting that identity both in your mind and in reality, is key to achieving what you want to achieve. You must become the type of person who does the things you want to do if you’re ever going to do them.

Identity Crisis

There’s more to be said about all this. Much more. Some of that will come next week.

But for now I can tell you this with confidence: If you’re failing, you don’t have a behaviour problem. You’re in an identity crisis.

For some, this revelation will be depressing. Who am I, anyway?

But not knowing who you are is pretty common. Becoming aware of that problem and looking it square in the face is the best way to find out who you are. Better yet, it’s the best way to start becoming who you want to be.

So, really, if your failures have led you to this point, this is the best place you could possibly be.

Discovering you don’t know who you are is just the beginning. Think of it like the hero’s journey. Ordinary life has been dragging you down, and the wide world of possibility is calling.

There’s so much potential to discover. It all begins with a crisis of identity. Figure out who you need to be. Start the journey. Achieve your goals.

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