The Cycle of Failure

The Cycle of Failure

There’s been an overarching pattern in my life. It’s not unique to me. I’ve seen it in the lives of friends and family as well. I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen it or experienced it, too. You make a commitment to yourself, something like getting in shape, or learning a foreign language, or finishing that novel you started back in college. Then six months passes and you’re still out of shape, couldn’t find a restroom in a non-English speaking country to save your shorts, or haven’t written more than a page of that Great Novel®. What happened? We went from deciding on an action to complete failure. I don’t know about you, but I take my commitments to others seriously. I consider my word to be my bond and when I tell you that I’ll do something, you can count on it. I don’t make commitments lightly and I don’t take commitments lightly. But, here I sit, just as overweight as I was on the day I committed to get in shape.

I’ve discovered, at a high level, this is a three-step process. It goes like this:

  1. Commitment to change;
  2. Time passes;
  3. Success or Failure.

Let’s take a look at each of these elements in a little more detail.

1. Commitment to Change

Prior to this point, we’re presented with some idea, conflict or challenge. Maybe your significant other hints that you’re getting a little too round, or that little voice inside you whispers that it’s time to start writing. Whatever the impetus, you find yourself face-to-face with the need to change something in your life.

You might be excited at the prospect. You might be angry. You might have no feeling one way or the other. How you initially approach the challenge is somewhat unique to you. For me, it’s usually excitement. Change is exciting and I get excited. I’m not “bouncing from the roof” excited, but excited nonetheless.

So you commit to make the change. You’re enthusiastic and ready to go! 4:30AM workouts! Let’s get in shape! Washboard abs by Christmas!

2. Time Passes

You’ve made the commitment. You even set an alarm to wake you up. You’re in bed early because, hey, 4:30 comes early. It’s 9:30PM. And you lay there.





Hey, you know what? There’s no way you can function on 4 hours of sleep. You need to reset that alarm clock and try again tomorrow. Or maybe you decide that you’ll workout when you get home from the office. But when you get home, life is waiting. The kids need attention, there’s 15 things that need be dealt with, dinner needs to be cooked and eaten, the kitchen needs to be cleaned. And suddenly it’s 11:00PM and you’re just now sitting down to catch your breath. Exercise? Are you kidding?

Life happens. You lose steam. You lose focus. And then …

3. Success or Failure

Six months passes quickly, doesn’t it? And you’re still not in shape and I still haven’t learned the Chickasaw language. We’re no better off than before we made the commitment. Actually, I believe we’re worse off because now, at some level, we feel guilty. It might not be in-your-face guilt, but it’s there. If you made time to sit down, be quiet and contemplate, you’d find it. You made a promise to yourself and you broke it and there’s a price that comes with that violation. You’ve lost a little peace within and a little piece of yourself.

So, after a while, you pull yourself up, shake it off, find your courage and decide to re-commit. You’re gonna do it this time! There’s no holding back. No more excuses. This time will be different.

Except it’s not. Now we’re twelve months into the cycle and no better off. The guilt is a little more profound this time. A little louder. And we feel a little worse. We failed and we feel frustrated. This is what I call the Cycle of Failure.

Breaking The Cycle of Failure


In order to get to Step 3 (Success or Failure), we first must deal with Step 2 (Time passes). And it should be obvious that what happens in Step 2 determines the outcome in Step 3. In order to ensure that Step 3 is labeled Success rather than Failure, we have to deal with – we have to control – how time passes in Step 2.

Honor your commitments to yourself.

Michael Bernard Beckwith

I wrote earlier that my word is my bond and that I take commitments seriously. However, if you re-read that paragraph, you’ll notice something interesting. I only discuss commitments I make to other people. Nothing in that paragraph refers to commitments I’ve made to myself.

The difference is very important. It’s an immediate indicator of why The Cycle of Failure has been so consistent in my life. I haven’t considered commitments to myself as equally important as commitments to others. Why? That’s a good question. Fear of being labeled selfish, maybe? Believing that putting my needs above the needs/wants of others – even for a short period of time – is wrong? That’s the best answer I’ve come up with so far.

But it’s obvious if I don’t make time for myself, I’ll never realize the goals and dreams I have. I’ll never be complete. I’ll never progress, I’ll never grow, and I’ll never be at peace with myself. I will live in a continual cycle of failure, frustration, unease and depression. The longer this continues, the less likely I am to be able to help others.

That’s not the life I want to live. So in order to move forward, I have to make a mental adjustment. It’s imperative that I consider commitments to myself, at a minimum, at least as important as commitments I make to others.


sab.o.tage [sab-uh-tahzh, sab-uh-tahzh] - noun, verb, -taged,


  1. any underhand interference with production, work, etc., in a plant, factory, etc., as by enemy agents during wartime or by employees during a trade dispute.

  2. any undermining of a cause.

-verb (used with object)

  1. to injure or attack by sabotage.

So, you’ve been on that diet for two frigging weeks and someone brought fudge brownies to the office today. You can have one, right? I mean, two frigging weeks. You deserve a reward, right? Or maybe, after two frigging weeks, the Super Bowl arrives. You deserve a day off, right? I mean, you’ve got a will of steel. You can handle a day off for beer and pizza with the guys. Right?

There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

Ken Blanchard

So you scarf the brownie or you inhale the pizza and you chug the beer. And then what? Tomorrow you might diet, but then another temptation presents itself and off you go. The wall is breaking. Your resolve is slipping. A week later, maybe two, and you’re off the diet. Three weeks later, you’re not even kidding yourself any more.

You, my friend, have just sabotaged yourself. I’ve done it more times than I care to count. And then I read this:

Without doubt, the most common weakness of all human beings is the habit of leaving their minds open to the negative influence of other people.

Napoleon Hill

It never occurred to me that I might be the negative influence. It never occurred to me that I might be the saboteur. And yet, there I sat, donut in hand, still unable to speak Mandarin Chinese.

But why was I doing this? Why would I commit to something I know I need to do and then sabotage myself, ensuring my ultimate failure? Why was I my own worse enemy?

Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure…

Gay Hendricks, The Big Leap

And there it is. Your body craves the familiar, the comfortable. Your brain and your inner self know that you need to lose weight, but your body by God loves chocolate cake. It’s going to fight you and – if you let it – drag you right back to your old, familiar zone. Your brain and inner self might be concerned about heart attacks. Your body is not.

So what’s the key to avoiding sabotage? First, you have to recognize it. Second, you need to be persistent. Stubborn. Persist in the face of temptation.

There may be no heroic connotation to the word ‘persistence,’ but the quality is to the character of man what carbon is to steel … The ease with which lack of persistence may be conquered will depend entirely upon the intensity of one’s desire.

Napoleon Hill

You need to keep your desire burning. If you need to lose 20 pounds, get a mental picture of yourself 20 pounds lighter. Keep that picture in your head. If you actually have a picture of yourself 20 pounds lighter, carry it with you. Look at it when you’re tempted. This is what I want to be. I cannot be this if I give in now. I’ve come too far to surrender.

Persist. Focus. Don’t sabotage. Don’t surrender. Okay, sure. You have responsibilities. You have things that must get done. Fine. But set aside an hour a day for you. There are 24 hours in a day. Surely you’re important enough to have one of those hours dedicated solely to you. Right? And remember:

Success requires no explanations. Failure permits no alibis.

Napoleon Hill

At the end of the day, all you have is you. Truth. Commit and honor that commitment to yourself by persisting, and you’ll break the cycle of failure.

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