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MCLEOD: Why people fail and how to stop it

Why do people fail?

Is it because they're lazy or incompetent? Perhaps the universe conspires against us sometimes.

We tend to think of failure as catastrophic. It's a big, scary horrible thing to be avoided at all cost.

But the truth is -- failure is the ambitious person's constant companion.

There's not a successful person alive who hasn't failed. A lot. Yet we continue to treat failure as an aberrant condition, like a horrible venereal disease we don't want anyone to know about.

Business leader Siimon Reynolds, author of "Why People Fail: The 16 Obstacles to Success and How You Can Overcome Them" (John Wiley & Sons 2012) says,

"People want to hide failure, they think it's something to be ashamed of."

But Reynolds points out, "If you look at all the successful people, their lies are drenched in failure."

Feeling better about that job loss?

We wig out over failure because we personalize it.

Intellectually we may know that other people have gone broke or gotten divorced. But when it happens to us, we're mortified. It taps into our deepest insecurities.

Reynolds says, "Behind the smiles of a lot of people is their belief that they're not good enough. It's a great travesty. If everyone knew that the real aim was to have thousands of failures quickly and efficiently, the overall quality of life would improve."

When you know that failure is an inevitable part of life, you learn from it, instead of being embarrassed about it.

Reynolds, a successful businessman and coach who mentors people all over the world -- www.SiimonReynolds.com -- began studying the science of achievement because of his own failures.

He transformed himself from a directionless 20-something (in his own words "one of the most disorganized people I've ever known") into the founder of a global marketing firm by identifying the habits that lead people down the wrong path and then consciously avoiding them.

He writes, "There are thousand of books on success. But very few on failure. Yet mastering failure is surely a vital step in achieving your aims, hopes and dreams."

In "Why People Fail," Reynolds identifies the 16 most common behaviors that lead to failure like no daily rituals, holding a fixed mindset, few relationships, and mistaking IQ for EQ.

One of his suggestions to overcome low productivity (Obstacle No. 3) is to do two to-do lists. If you write out a to-do list before you start work (i.e. before you check email) you'll increase your efficiency.

Reynolds takes it a step further suggesting that you write out your to-do list twice. First brainstorm the list, then redo it in order of what's most important. The first list increases your efficiency. The second list increases your effectiveness.

I've been doing it for several days, and I have to tell you, it works. I'm not only getting more done, I'm getting the right things done.

Another suggestion is to ritualize your mental rehearsal. Reynolds says, "We tend to perform in accordance with the visions we have of ourselves." Rather than letting how you feel on a particular day determine your performance, Reynolds says that if we "spend 2-3 minutes a day rehearsing in our minds performing well and living the type of life we want to live, it will dramatically improve our performance and happiness."

You can't succeed without failing. So don't waste mental energy being ashamed of your failures -- learn from them.

Lisa Earle McLeod is author of "The Triangle of Truth," a "Top Five Book for Leaders."